Adelaide’s Restaurant Botanic has won restaurant of the year at Gourmet Traveller’s annual awards night, which were announced in-person at a gala event on Tuesday, after being cancelled in 2020 and held online last year.

The restaurant, headed by chef Justin James and located in the middle of the South Australian capital’s botanic gardens, opened just 14 months ago after the gardens’ previous restaurant underwent a transformation. James uses plants from the surrounds, combining native flavours and more exotic botanics to create a 20-something-course menu that unfolds over at least four hours.

Accepting the award, the chef said he was “a bit shocked, to be honest”.

“I’ve been to many of these and I watched all these great chefs stand up here and pick this award up, and I said, ‘one day, I hope I can do that’. I saw them come through, the Ben Shewrys, the Dan Hunters, the Neil Perrys. And it’s pretty incredible to stand here.

“The idea I had, to go to Adelaide – everyone told me, ‘it’s not possible, maybe in Melbourne, maybe in Sydney’. It’s just pretty incredible.”

Gourmet Traveller’s editor, Joanna Hunkin, opened the awards by paying tribute to the “deep talent, vision and strength that fuels this industry”.

“It’s what’s seen you all battle through two and a half years of hell and come out the other side. And that is worth celebrating.”

Winners from previous years appeared at the awards held at Shell House in Sydney, also one of the finalists for the best new restaurant award; Attica’s Ben Shewry attended, as did Neil Perry, whose new venue, Margaret, was awarded best new restaurant and Tedesca Osteria’s Brigitte Hafner, whose restaurant was recognised again as a state winner after being named last year’s restaurant of the year.

Prior to the pandemic, the magazine compiled a ranked list of 50 restaurants around Australia each year. Last year, however, after border restrictions and pandemic limitations made that impossible, the awards changed to recognise a winner for each state alongside an unranked list of top venues. The format has endured this year, with 82 restaurants featuring on the 2023 list.

Mug Chen and Chia Wu
Mug Chen and Chia Wu were awarded best new talent at their wine bar Muni. Photograph: Jonathan van der Knaap

Mug Chen and Chia Wu, two Taiwanese chefs who opened the natural wine bar and restaurant Muni in the McLaren Vale town of Willunga, SA, were awarded as best new talent, while Thi Le was named chef of the year in the night’s only peer-voted award.

Le, whose background is Vietnamese-Chinese and who grew up in Sydney’s west, dedicated her win to “all the ethnic, Asian girls who want to be chefs and didn’t want to be accountants”.

Le thanked her partner, Jia-Yen, who she says pushed her to open acclaimed fine diner Anchovy in Richmond, Melbourne. “I originally wanted to open a chicken shop! So, it’s a failed chicken shop.”

Thi Le
Gourmet Traveller’s chef of the year, Thi Le. Photograph: Parker Blain

Le, who now runs Ca Com, a banh mi bar, and Jeow, a Laotian eatery, both in Melbourne, said she had always wanted to champion south-east Asian food. “Sometimes I wonder whether it’s the right thing to do. I think being recognised with this award means I’m on the right path.”

Restaurant of the year
Restaurant Botanic, Adelaide, SA

Restaurant of the year state winners
Pilot, Canberra, ACT
Margaret, Sydney, NSW
Essa, Brisbane, Queensland
Restaurant Botanic, Adelaide, SA
Fico, Hobart, Tasmania
Tedesca Osteria, Red Hill, Victoria
Lulu La Delizia, Perth, WA

Chef of the year
Thi Le – Ca Com and Jeow, Melbourne, Victoria

Best new restaurant
Margaret, Sydney

Best new talent
Mug Chen and Chia Wu – Muni, Willunga, SA

Restaurant personality of the year
Shannon Martinez – Smith & Daughters, Melbourne, Victoria

Best destination dining
Van Bone, Marion Bay, Tasmania

Best wine bar
Paloma, Burleigh Heads, Queensland

Outstanding contribution to hospitality
Dani Valent, journalist and food communicator

Source: The Guardian