Melbourne and Sydney have long been rivals for the title of "dining capital of Australia," but the release of the world's 50 Best Restaurants list has rekindled an old rivalry.
Attica, voted Australia's most esteemed restaurant, emerged from an unpretentiously average shopping strip in Melbourne's south.
A year after ranking in at #63, Attica jumped to #21 in 2013. Quay, a Sydney contender with unbeatable harbour views, fell 19 spots to 48th.
Does Ben Shewry's 60-seater's phenomenal success indicate a larger trend in Australian restaurants? Do Melbourne's restaurants compare favourably to those of other cities?
In fact, Australia's lack of a dining capital is one of the country's distinguishing features and a boon to foodies.
FAQs in Melbourne or Sydney
Melbourne is world-known for its coffee culture and multicultural cuisine. With the higher number of cafes and restaurants, Melbourne is the top city for food in Australia, especially freshly prepared food worldwide, in your favourite format.
Melbourne claims less cost of living, but salaries are less too. Sydney wins. Sydney is the most spectacular city in Australia with amazing harbour views, better weather and picturesque beaches.
Food is a portal into the culture, and Melbourne's vibrant immigration history remains at the forefront of its culture partly because of its undeniably international cuisine.
Although Melbourne is ranked as one of the world's most expensive cities to live in, it offers much better property value than Sydney. With housing and office space in Sydney in such high demand, property rates are exorbitantly high.
Sydney and Melbourne are on par when it comes to coffee quality, but Melbourne might edge a win with its coffee culture. Want more in-depth culture content? Subscribe to Rolling Stone magazine for in-depth reporting, unforgettable interviews, and criticism you can trust.
Melbourne Vs Sydney
What Makes A 'Sydney' Restaurant?
While editing, we came across the word "Sydney" in a few places. On the other hand, we all know that Sydney's restauranteurs haven't exactly set the world on fire in Melbourne (and vice versa, we might add). Because of this, we began to wonder what exactly it is about the Sydney market that makes for such a distinctively Sydney venue.
To clarify (for those of you who have seen the cult Japanese cooking show 'Iron Chef'), this article is not a Kitchen Stadium battle to determine "Whose cuisine will reign supreme?"
The focus here is on identifying what sets Sydney's food and drink culture apart from Melbourne's.
Similar to how a region's most expensive neighbourhoods can drive up home prices across the board, business owners in the food and drink industry in the greater Sydney area have to draw inspiration from the city's central business district's extensive hospitality offering.
Most "Sydney" restaurants are neither hateful nor corporate, but what distinguishes "Sydney" from "Melbourne" is the market's having had the standards set by two very successful hospitality groups, the high concentration of "hatted" restaurants, and the high income levels of the city's residents.
The same holds true for the pubs and clubs we've worked with, where management strives to achieve a "Sydney" standard.
Sydney is home to some of Australia's fanciest and most expensive venues.
Although it's generally agreed that Sydney has high prices, it's important to note that this is not due to rent or price gouging, but rather to the city's popularity.
It's not that Sydneysiders are inherently more showy or pretentious than those elsewhere; rather, there is a large demand for upscale dining establishments that adhere to international norms.
The monetary injection from tourists and business events is to blame for this situation. It's a point we can both agree on. Revenue for high-end hotels and restaurants comes in large part from corporate events, and Sydney is home to the most influential banking, accounting, and consulting firms in all of Australia.
Because of this, they are able to attract businesspeople from all over Australia and the rest of the world. Sydney attracts affluent, self-reliant travellers from around the world because its landmarks, such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, are instantly recognisable and photogenic.
Furthermore, a higher concentration of affluent individuals ensures that prices and standards can be maintained.
There are over 120, 000 people who make over $130,000 a year in the Sydney central business district. Less than half of that number can be found in Melbourne.
As a result, the best restaurants in Sydney serve a largely affluent clientele who expect to spend lavishly on food and drink served in settings and with menus that reflect their means.
To assume that Melbourne does not have a need for this service is incorrect.
Southern eateries may not pay as much attention to the tastes of the "Sydney" crowd because there aren't nearly as many of them.
