Whats in a hat?

October 2010

What’s in a hat?: As you may have read, two of Sydney’s top restaurants, Bilson’s and Tetsuya’s, had their third hats taken from them by the Good Food Guide this year. Now,
I haven’t been to Tetsuya’s for a while, so I have no way of knowing whether standards have dropped. But I have been to Bilson’s a few times over the past couple of years and have, each time, been impressed by the meal and the service. I have never reviewed Bilson’s because Tony is a friend. But the removal of his third hat has me a little puzzled and doing a little thinking on this tradition of awarding and withholding hats.

For example, Bilson’s is not just a restaurant and Tony not just a chef. He has been around for a long time and has presided over the birth of Modern Australian cuisine. He has also hired some remarkable young chefs for his kitchen, one of whom, Pascal Barbot, has gone on to win three Michelin stars in his Paris restaurant L’Astrance.

So how much does this kind of provenance/history/background/service go into making a hat decision? And should it? A crook meal is a crook meal. Anyway, I decided to have a look for myself and in the last week of September gathered a bunch of friends and went back to Bilson’s to try out the Fine Gueule menu, $130 a head for three courses with choices. Tony wasn’t there but his new head chef, Alfonso Alés was. The general consensus around the table of 12 was that the meal and the service were superb. Visually beautifully presented haute cuisine but rich with flavour and texture, clever but not clever-dick.

As a reviewer I know how difficult it is to get it right every time. But if, as I understand, Terry Durack and Joanna Savill went back several times before making their call, I am mystified. I am not doubting their integrity but comparing it with my own experiences up to and including the last one.

The lesson? We should not automatically take the judgement of the experts — me included — unquestioningly. If you are puzzled by a down - or even an upgrading of a restaurant you have knowledge of, go and check it out for yourself.

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