A former sparkie has won the top honour at this year's Australian Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide Awards.
Sydney's Marque restaurant, run by Mark Best, took the honour of Restaurant of the Year 2012, topping a field of more than 400 establishments nationwide.
It's another feather in the cap for Best, whose French-themed Surry Hills restaurant achieved worldwide acclaim last year when it was named on the London-based S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy.
"I think it's a pretty amazing story," said Gourmet Traveller's chief critic, Pat Nourse.
"You've got a bloke here who did his apprenticeship as an electrician in the mines at Kalgoorlie, a guy who only moved to Sydney in the first place to work as a sparkie on submarines at Cockatoo Island, who got bitten by the cooking bug, and then has been plugging away for 10 years, doing his own thing, swimming against the tide, doing it tough at times, and now he's being recognised overseas as one of the top cooking talents of his generation," he said.
Among the creme de la creme of Australia's food industry gathered at the Opera House in Sydney were Neil Perry, George Calombaris, Adriano Zumbo and Kylie Kwong, who were treated to a menu prepared by guest French chef Yves Camdeborde, from Paris's famous 20-seater bistro Le Comptoir, which has a seven-month waiting list.
Camdeborde, a judge on the French version of MasterChef, joined forces with his friend, Guillaume Brahimi, in the Bennelong kitchen to create a special menu.
Guests ate what is known as "the queen of French entrées", a chartreuse - layers of vegetables cooked in a bain marie - but with a modern twist; truffle ravioli with a lobster consommé; and then revisited the classic French dessert of Poire belle Helene, poached pears with chocolate and cream.
Both Frenchmen, Brahimi and Camdeborde dined at Marque just a few days ago, and Brahimi, who says it is one of his favourite Sydney restaurants, described it as "unique and magic".
"Marque is a wild ride and offers exhilaration, stimulation and surprises at every turn for anyone who loves to eat out," said Gourmet Traveller editor Anthea Loucas.
Another chef who had reason to crack open a bottle of bubbly was Victorian-based Dan Hunter, with the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld taking out Regional Restaurant of the Year.
Situated in the Grampians, about 250km from Melbourne, Hunter, who trained in Spain, embraces the philosophy of regionality and seasonality.
The winners of the Australian Gourmet Traveller 2012 Restaurant Guide Awards are:
- Restaurant of the Year - Marque, Sydney
- Regional Restaurant of the Year - Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld, Victoria
- Best New Restaurant - Porteno, Sydney
- Best New Talent - Luke Burgess, Garagistes, Hobart
- Maitre'd of the Year - Lara Marro, Vincenzo's Cucina Vera, Adelaide
- Wine List of the Year - Ortiga, Brisbane
- Bar of the Year - Shady Pines Saloon, Sydney
- Sommelier of the Year - Giorgio De Maria, 121BC, Sydney