Restaurant Criticism

Australian Restaurant Critics
Oliver (Tony Knox) asks Editor (Claude Forell) for more awards
Drawing © Tony Irving 1991

Restaurateur Bites Critic

This month, June 1991, we take our hard won hats off to the restaurant critics and food writers. Over the years we have been impaled upon their pens so often that we now feel that the delicious agony of public inspection is something that they too should share.

Lacking the critics' writing skills we have been forced to take the mute Michelin model of rating and use symbols not words. Thus we are awarding the critics up to three Daggers - for the efficacy of their reviews and up to five Pools of Blood - for the brilliance of their writing; a Pierced Heart signifies good value, and there is also a special award of a Half [chef's] Head for Byzantine judgements.

In the time honoured tradition of The Good Food Guides we decline to specify how these judgements are arrived at except to state that Daggers are generally awarded for the critic's ability to reduce a restaurateur to tears of either rage or humiliation, and his, or her, bank account to zero. The power to do this depends a lot on the organ for which the critic writes.

A Critical Who's Who

The most influential publications in Melbourne and Sydney are The Good Food Guides. Being books, they are current for at least a year and are a lengthy listing, combined with a critical description, of selected restaurants. These restaurants are further graded by being awarded hats for the quality of their offerings.

Next of the pecking order of critic's organs are Epicure in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living section. The editors and major contributors to the Guides are also the core writers for these publications.

So Melbourne's most important restaurant reviewers are Rita Erlich , Claude Forell and Terry Durack , from The Age. While Sydney is ruled by Leo Schofield and Michael Dowe of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Other important reviewers are Stephen Downes, The Financial Review, Gourmet Traveller and HQ; Geoff Slattery , The Sunday Age; Simon Plant and occasionally Eric Page , The Herald Sun.

In Sydney David Dale , the former editor of The Bulletin is now being heard on 2BL. Less immediate, but with a pervasive, long term influence are the glossies of which Vogue Publications is the most influential; Joan Campbell is its Food Editor.

Mietta O'Donnell & Tony Knox
June 1991
©Mietta's 1996

Update 2009: In many cases the personnel have have changed but the world has not.

Rita Erlich's services were eventually dispensed with by The Age. She writes a very occasional restaurant related piece.

Claude Forell, having squeezed the role dry, finally retired from the Age. His place being taken by John Lethlean who left The Age at the end of last year (2008) to take a position with the Australian.

Terry Durack and Jill Dupliex left the Herald Sun to go to London and conquer the world. Currently they are back in Australia and Jill is to take up the role of Creative Director with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Stephen Downes now writes idiosyncratic reviews for the Herald Sun.

Leo Schofield left the restaurant world to become an arts czar and is today leading a much quieter life.

The wonderful Joan Campbell passed away in late 2008. We miss her.

Michael Dowe, Geoff Slattery, Eric Page and David Dale have all retired.