Restaurant Criticism

Leo Schofield - 3 Daggers; 4 Pools of Blood

Australian Restaurant Critics: Leo Schofield

Leo Schofield looms large on the Sydney scenePhotograph ©Tony Knox 1991

It was a bravura performance - all stops on the organ of civilised sensitivity were out. For two breathtaking hours Leo demonstrated the all encompassing richness of the experiences of the renaissance Sydney-sider ...

He spoke of newspapers: "The Sunday Australian ... like The Sunday Times [were] bibles for the yuppies of the day, they dealt with things that we thought to be interesting not grindingly dull social issues; but indulgence and they had fashion and travel section, big pictorial essays; sometimes they stirred your conscience sometimes they didn't; never did in depth exposures."

Of critics: " ... the critics that I really enjoy reading and whom I trust there's Pauline Kael on movies; it's very opinionated writing, she's often quite perverse, she presents reasons why she likes it but it's not an ex-cathedra statement, it's a statement of an opinion and ditto with Andrew Porter who's my favourite music critic."


Three star French chefs: " ... in the best French restaurants there is a welcome which is perfectly balanced but not over-familiar but there's no froideur, there should be warmth without familiarity, professionalism that is unseen and unstated ... but one has been also to French restaurants where the atmosphere is so glacial that it's all almost like a temple where it's demanded of you that as part of the cult you come and pay homage ... Bocuse is kind of Folies-Bergere of food now, he's not taken seriously. But I always found that Chapel's restaurant had an almost jesuitical restraint about it all. But you see Bardet's food as he did it here I thought was absolutely wonderful." A fascinating and uniquely Sydney juxtaposition of images. No Frenchman would have the imagination to mix froideur (cold reserve with aristocratic overtones), the paganism of the temple, the Folies-Begere and the Jesuits in one glorious flowing paragraph.

Food: " ... the perfect dinner should involve a drink beforehand, a glass of champagne, a sherry, a good light aperitif that gets the taste buds up like poodles, you know begging for more ... I have the notion that there is no such thing as a memorable main course."

Fabulous Sydney food: " ... I mean we're talking quantum leap food here now - we're talking food that has leapt in the last few years from being shitty ... to being usually pretty good and sometimes exceptional, outstanding, dazzling, and at the same time that food has been evolving its own quality, it's purpose built food."

On being recognised: " ... I mean, I'm 55, I know when I'm being duchessed."

On the outcome of a court case: " ... Someone said I'm glad you lost, you've still got your kneecaps."

Fifty-five still with his own kneecaps and a mind as sharp as a tack Leo has amassed the power that would be expected of someone of his considerable talents and energy.

Food writer Cherry Ripe says: "I'd say that [Leo's writing] would be a huge influence and perhaps playing the greatest role in creating the difference between Sydney restaurants and Melbourne restaurants. I think Leo has a much more modern approach to food than any of your restaurant critics in Melbourne and I think that this is reflected in Sydney restaurants being much more international and cosmopolitan and the food style and the food trends here are considered to be in advance to those in Melbourne."

Leo Schofield is very close to Joan Campbell , Food Editor of Vogue Entertaining - he calls her 'Dame Joan' and seems to treat her a bit like his mum; she says: "I don't know that Leo has formed the tastes of Sydney - now let me be very careful about this - Leo has had the most enormous effect on the way we cook food - even before I met him he was taking these parties away overseas - he is knowledgeable about everything ... but Leo has had an enormous effect - what Leo says, goes Some grotty little place that he says is marvellous and they all flock there for two weeks." Only two weeks?: "Yes we always reckon it's a two weeks job." She said about a restaurant in the current issue ofVogue Entertaining: "It's closed down anyhow because Leo gave it a real punch in the guts, I mean if Leo does that, forget it - never. They were very professional, this is the boy from Giraffe [shows photo], and he is now with Tony Bilson ."


Being Sydney there's always a whiff of scandal surrounding the powerful and there have been mutterings about conflicts of interest, from here this seem relatively unimportant. But not to fit into Leo's view of the universe could matter; then you stand a chance of being cast into outer darkness until you recant - or go broke.

June 1991

Update November 1996

Leo has retired from restaurant reviewing and advertising. He has re-invented himself as director of the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts. This year, 1996, will be his last Melbourne Festival, for 1997 and '98 he goes to Sydney to direct its festival. He is also chair of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and sits on a number of important 'arts' boards. Leo's arts festivals have been everything that would have been expected from an ex-advertising man - they have sold well to 'middle-Melbourne' and entranced the politician. He has been to festivals what Andrew Lloyd Webber has been to musical theatre - unchallengeably bankable.

Mietta O'Donnell & Tony Knox
©Mietta's 1996