As David Matthews, WA Good Food Guide’s outgoing editor, hands the reins to a new team, he reflects on the past four years of WA dining, and the state’s bright future.

It’s four or so years since you joined WA Good Food Guide. Take us back to those early days and the journey you’ve been on with us.
Before starting with the WA Good Food Guide, I’d been working with national publications covering all things food and drink Australia wide. Joining WAGFG meant narrowing the focus to one state, which I saw as an opportunity to get under the hood and go deep in a place that, traditionally, was underrepresented. Definitely the sentiment from locals was that WA rarely got a look-in from national publications run out of the east coast. Why was Adelaide, a significantly smaller city population-wise, getting so much more coverage than Perth, for example? When was the last time reviewers or editors had even made it to the West?

I remember a few conversations I had back east when I was joining, about how our mission was to present a Top 100 list of the state’s best venues. The response was often “how are you possibly going to fill a list with 100 good restaurants in WA?”. In my mind, it reflected the fact that a lot of people had a blind spot when it came to the West, and because of that, it never really got the attention it should have. I’m pleased to say that during my time, the hardest decision we made every year wasn’t how to fill the list, it was about how many truly excellent and inspiring venues we had to leave out.

Memorable plates: estate lamb at Glenarty Road.

What have been some of the highlights from an industry perspective?
If there’s one thing I’m most proud of, it’s that we tore up the rule book, asking questions about what a guide-worthy restaurant was and the kinds of venues worth including. WAGFG has never been pay-to-play, so it was important to continue the legacy of anonymous reviewing, robust discussion, checks and rechecks, but we also retooled the scoring system so those places that flew a little more under the radar had more of a platform.

The test was, if you were a visitor or a local, could you pick up the guide and use it to explore the state? It’s easy to pick the 10 fanciest restaurants in the state and put them at the top, and many of them deserve to be there, but it was our mission to build around that, to give people an insight into where to have a world-class tasting menu, as well as where to grab an exceptional sandwich, slurp peerless handmade udon or drink inventive cocktails. It’s about texture, and I hope that those guides we’ve released since I joined offer something close to that mission.

Certainly, this is how we ended up with a guide that could have a more traditional, cerebral, dégustation venue, like Vasse Felix, win restaurant of the year one year, and Madalena’s – a more casual spot where the service is breezy and the tables come from Bunnings – win another.

Among them we’ve celebrated venues from some of the country’s most celebrated chefs alongside hole-in-the-wall curry shops in Margaret River, takeout pizza joints in Freo, warungs in carparks and shopping centres and BYO Malaysian spots in the suburbs.

Diversifying the reviewing team was also crucial to expanding our coverage – the result is a more delicious guide, and one that reflects the broad eating experiences that the state offers, all of it worth our readers’ attention.

Memorable plates: the DIY seafood platter at Frui Momento.

How have you seen the industry change since you started?
I started the year Covid took hold and changed everything, so I’ve seen it change a lot! If we’re talking for the better, I think there’s a little more emphasis in the industry now on work-life balance, for one, but one of the biggest changes was seeing industry folk who’d spent the better part of their career overseas come back and try to build something local. Paul Bentley at Casa and Si Paradiso is a good example, Kirsty Marchant – who happened to bring Ben Ing along for the ride – is another. Will Meyrick did the same.

All of these people and many more contributed to a feeling in the industry that I’m sure had been growing for a while – particularly among younger players – that if you were ambitious, the next step in your career didn’t need to be overseas or anywhere else, it could be right here. I think the sheer number of young, ambitious operators launching venues and taking charge of places that are landing high on our lists year in, year out, is testament to that fact, and the state’s hospitality scene is the better for it.

Memorable plates: warm tart at Alberta’s.

You’ll still be on board in the reviewing team, but any meals from your time as editor that are going to live in your head rent-free?
Too many to count. Seeing Brendan Pratt’s work at Vasse Felix that first year was something special – I’m still thinking about that piece of Rose Mallee beef served with tallow-enriched milk, taramasalata and grilled radicchio. I remember a meal with our bars editor, Matty Hirsch, when we lost what felt like hours to a spice-fuelled fever dream in the basement of Long Chim. The lamb skewers grilled over charcoal at Fluffy Lamb (RIP) in Freo Markets, with a side of bone-marrow sambal no less, were one of the greatest eating experiences you could have anywhere.

Other flashes? Kurt Sampson’s exceptional work at the now-closed and greatly missed Propeller; Liam Atkinson’s and Sofika Boulton’s roti-turned-cheese-on-toast loaded with coriander and fennel seeds at Bar Rogue; Melissa Palinkas’ ’nduja toast served dripping with honey at Young George; the charcuterie at Vincent Wine; squid-ink risotto at Santini; KCH’s Sarawak laksa.

And then there’s the trips out of the city. Estate lamb at Glenarty Road; Ben Jacob serving fried fish wings for breakfast at Lagoon in Yallingup; basically everything, but definitely the crab noodles, at Liberté in Albany; the refined excellence of Leeuwin Estate, Wills Domain and Frui Momento (not to mention the build-it-yourself seafood platter); the sheer level of variety in the pies at Mount Barker Country Bakery; the hum of the curries at Dahl Daddys; black coffee and a warm slice of tart at Alberta’s.

More? I might leave it to the incoming team, who I’m glad to say are welcoming me back as a reviewer this year. Thankfully, I’m still hungry.

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