I was excited by a recent article in the Sunday Age (14th October by Gemima Cody). Excited, because it highlighted two of my favourite Aussie restaurants of all time – Fanny’s and Two Faces. I realise that the purpose of the article was to publicise the newly released 2018 Good Food Guide, but it was heart warming to see kudos being given to a couple of the original 3-Hat establishments from the groundbreaking inaugural edition from 1980. (Two of four 3-Hat establishments in that edition – I presume one of the others was the wonderful Flower Drum, but what was the fourth?)
Actually, when I first came to Australia in the early 70’s, Fanny’s was one of the first restaurants I visited. Known in those days as Fanny’s by Gaslight, I had read about it in a local magazine and my notes tell me that I was highly impressed – not just by the food, but the ambience and the professional service as well. (Those were the days when my restaurant visits were infrequent enough for me to make notes). And, in latter years, Two Faces became a regular haunt, with Hermann Schneider commenting to me, many years later, that he thought I was in a dubious business of one sort or other, because I was obviously not his atypical client, yet always spent and tipped well. (I just spent a fair proportion of my earnings on restaurant visits – as any young chef should.)
To my mind, Gloria and Blyth Staley and Hermann and Fay Schneider were the forerunners of today’s inspiring restaurant scene. Sure, Ms Cody in her article was a touch disparaging about the classical ‘Frenchness’ of each establishment and, yes, cream and butter did play a significant role in their kitchens – particularly in those early days. But, I will always remember the tender, flavoursome Goose with Fresh Cherries at Two Faces and the Scallops Provencale at Fanny’s, which were opaque in the centre at a time when our wonderful local scallops were normally cooked within an inch of their life (and then for 10 minutes more).
Obviously, Vegemite Scrolls with Black Garlic and Miso and Camel Milk Sorbet using liquid nitrogen (Attica) didn’t rate a Guernsey. And neither did a menu like Dan Hunter’s at Brae, which centres around his inspiring gardens. (Although, Dan, a little credit to the original ‘gardener/chef George Byron wouldn’t go amiss.)
But the food at Fanny’s and Two Faces was inspiring nonetheless and this was a time when hospitality positions were rarely regarded as ‘real’ jobs and top quality produce was hard to find. (“Of course the fish is fresh Sir – it’s fresh frozen.”) Yet, even with such challenges, both establishments set what seemed at the time impossibly high standards and, in doing so, laid the groundwork for today’s vibrant restaurant scene. They inspired customers, restaurateurs and cooks alike (take a bow Luke Mangan, Andrew Blake, Teage Ezard, John Lepp, etc., etc.) and introduced us to the suave, urbane Claude Verysser, who ran Fanny’s dining room with such aplomb and the highly professional Anders Ousback, who oversaw Two Faces with flair and a delightful touch of dry humour. (Anders went on to run the room at Berowa Waters, where the food of Tony and Gaye Bilson was, to say the least, world beating – but that’s another story!)
I digress. I will always remember Mrs Staley sitting at the corner table, where she witnessed almost every dish as it exited the kitchen pass. And those kind, yet on the mark, words from Good Food Editor, Claude Forell when she passed:
“Gloria was an inspired impresario with a flair for design, a sense of style, an antenna for contemporary trends and an intuitive feeling for exquisite food.” How true!
Whilst a former apprentice from Two Faces, who preferred to remain anonymous, but is these days a very successful restaurateur in his own right, once told me:
“Chef not only had eyes in the back of his head, but could somehow tell – even if seated at the other end of the dining room – if you had the slightest f..k up in the kitchen. And, sure, you got a bollocking (only if deserved), but overall he was a generous and caring boss who, for our own good, installed in us a desire for perfection.”
So, were Fanny’s and Two Faces up there with the world’s best, like our current breed – maybe not? But did they serve bloody good food (which was innovative for its time) and look after us as if they really cared – sure did!
PS. And, just out of interest, it was not a trick question. My restaurant Fleurie was not the fourth 3-Hat restaurant mentioned from the 1980 Good Food Guide. I did receive 3 Hats, but not until later in the eighties, when I also had Hats at Champagne Charlie’s and The Last Aussie Fishcaf.