Is Fine Dining On The Way Out?

People expect the same quality but in a relaxed setting.

22/06/2016 2:37 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:54 PM AEST
It just doesn't appeal to everyone.

In case you missed it, Sydney fine dining institution Rockpool Est. 1989 is set to close after 27 years to make way for new restaurant, Eleven Bridge.

While it did come as a surprise, Rockpool Est. 1989 isn't the only fine dining restaurant to close its doors recently.

In May, Mark Best, chef and owner of Sydney restaurant Marque, announced it will close after 17 years. Another one of Australia's best restaurants, Sepia, also announced in February this year that it will be closing within the next two years and focusing on a new project -- which will not be within the fine dining space.

Let's ask the question that's on all our minds: is fine dining dead? Are we sick of the often-stiff atmosphere and set menu, or do we simply want a more hands-on meal?

According to Rockpool's Neil Perry, one of Australia's leading and most influential chefs, fine dining is not on its way out, but simply changing.

I don't think because a couple of people are leaving fine dining means it's necessarily failing, I think it's just the natural ebb and flow of people coming and going into the business.

"I think there's fine dining restaurants that are flourishing, and other restaurants are deciding -- like ourselves and also Marque -- to change a little bit. Myself and Mark [Marque chef and owner] have been going for a long time," Perry told The Huffington Post Australia.

"[Eleven Bridge] will still intend to cook great food and provide great service. We're just moving away from the option that fine dining has to be a multicourse tasting menu.

"I don't think because a couple of people are leaving fine dining means it's necessarily failing, I think it's just the natural ebb and flow of people coming and going into the business. You've got guys like Ben Shewry doing a fantastic job at Attica."

This is a sentiment echoed by Fairfax Good Food Guides Editor and Food and Drink Events Creative Director, Myffy Rigby.

"It's a conversation that's been happening for years," Rigby told HuffPost Australia. "I think the nature of fine dining is changing, but I don't necessarily think people are moving away from it."

A set menu and stiff environment may not suit everyone.

In saying that, Rigby does think there is a shift for people to move towards more casual, fun and flexible restaurant settings, as well as towards something new.

"People are bored all the time. We're a country that's looking to be constantly distracted," she said. "With social media culture, we're always looking for the next thing, for something that's going to stimulate us. People want to have fun while eating fine dining. They want fun dining and fine dining.

"People are smarter than ever before, more informed and want real experiences, and I don't necessarily think the prescriptive type of fine dining that we have been seeing for the past two decades is what people are expecting anymore. They might not want to sit in a still room with stiff linen tablecloths and five types of cutlery anymore."

People expect more, but not necessarily in a high end environment.

Ling Qian, Public Relations Manager at Australian Good Food and Travel Guide, also agrees, saying that Australians are moving towards more relaxed restaurant settings.

"But that's not to say people don't appreciate quality. Instead people expect more, but not necessarily in a high end environment," Qian told HuffPost Australia. "People are simply demanding better quality without the ceremony."

However, isn't this just another way of saying fine dining is on its way out?

"It's diversifying. There will always be a place for fine dining. It's more about a shift in trend. Similar to fashion, food goes through cycles," Qian said.

"I think that there's definitely still a place for big, heavy hitting Michelin star restaurants -- we need light and shade in our dining culture -- it's just that there's more of an emphasis on people having fun while they're doing it," Rigby said.

"I think [fine dining restaurants] are diversifying. If you look at Rockpool as an example, they're diversifying and trying something different."

Ron Chapple studios
People want fine dining quality without the fine dining vibe.

According to Qian, more Australians know they don't need to go to a fine dining restaurant to get the same quality.

"I think Australians in general have become more demanding when it comes to the quality of food. They are certainly more knowledgeable on what is good. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to get a Chef Hat standard meal, you needed to go to a fine dining restaurant. Today you are just as likely to get a Chef Hat standard meal in an informal setting," Quian said.

This notion is what Neil Perry aims for with Eleven Bridge.

"We're sort of going à la carte, but we've still got the same attitude about the quality of the food," Perry told HuffPost Australia. "So, as a diner you're more in control -- you've got a choice of what food you feel like eating that night and you're more likely to find something you really like."

Perry cites a few reasons for moving away from fine dining -- but it being on its way out is not one of them.

Regardless of food trends, there will always be a place for fine dining.

"For us, we're in the middle of the city so the set menus at night made it a lot more difficult for our corporate clients and people who are living in the city to utilise it. That was the situation there."

"We also really wanted to change our name because we were having lots of issues with people coming into the wrong address, even after the move and winning Restaurant of the Year. We realised we were going to change and had an opportunity to focus on a slightly different menu structure, so that's why we decided to go the whole hog."

What people can expect at Eleven Bridge is fine dining quality in a casual, relaxed setting.

"Some dishes are inspired by and reimagined from the original menus and the dishes that have been very famous in the last couple of years, and new dishes we'll be creating," Perry said.

"The one thing people can expect is fantastic produce, beautifully cooked dishes and delivered by a fantastic service team."

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