Find out who won the Australian Gourmet Traveller 2013 Restaurant Awards
If you were to try to cram all of the year's restaurant trends into one dish, it might not be pretty. If you smoked some foraged saltbush, made a panna cotta out of it, put a quenelle of natural-wine sorbet next to it (and maybe a Rottnest Island scallop or some Tasmanian striped trumpeter), you'd certainly be halfway there, though the plate would have to go; a board or a slate would be more on-trend. Put it all on an iPad playing the Velvet Underground and serve it as a shared plate and you've got the microcosm nailed. And that's even before you top it with a 60-something-degree egg, some kimchi and a few leaves of red elk.
Pulling out trends like this and making sport with them is, of course, easier than shooting fish in a barrel (we're tipping the demand for barrel-shot fish to be huge in 2013, by the way), but the changes underway in our leading restaurants are real and significant. For one, the stigma that has kept a lot of native ingredients out of our top eateries for the past decade or so appears to have well and truly passed.
The continued interest in wild ingredients dovetails with the back-to-the-future neo-Thoreauvian touch brought to kitchens thanks to the renewed interest in smoking, drying and pickling. We don't need these techniques for their preservative qualities any more, of course (we have sous-vide machines for that, right?), but we're rediscovering the pleasures of the way they alter ingredients. Like the interest in heirloom breeds and varieties of animals and plants, it might be a reaction to the increased homogeneity of our everyday food supply. Or maybe it's just because it tastes good.
The dude food wave has well and truly rolled back, leaving better burgers, dogs and a lexicon of barbecue terms in its wake, but it's a term that lost its usefulness almost as quickly as molecular gastronomy, the culinary equivalent of persisting in saying "metrosexual".
If you were looking for evidence of straitened times and you were flipping through the pages of the guide or through the menus and wine lists of the winners of these awards, you could perhaps point to the number of dishes to share, or the greater number of restaurants focused on casual walk-in trade. But if you were trying to build an argument that fine dining is dying, you'd be pushing it. The past year has seen some significant closings, true, but at the same time, those goodbyes have been outweighed by the hellos. Despite an increasingly tough and competitive landscape, there are still young men and women joining the ranks of those Australians bent on making their mark on our food scene by dint of passion, inspiration and more than a little blood and sweat.
Speaking of passion and inspiration, we'd like to express our gratitude to Commonwealth Private and Wedgwood. They're as interested in rewarding achievement and celebrating commitment to excellence and attention to detail as we are, and their support, along with that of Vittoria Coffee and Riedel, has made these awards and the new edition of the GT Restaurant Guide a reality.
And now, to this year's champions. We who are about to dine salute you.