It looks like Australia doesn't rate with voters in the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards

Supplied/Tourism AustraliaAustralian chefs Dan Hunter and Ben Shewry.
  • Just a year after hosting the World’s 50 Best restaurant awards in Melbourne, Australia looks set to post its worst result in the annual event next week.
  • The restaurants at 51-100 were announced overnight, and Brae, in Victoria, fell out of the top 50, down 14 places to 58 this year.
  • Tourism Australia says the event was just a small part of a broader strategy, with visitors spending $5.8 billion on food and wine last year.

Australia’s bleak run on the annual World’s 50 Best restaurants list looks set to continue next week, with Tourism Australia’s multi-million-dollar investment in luring the event to Melbourne last year appearing to fail to impress the hundreds of chefs, “influencers” and food journalists shipped into town for the shindig.

Ahead of the announcement next Tuesday night, the 50 Best revealed the restaurants that made the back half of the top 100. Dan Hunter’s Brae, which cracked the top 50 last year at 44, has slipped 14 places to 58th in 2018.

While he’d hoped to improve on last year, Dan Hunter told Business Insider he was still delighted to make the list.

“We’re very much thrilled as a group of people working away from a capital city, to be considered as a reference point for all the good things going on in Australia,” he said.

The fall comes despite hundreds of the voters involved in the awards being flown to Australia for the event.

While hailed by some as “the Olympic Games of food” the reality is that The World’s 50 Best has more in common with picking a Prom Night Queen. Around 1000 industry professionals, known as “the academy”, cast their votes based on restaurants they’ve eaten at during the previous 18 months.

Since opening in Birregurra, 90 minutes from Melbourne, in December 2013, Brae has now made the top 100 four times, first appearing at 87 in 2015.

But with Quay, which appeared at 95 last year, now closed for renovations until next month, it looks like Ben Shewry’s Attica in Melbourne will be the only Australian restaurant to make the top 50, having featured at 32 last year.

With just two restaurants in the top 100, it’s the country’s worst result in the 16-year-old awards, despite tourism officials pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into trying to impress the judges.

Since launching in 2002, Australia has often had five restaurants in the top 100. In recent years, as tourism marketing focused on Australian food and wine as a key part of their pitch, that fell to three.

When the awards launched, Neil Perry’s (now closed) Rockpool was listed at 4, Tetsuya’s at 10, and Melbourne’s Flower Drum at 27.

The UK-based awards are now big business. Tourism Australia and its state equivalent, Visit Victoria, handed over $800,000 to host the event in Melbourne in 2017 year as part of a three-year strategy to lure tourists Down Under.

It followed on from Tourism Australia’s year-long, multi-million dollar “Invite the world to dinner” campaign in 2014, which climaxed with a $1.5 million dinner for 250 people at the MONA gallery in Tasmania.

In 2016, the awards were held in New York. Last year, New York’s Eleven Madison Park was named No. 1, deposing Italy’s Osteria Francescana.

Tourism Australia managing director, John O’Sullivan, told Business Insider that hosting the awards was part of a broader campaign to impress tourists in general with Australia’s culinary prowess.

“Obviously we all want to see more Australian restaurants make the list,” he said.

“But, ultimately, Restaurant Australia and World’s 50 Best Restaurants [tourism campaigns] were about increasing international food and wine spending and improving the perception of Australia’s culinary offering in the eyes of the global traveller. On both of those important measures I think this campaign has served up a winning recipe.”

O’Sullivan said the World’s 50 Best campaign more than doubled the impact of previous efforts, generating more than 4,000 media articles reaching 5.5 billion people.

Meanwhile, spending on food and wine in Australia by tourists hit $5.8 billion in 2017, around 20% of their total spend.

“Our hosting of World’s Best 50 Restaurants was an unique opportunity to take an established and successful global platform and make it work for Australia,” O’Sullivan said.

“Through the awards and the program of events and activities we arranged around them, we were able to showcase Australia’s amazing food and wine story to a hugely influential group of internationally renowned chefs, media and critics.

“In the process, these guests have become passionate advocates for the destination, as witnessed by the energetic and enthusiastic manner in which they have shared their own personal culinary experiences of Australia with their huge global followings.”

There’s no doubt of the profound impact of making the list on those involved.

Dan Hunter said bookings at Brae increased seven-fold after the announcement last year and website visits jumped 10-fold.

“Weekends are now fully booked three months ahead, which is as far ahead as bookings are allowed,” he said.

Hunter is full of praise for the efforts of Tourism Australia in bringing the event to Australia.

“This allowed us the rare opportunity to showcase our menu, the farm project here at Brae and The Otways region to many, many more high profile international chefs, media and influencers than we otherwise could have,” he said.

The world’s top 50 restaurants will be announced in Bilbao, Spain, next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a rival list, known has the The World Restaurant Awards, is due to launch in Paris next February.

The new awards, which will be voted on by top chefs and restaurant journalists, has been created by events and management firm IMG, World’s 50 Best co-founder Joe Warwick, and Andrea Petrini, the food critic Time magazine dubbed a talent scout who turns young chefs into stars.

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