In our region, you don’t have to look far to experience an array of fresh, diverse produce, reimagined with talented, sophisticated hands. With so many restaurants and eateries consistently plating up innovative and delicious dishes, it’s safe to say Border diners are ‘in a good paddock.’
Last week confirmed this with the release of the Good Food Guide Hatted restaurants for 2020, with Michael Ryan’s The Provenance claiming two Hats for the 10th year running and All Saints’ The Terrace Restaurant, under the watchful eye of head chef Simon Arkless, taking home one Hat for the seventh year in a row.
“For us, in a country town, we can’t rely on the immediate pool of people so we need to draw from Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere, so this sort of recognition helps – any recognition from the industry is always flattering – and it’s always a good party!” Ryan said.
Both chefs humbly attribute much of their success to having fantastic teams of kitchen and front of house staff, but their respective offerings are evidently outstanding.
“It’s a pretty unlikely restaurant really – three hours from Melbourne in a small country town,” Ryan said of his Beechworth restaurant.
“We probably shouldn’t be doing this food, we should be doing something that may be a little more casual, but I cook the food I want to cook, created the restaurant I wanted to create and a lot of people like it.
“In the Guide they call us ‘new world Japanese dining’ – we’re not a Japanese restaurant, though obviously it has a lot of influence. We always start the meal with bread and the reason we do that is to get them (guests) into the mindset that what we’re doing is not a Japenese restaurant. We’re definitely a modern restaurant in terms of our menu format.”
The Terrace offers a completely different experience to The Provenance, which Arkless describes as ‘contemporary European.’
“We use a lot of ingredients from the estate, so we grow our own lambs and pork here, also oranges, grapefruit, quince and olives, and we utilse local growers as much as we can,” he said.
“We simplify things, rather than make them look more intricate on the plate, and concentrate on the flavour. For me, flavour is everything.”
The Good Food Guide celebrates its 40th birthday this year and has always been a go-to for savvy diners looking to explore the best of the best, but while every year is different, many believe the competition has become much stiffer since the change from state guides to one national guide three years ago.
“It’s getting harder,” Arkless said.
“There’s a lot less places left in the guide now. This year there was something like 270 restaurants in the guide, previously it probably would have been 270 in each of the guides.
“When I first came to Australia (seven years ago) you needed 12 points to get into The Good Food Guide in The Age and now it’s 14, nationally.”
Despite being awarded 27 Hats between them over the past decade, these seasoned chefs admit when it comes to who’s in and who’s out of the guide, they can’t always see the judges rhyme or reason. With so many outstanding candidates within our region, many industry professionals were surprised not to see more Hats awarded closer to home.
“There’s quite a few restaurants locally that I’m amazed aren’t in there,” Arkless said.
“Miss Amelie not being in there was surprising, as well as the likes of Tomahawk and Reed & Co. in Bright – both solid products. In my eyes they’re are definitely worthy and have been overlooked.”
Ryan echoed his sentiment.
“One thing I would say about the Good Food Guide is there’s one Hat restaurants in there I’ve been to and think they’re doing a better job than me!’” he said.
“But there’s a lot of restaurants that aren’t in The Good Food Guide that could easily be in there.”
At the very least, the annual guide reminds people across the Border how lucky we are to have so many high quality options at our fingertips and to venture out and rediscover them.