The city's all-day café culture may have an impact on Melbourne's food and drink industry as a whole.
It's not that Sydney doesn't have them; it's just that they don't set the tone, provide the options, or provide the standards.
How Melbourne Has Dropped The Ball
NO LONGER CAN MELBOURNE boast of being Australia's most popular tourist spot. And it's all because of some poor planning choices made in Victoria.
Sydney has overtaken its southern neighbour in recent years due to the successful repurposing of historic buildings and factories into popular destinations for both locals and visitors.
Melbourne has missed a great opportunity to turn some of its iconic buildings into food precincts, despite having attractions like Lygon Street and its famous laneways.
Apartments are being built in prominent areas, such as the former site of the Skipping Girl Vinegar, a landmark that is instantly recognisable to anyone who grew up in the city.
Sydney has a unique culture and mentality.
The city, inspired by the success of similar ventures in London and New York, is repurposing beautiful historic structures into exciting new dining destinations.
Even though Tourism Victoria is investing heavily in advertising the city, success will depend on the quality of the end result. Even The New York Times has cast doubt on the veracity of Melbourne's culinary scene, and the city isn't even trying.
Sydney's revitalisation of its many abandoned warehouses, factories, and neighbourhoods has created vibrant communities throughout the city.
Sydney, Australia, is currently the country's culinary epicentre.
Tramsheds Vs. Hawthorn Tram Depot
One of Sydney's newest food spaces, Tramsheds, is located in the once-quiet inner west suburb of Forest Lodge, in the building that once housed the Rozelle Tramway Depot, constructed in 1904.
Developers Mirvac renovated the entire tram depot, which is now home to more than 17 restaurants.
The carefully selected food stores in Sydney celebrate the city's creative chefs and restaurateurs by providing onsite services like butchery and speciality coffee roasting.
Beer and meat fans head to Butcher & Farmer, while fans of fresh, handmade pasta head to Flour Eggs Water, the sibling restaurant of the acclaimed A Tavola.
If you're craving some authentic Spanish cuisine or just want to indulge your cocktail fantasies, Bodega 1904 and Garcon are the places to go.
There are now apartments and a museum featuring vintage trams in Melbourne's historic Hawthorn Tram Depot, which opened in 1916.
The Cannery Rosebery Vs. Skipping Girl Vinegar Richmond
Leave the applause at home and head to The Cannery in Sydney's south-central suburbs. The Cannery Rosebery is more than just another food hall; it is a hub for Sydney's creative class, gathering the city's best purveyors, eateries, and watering holes under one lofty, industrial-chic roof.
No matter if you're in the mood for a gin and tonic from Archie Rose, Sydney's first distillery in over 150 years, or you're interested in perusing The Drink Hive's premium curated wine list, you're in the right place.
The Cannery is a one-stop-shop in a Rosella soup cannery that dates back a century and spans 11,000 square metres. New York-style cuisine can be found at Stanton & Co., while other options include the wood-fired pizzas at Da Mario, the artisanal fruits and vegetables at Three Blue Ducks, and the Vietnamese fare at Banh Xeo. If you really want to pretend to be a chef, you can even enrol in a special school for that purpose.
In Melbourne's once-hip Richmond neighbourhood, where more than 500 apartments are scheduled to be built over the next five years, the Skipping Girl Vinegar factory continues to operate with little interruption.
The Streets Of Barangaroo Vs. Melbourne Docklands
If you like Melbourne's South Bank, you'll love Sydney's The Streets of Barangaroo.
The Sydney waterfront just north of Darling Harbour has been transformed from a concrete jungle into a high-end food district, a preview of the billion-dollar redevelopment and revival of what will be Australia's newest luxury complex (complete with casino and more award-winning restaurants to rival Melbourne's 20-year-old Crown Casino Complex).
Business titans looking to seal multimillion-dollar deals during the week give Barangaroo its signature buzz, while weekend revellers flock there in search of food, glorious food.
