Sepia Declared Sydney's Best Restaurant As Seaweeds And Succulents Become The New Garnish

Chef Martin Benn at Sepia. Source: supplied

Sepia was named the Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year at The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Awards last night for the second year running.

Martin Benn’s restaurant is only five years old and took the title from just three other three-hat restaurants, Rockpool, Quay and Momofuku Seiobo in the 30th edition of the guide. It was a good night for Sepia with Benn’s partner in work and life, Vicki Wild receiving the Service Excellence Award.

Sepia’s distinctive fine dining blends Japanese influences with the science of modern cuisine to create elegant, architectural food.

Ester in Chippendale was named best new restaurant and was awarded two hats on debut, while another two hatter, Biota Dining in Bowral, was named regional restaurant of the year.

Brent Savage, who moved Bentley restaurant and bar to the Radisson Blu Hotel in the CBD 10 months ago, as well as opening Yellow in Potts Point, was named chef of the year. He earned four hats among his three restaurants: Bentley retained the two hats it previously had in Surry Hills, while Yellow earned one hat and Monopole, also in Potts Point, retained one too.

Good Food Guide editor Joanna Savill said Savage took the city’s dining to new heights.

“Brent’s skills place Sydney at the forefront of modern dining, backed by his inventiveness, style and substance. This highly skilled chef has proven – if proof was ever needed – that a memorable meal can happen at any level, from casual to the more formal,” she said.

New talent was recognised with Nomad sous-chef, Julian Cincotta named the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year, while the trend towards drinks lists – featuring everything from sake to craft spirits – has resulted in the introduction of a new award, Best Drinks List, which went to Bloodwood in Newtown. Matt Moran’s Aria won wine list of the year while James Hird of Paddington’s Wine Library and Vincent was awarded sommelier of the year and Bulletin Place in the CBD was named best bar.

Vittoria CEO Les Schirato presented “the other Peter Doyle”, chef at est. with the Vittoria Coffee Legend Award, praising his humility and mentoring of the new generation of chefs in a 40-year career. Doyle featured in the first guide in 1984 with his restaurant Reflections at Palm Beach.

In winning three hats at his relocated Rockpool restaurant, as well as two each at Rockpool Bar and Grill and Spice Temple, Neil Perry became the most hatted chef in Guide history, as his career tally topped 100 hats.

But the night also had some high-profile casualties with Colin Fassnidge’s Four in Hand, Frank Camorra’s MoVida and two stalwarts, Longrain and Buon Ricordo, dropping from two hats to one. And while 40 restaurants listed in the guide closed during the year, 80 new ones made their debut.

Joanna Savill said that some of the key trends of 2014 included pork cheek and jowl taking over from pork belly and an increasing focus on vegetables, including parsnip, carrot and potato in desserts, however wood-fired grill meats are still a firm favourite.

Seaweeds and succulents have become the new garnish and ancient grains such as spelt, quinoa, chia, kammut and amaranth have become standards for texture and colour. Also, it seems every waiter now tells you “These dishes are designed to share”.

“And let’s not forget the humble crumb – yesterday’s soils and powders have become crunchy, biscuity rubble; and almost mandatory on a contemporary Sydney dish,” Savill said.

The SMH Good Food Guide is $24.99 from bookshops and online.

The award winners are:

Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year: Sepia, Sydney
New Restaurant of the Year: Ester, Chippendale
La Maison du Thé Regional Restaurant of the Year: Biota Dining, Bowral
Citi Chef of the Year: Brent Savage, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Monopole and Yellow
Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year presented by KitchenAid: Julian Cincotta, Nomad
Innovation Award: Pasi Petanen, Cafe Paci
Sustainability Award: Fins Restaurant, Kingscliff
Citi Service Excellence Award: Vicki Wild, Sepia
Vittoria Coffee Legend Award: Peter Doyle, est.
Best Bar: Bulletin Place, Sydney
Best Restaurant Bar: Momofuku Seiobo, Pyrmont
Champagne Pol Roger Sommelier of the Year: James Hird, Vincent, Wine Library
Wine List of the Year: ARIA Restaurant, Sydney
Best Short Wine List: Temporada, ACT
Regional Wine List of the Year: Aubergine, ACT
Best Drinks List: Bloodwood Restaurant & Bar, Newtown

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