Rats in the Hats: Final Thoughts on the Good Food Guide Awards

It is the job of the publicist to create “buzz” and to that end there has been no greater advance since moveable type than the invention, if that is the word, of Twitter.

Thus Monday evening, as the great and the good of the local food scene gathered for the Sydney Morning Herald’s annual Good Food Guide gala – a.k.a. the Festival of the Hats – the Prick’s Twitter stream overflowed with tweets and re-tweets declaring that these would be the Most Controversial Good Food Awards Ever!

Were they? Well, not really, though clearly a publicist or three got the “social media” KPI ticked on their performance agreement.

Peter Doyle’s est – the subject of a coming post – dropped from three hats to two, as did Mark Best’s Marque, an overdue demotion for someone this site has long considered over-praised.

Momofuku Seibo quite deservedly picked up three hats, as did Guillaume at Bennelong. This was likely as much for the food as it was to tweak the Sydney Opera House Trust’s bizarre decision not to renew the fine diner’s lease in favour of yet another middle-brow bistro: Yawn, and in any case, isn’t that what the Opera Bar is for?

Of course, the whole concept of the “hat” is to a certain degree nonsense, an impressionistic device built on an illusion of precision. What subjectivity causes Restaurant Atelier (disclosure: mates), a sandstone jewelbox of genius on Glebe Point Road, to fall at the post with a 14.5 and not receive the extra half-measure making it a chapeau-worthy 15?

Where does that last half-point go, or come from? It would not be hard to think of plenty of other, similar examples.

Likewise why does Oscillate Wildly, whose Karl Firla-led team lately gave the Pricks the best meal they’ve had in Sydney this side of Momofuku, only rate one star – the same accolade afforded to plenty of very good, really enjoyable, perfectly deserving, but nowhere near as innovative places around town?

Sure, “all life is high school”, but it would be paranoid and childish to interpret this as nothing more than a petty Fairfax snub to a place often, and accurately, lauded by local and national News Limited critics.

Wouldn’t it?

Such cases feed into the big question hanging over the awards. Not that there are restaurants that have been undeservedly elevated, though rumours persist that the right retainers paid to the right PRs can get the right reviewers in the door, but rather that many deserving chefs have not gotten their gongs.

Certainly Sydney’s perhaps most high-profile restaurant awards (in the absence of Michelin stars the “hat” conceit remains a strong monopoly) should not be a progressive primary school’s sports day where everyone gets a prize. But so long as the results are determined and published with the sort of secrecy and infallibility usually reserved for the Vatican (and handed out with all the pomp and piss of a minor medieval Pope), clouds will linger and the faithful drift away.

To put it another way, bring on the reformation.

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