Helen Fraser, a native Sydneyite and tour guide with Ultimate Sydney Tours, claims that the city's revitalisation thanks to Barangaroo's new restaurants and other food precincts means Melbourne better watch out.
Modern menus are a breeze for the diverse neighbourhoods of Sydney.
Anason serves authentic Turkish mezze, including grilled octopus and cherry tuzlama; NOLA Smokehouse & Bar serves authentic barbeque; Lotus transports you to China; Born by Tapavino serves tapas from Spain.
12-Micron is a must-visit because of its breathtaking harbour views and delicious food. You can show your Aussie pride by ordering the lobster omelette or the lamb with ironbark honey and damper.
When the Melbourne Docklands were first proposed, they were billed as a new neighbourhood that would rival Sydney's "dining by the water," thanks in large part to the presence of the iconic Melbourne Eye in the centre of the district.
Whereas Barangaroo once held promise as a chic place to dine out, it is now nothing more than an abandoned cluster of apartments that no one bothers to visit.
Melbourne V Sydney: The Facts And Figures
Sydney's supply of dining establishments stands out not only because of the peculiarity of the demand structure, but also because of the abundance of highly regarded options.
With very few exceptions, all 68 Sydney eateries featured in the most recent edition of the Good Food Guide are located within 12 kilometres of the Pitt Street Mall, and the vast majority are located within 5 kilometres.
When compared to other national capitals, Washington, D.C. has the highest concentration of Hats. One of the main drivers of the food and beverage industry in Sydney, and what sets it apart from Melbourne and the rest of Australia, is the concentration of good restaurants, many of which aim for national and international recognition, in a relatively small area.
In addition to the macro factors of demand and supply, the city's key hospitality operators also contribute to the one-of-a-kind character of Sydney's dining scene.
In the Sydney event industry, Merivale is one of two companies considered the gold standard. Merivale is the undisputed market leader in Sydney, Australia's most populous and economically important city.
If you want to get an idea of Merivale's clout in Harbour City, consider that 15 percent of Sydney's Hatted restaurants are under their umbrella (that's 10 out of a total of 150).
It is our opinion that Merivale, with its portfolio of over 70 brands and venues, is Sydney's largest non-fast food F&B operator in terms of revenue.
Since Sydney is home and where they have the most experience, it is also the location of their main office.
In 2000, with the opening of The Establishment, Merivale pioneered the practise of combining multiple establishments into a single complex.
Some of the other businesses owned by the Merivale conglomerate that have found great success are The Ivy and Coogee Pavilion. The Collaroy, Hotel CBD, and The Newport are three examples of trendy, multi-story hotels that each feature their own unique brand of hospitality.
These have paved the way for competitors like the Bondi Pavilion and clubs like the Harbord Diggers and the Bankstown Sports Club to provide a variety of venues catering to different demographics.
The Fink Group is the other major player in the Sydney restaurant scene.
They, along with Merivale, are responsible for three of Australia's Top 50 Restaurants, as ranked by Gourmet Traveler.
It bears repeating that a mere two operators are responsible for 12 percent of Australia's finest dining establishments, all of which are located in the heart of Sydney.
Fink, much like Merivale, is a Big thinker and actor. Their flagship restaurant, Quay, boasts a whopping 900 square metres and is consistently voted among Australia's and the world's best.
Fink reportedly spent around $4 million to close it down and completely rebuild and refurbish it.
It's only in Sydney that a restaurant owner would spend that much money on a makeover and then cut the number of seats by 20%.
When it comes to food, many of Sydney's latest fads are actually influenced by those in Melbourne.
Because of the liberalisation of liquor licencing laws that occurred 20 years ago in Melbourne, small bars have proliferated in Sydney. Small bars are becoming increasingly popular in Sydney, and this is a fantastic development.
Equally important, Sydney's restaurant scene has become more accessible to the general public. That's the emergence of a new crop of exciting, creative eateries at the mid-range price point (read: not $50 for a main course), a segment of the market Sydney helped pioneer.
Sydney has recently become a leader in the democratic dining movement. Although Melbourne has been ahead of us for some time now, we have improved greatly in our ability to provide excellent everyday dining.
