Refueling an Old Feud: Which is Australia’s Food Capital

Which is Australia's food capital?”Sydney has the glamour, the seafood, the sunshine, the modernity; but Melbourne has the detail, the laneways, the coffee and the rich interior life. ” ~Terry Durack, Chief Restaurant Critic, The Sydney Morning Herald

If you are a foodie traveling to Australia for the first time, the deciding factor in choosing your base usually has something to do with food. So, you are inclined to ask: Which is Australia’s food capital?

Since time immemorial, Melbourne and Sydney have always been pitted against each other when it comes to having the best dining places. Once again the old rivalry comes to the fore with the release of World’s 50 Best Restaurants. If you care to know which is deemed the better food capital, read Ardyn Bernoth’s Melbourne v Sydney: Who Gets the Crown posted in Good Food – Eat Out Section.

From an unashamedly average shopping strip in Melbourne’s south has sprung Australia’s most esteemed restaurant, Attica, as voted by the judges compiling this respected poll. Attica jumped from 63rd place in 2012 to 21st in 2013. The Sydney contender, Quay, with its peerless harbour views, dropped 19 places to 48th.

Does the stunning rise of Ben Shewry’s 60-seater reflect the broader reality of Australian dining? Does Melbourne have the culinary edge?

Larissa Dubecki, The Age Good Food Guide’s Chief Critic expressed what most chefs think about Australia haing two food capitals – Sydney and Melbourne. Each has its own strengths as well as weaknesses so that comparing the two would be “foolish.”

Terry Durack is in agreement. It is a futile exercise to pick just one when the trend these days is collaboration.

Nick Lander, of the Financial Times in Britain, is of the opinion that having no dining capital makes Australia especial. It is also viewed as good for the eating public as it promotes a healthy competition between the two cities furthering to improve every element of food quality and service.

“But there is an argument to say Melbourne is the most influential food city in Australia.”

Chef Neil Perry says most dining trends in Sydney are copied from Melbourne such as the small bar-trend.

Marc Best of Marque and Pei Modern emphasizes that democratisation (affordable dining) of Sydney dining is also patterned from Melbourne.

Sydney also imitates Melbourne’s laneway dining culture as well as the latter’s having defined “eat streets” such as those in Lygon Street at Carlton, Gertrude and Smith streets at Fitzroy, and Fitzroy and Acland streets at St Kilda.

Thus, despite the differences in the past, the two cities are growing to be similar in a lot of ways.

Melbourne’s advantages include cheaper food, having accessible markets and rural farms for the chefs to go to for their supply of fresh ingredients daily. All these mean that restaurants in Melbourne get better and fresher produce that are also more pocket-friendly served in a more relaxed atmosphere. The dining scene here is characteristically more Italian and Greek-inspired.

Meanwhile, food and dining in Sydney restaurants have “a more celebratory element to it” with gorgeous locations. Banjo Harris Plane, restaurant manager of Attica, describes the dining scene in this city as ”all laid out on a glittering silver platter. There is huge pizazz, there are these incredible high-end, modern restaurants.”  Being the gateway of Australia with a large corporate population, it has a bounty of customers that can afford expensive restaurants.

In 2013, Sydney received 6 three-hatted restaurants while Melbourne got 3 three-hatters from The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, just like in the previous years.

Tony Eldred when summing up the two scenes, Sydney is the ”tart in full regalia”, while Melbourne is the laid-back lady.”

Sydney obviously dominates fine dining, while Melbourne is the leader in mid-level eating. Sydney is showing Melbourne the future, while the former is getting ideas from Melbourne. If there is one thing apparent in these two cities, it is the fact that competition can be healthy, thus rivalry must be celebrated.

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