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Luxe for less: How to eat at a hatted restaurant on a budget

Goodfood logo Goodfood 6/10/2018 Callan Boys

Andrew McConnell’s flagship fine diner offers a relaxed lunch every Sunday for $75. © Supplied Andrew McConnell’s flagship fine diner offers a relaxed lunch every Sunday for $75. Ergh. Budgets. They can sure throw a wet blanket on good times. Dining at hatted restaurants while you’re in penny-pinching mode doesn’t have to mean sharing an iceberg wedge between two, though. With a bit of planning and restraint, you can have a very nice time in Australia’s best restaurants while keeping the credit card in check.

The majority of venues listed in The Good Food Guide will post their menu online so you know how much a meal is going to cost. Avoiding optional extras is key to keeping under budget - oysters, sparkling water, cocktails, cheese and whisky will double the price of dinner before you can say “supplementary truffle”. Being smart about wine is also vital.

“If I'm doing a degustation, I like to split a wine match with my dinner date,” says Good Food Guide editor Myffy Rigby. “It's exactly the right amount to taste with each course, I get to see the flex and scope of the sommelier and I don't leave the restaurant three sheets to the wind.”

Here are five more tips that will see you on your way to enjoying a little luxe for less. (And if your idea of dining on a budget involves eating at Tetsuya’s or Vue de Monde, call me. We should be friends.)

Raise the bar

Confit ocean trout at Tetsuya’s © Supplied Confit ocean trout at Tetsuya’s Keen to experience a hatted restaurant, but not fussed on the idea of committing to a five-course menu? Have we got a stool for you? Restaurant bars are a brilliant refuge for solo diners and budget-conscious couples. The food is made by the same chefs who create the dining room dishes, however, the in-and-out nature of a restaurant bar means you can knock back a couple of snacks and be on your way without spending the equivalent of a car repayment on food. Some restaurants might offer half-sized versions of their signature dishes for the discerning snacker. Bargain.

Enjoy dinner and a show

Make an early reservation at Bennelong. © Brendon Thorne Make an early reservation at Bennelong. A round of applause for the theatre, please - facilitator of art, entertainment and early-bird specials. Many restaurants within a five-minutes stroll of a theatre offer two or three-course specials designed to have you well fed and in the dress circle before the curtains are raised. You don’t need to be a ticket holder to take advantage of a pre-theatre offer (which may save you more than 30 per cent on the standard dinner price) only a willingness to eat supper at the same time Millionaire Hot Seat is on.

BYO good times

Toothfish sandwich with padron peppers and watercress from the Bentley bar. © Wolter Peeters Toothfish sandwich with padron peppers and watercress from the Bentley bar. Whenever I eat at a restaurant and don’t order wine, I’m shocked at the price of the excursion.

“Excuse me, waiter, I think there’s something wrong with this bill - it seems too small.” “No, sir, everything is in order. This is why your friends who don’t drink can afford their own house.” While teetotalling is one way to save on restaurant costs, it can also make for a dour old evening, so blessed are those restaurants that let you bring-your-own-bottle. Wine in a restaurant is approximately double the cost of the same bottle in a booze shop, which means there’s decent coin to be saved with BYO, even when the corkage is $20 per person. Many venues don’t advertise they offer BYO so it’s worth calling ahead to check and perhaps being pleasantly surprised. The Good Food Guide also includes BYO information for all listed restaurants.

Make pasta the main event

Angasi oyster with finger lime and scampi caviar at Bentley Restaurant and Bar. © Wolter Peeters Angasi oyster with finger lime and scampi caviar at Bentley Restaurant and Bar. I’m not sure where this notion that Italian food should be cheap came from, but it’s nonsense.

Italian cooking lives and dies on freshness and quality and you should expect to pay top-dollar for beautiful Australian produce at hatted restaurants channelling The Boot. Pasta is often more filling than the main course and yours for about two-thirds the price of a veal cotoletta or bistecca. Pair it with a simple caprese salad to achieve maximum bang on a budget buck. NB: ordering lobster tagliolini does not apply for this tip.

“Let’s do lunch!”

Pappardelle with braised pork, oregano and shaved parmesan at Rosetta in Southbank. © Darrian Traynor Pappardelle with braised pork, oregano and shaved parmesan at Rosetta in Southbank. Take an annual leave day and book in for lunch. Sure, you could visit a hatted restaurant on your work break too, but a leisurely lunch is one of life’s great pleasures and who wants to return to the office after wine and pudding? It’s easier to score a table during lunch service and many restaurants offer quickfire two-course specials for an agreeable price.

The Good Food Guide's second annual national edition, with hats awarded across Australia, will be launched on October 8 with our presenting partners Vittoria Coffee and Citi. The Good Food Guide 2019 will be on sale from October 9 in newsagencies, bookstores and via, RRP $29.99.

Luxe to-do list in Sydney

Lunch at Est.

Dinner at Merivale’s flagship fine-diner will set you back a minimum of $105 for two courses at dinner. There’s no minimum spend at lunch so you can experience the plush surrounds for half the price.

252 George Street, Sydney, 02 9114 7312,

BYO at Tetsuya's

The iconic restaurant charges $30 for the first bottle and $45 for every bottle thereafter. By no means a small corkage, but certainly less expensive than the $14,500 Romanee-Conti on the wine list.

529 Kent Street, Sydney, 02 9267 2900,

Pre-theatre dinner at Bennelong

Chef Peter Gilmore’s Opera House restaurant offers two or three-course specials seven nights a week. You’ll need to make a reservation between 5.30pm and 6pm.

Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney, 02 9240 8000,

“Stressless Sunday” at Ormeggio at The Spit

Mosman’s premier Italian restaurant offers a five-course chef’s degustation for $79 every Sunday. Ripper value considering Ormeggio’s five-course tasting menu is usually priced at $129. Join the two-hatted venue’s VIP club and eat for free on your birthday, too.

D'Albora Marinas, Spit Road, Mosman, 02 9969 4088,

Bar dining at Bentley

Bentley’s bar menu is full of nifty little snacks from chef Brent Savage, plus items from the dining room carte as snapper with broad bean shoots and pickled butternut.

27 O’Connell Street, Sydney, 02 8214 0505,

Luxe to-do list in Melbourne

Sunday lunch at Cutler & Co. 

Andrew McConnell’s flagship fine diner offers a relaxed lunch every Sunday celebrating the best of that week’s produce. Seventy-five dollars per person represents great value when main courses at Cutler cost usually around $50 each.

55-57 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 03 9419 4888,

New menu experiments at Ides 

Chef Peter Gunn offers a $70 sample menu from Tuesday to Thursday nights comprised of four new dishes not currently on the Ides menu.

92 Smith Street, Collingwood, 03 9939 9542,

Get out of the city at Greasy Zoe’s

Less of the one-off deal and more of a regular steal if you're willing to go to zone 2 on a Myki. What's saved on Hurstbridge rent goes on the plate with eight courses for $85 featuring all of the Yarra Valley’s best supplies.

Shop 5, 850 Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, Hurstbridge, 03 9718 0324,

Pre-theatre at Ezard 

Teage Ezard’s two-hatted restaurant will let experience half the $185 tasting menu for $90 before a show, just as long as you’re out by 7:30pm for curtains.

187 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 03 9639 6811,

Views and vermouth at Vue de Monde 

Vue de Monde now costs $230-$275 for dinner. Given you're partly paying for sharp service and those 55th floor views from the Rialto, you could just get a cocktail and snack at sister bar Lui next door.

Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins Street, 03 9691 3888,

In pictures: 25 restaurant mistakes you've been making your whole life

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