Also, new businesses are springing up in the cramped lanes and alleys off of George Street in Sydney's central business district in an attempt to recreate Melbourne's romantic and intimate laneway dining scene.
Sydney dining, which has traditionally been more dispersed, is changing, says the head of Restaurant and Catering Australia, and while the city has always had distinct "eat streets" like Melbourne does (Lygon Street in Carlton, Fitzroy and Acland streets in St. Kilda, and Gertrude and Smith streets in Fitzroy), this is beginning to shift.
Sydney is fortunate to have Melbourne as a consistent benchmark, muse, and source of inspiration.
Multiethnic and food-obsessed Melbourne is widely regarded as Australia's culinary capital.
Most Melburnians have a shortlist of four or five favourite eateries. It appears that Sydney residents are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest.
This, then, is a summary of the differences between the cities, even though they are becoming more similar to one another in other respects.
While Sydney is known for its glitz, seafood, sunshine, and modernity, Melbourne is renowned for its attention to detail, laneways, coffee, and thriving cultural interior life.
It has been said that "the more demanding you are as a diner, the better your restaurants become, and Melbourne's long-established food culture makes its diners more discerning."
Melbourne's cheaper rents and 15-20% cheaper ingredients help a lot.
Melbourne also benefits greatly from having central markets, such as the Queen Victoria and South Melbourne markets, within easy reach of chefs, as well as plentiful rural farming land in the surrounding area.
Melbourne's lower operating costs allow for higher quality products to be delivered at lower prices to the customer.
As Dubecki puts it, Melbourne diners are looking for simple, tasty food served without ponce and frippery.
Celebratory meals are more common in Sydney.
Sydney, in the words of restaurant consultant Tony Eldred, is the "tart in full regalia," while Melbourne is the "laid-back lady." This is, of course, a cliche.
Sydney has both jaw-dropping settings for its eateries and a hungry mob ready to pounce on the city's newest and trendiest offerings.
Foreigners often associate Australia with a few specific landmarks or attractions, and we have them all.
Sydney has been known for quite some time as the best place to dine out in Australia, thanks to the fact that it serves as the country's main port of entry for tourists and has a slightly larger corporate population than other cities.
Sydney boasted six three-hatted restaurants in this year's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, while Melbourne only had three. This bias has persisted for the better part of a decade.
Sydney's dining scene is "all laid out on a glittering silver platter," and it's known for its authentic Asian cuisine.
There is a great deal of flair; there are some superb, cutting-edge eateries.
In contrast, he claims that Melbourne's dining scene, which is more heavily Greek and Italian-influenced, is not so obvious; it's hidden down laneways, and requires more effort on the part of diners to access. Or in the unremarkable Ripponlea shopping centres.
In spite of Sydney's long history as a leader in the world of fine dining, it is now the city's mid-range restaurants that are drawing attention.
Some of Sydney's best chefs are opting to work in restaurants that are as far removed as possible from the city's pricey fine-dining establishments with rock-star views.
Melbourne is fortunate to have Sydney as a guide to the future. Sydney may steal concepts from Melbourne, but it also refines them, makes them marketable, and gives them a long shelf life.
Sydney and Melbourne rivalry shall continue to thrive. Embrace the competition. Many years ago, the rivalry between Paris and Lyon was what made French cuisine so unique; today, however, that rivalry no longer exists. In the rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid, it lives on in Spain. Avoiding the position of "food capital" is preferable.
Successful eatery owners understand that they must cater to the tastes of their local clientele while also meeting the high standards set by their rivals.
At the end of the day, what makes a restaurant a "Sydney" one is savvy owners who understand their clientele and consistently give them what they want.
You'll find more restaurants, cafes, and bars per square foot in Melbourne and Sydney than anywhere else in the world. Depending on your preferences, you can satisfy your culinary needs in either city. Visit a pub in Melbourne or a seafood restaurant in Sydney if you're interested in trying some fantastic Australian fare. Don't forget the coffee, either; it's unparalleled in Melbourne. What you prefer depends on your current emotional state. Both cities feature unique offerings from around the world.