By James Atkinson
The editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Pub Food Guide is unperturbed by industry criticism of the latest edition.
The guide awards a "schooner rating" of between one and three schooners to the best hotels in the food service game. Some publicans were bemused by the 2014 Schooner Awards, which were announced last week.
None moreso than acclaimed chef Colin Fassnidge, whose Sydney pub Four In Hand is a two-time winner of three schooners (2011 and 2012) and winner of Best Overall Pub in the guide’s inaugural year, 2011.
He is currently rated a two-hat chef by Fairfax sister publication the Good Food Guide for his adjoining Four in Hand Dining Room, but his pub food was deemed to have slipped in the Good Pub Food Guide 2013, when he won no schooners. In the latest edition, he was given one schooner.
Fassnidge told TheShout that he doesn’t respect the judging process for the guide and has previously told editor Keith Austin he wants the Four In Hand to have nothing to do with it.
“It’s a joke, it’s all about handshakes and who you know. We’re just lucky we don’t need it,” he said.
Fassnidge claimed that after winning Best Overall Pub in his first year the organisers told him: “You’ll never win this prize again, because we share it around.”
This suggestion was labelled as “utter bollocks” by editor Keith Austin, who dismissed criticism of the guide as a case of sour grapes.
“What does he think this is, some sort of Mickey Mouse outfit? To say that we’re sharing it around is just not true,” Austin told TheShout.
Playing with businesses’ reputations
But another publican told TheShout that with many questionable inclusions and omissions the guide “lacks credibility big time”.
He was incredulous to find his venue had slipped back from three schooners – which he was a bit surprised to have won in the first place – after its food offering had undeniably improved over the course of the following year.
“You’re playing with businesses’ reputations. If you drop back to one or no schooners, people will think the venue’s standards have slipped,” he said.
The Woolpack Hotel in Redfern dropped back from two schooners in 2013 to none this year.
“Our patronage is up 30 per cent on last year when we were doing 650 customers a week – now we’re doing 1000. We’ve got the same chef, we’ve got the same staff,” Woolpack owner James Henty told TheShout.
But he would not criticise the guide, commenting that the editorial team were “very helpful with the process”.
“It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get two schooners, the numbers speak for themselves,” Henty said.
We visit two or three times
Editor Keith Austin told TheShout that whenever any contentious ratings come through that result in a pub dropping a schooner, the reviewers try to get back to the venue a second or third time to ensure they’ve got it right.
“I’m not quite sure what more you can do to be honest. It might just be that on that day the chef was ill or the waitress was having a bad day. Half a point can lose you a schooner,” he said.
“No-one ever complains when they go up.”