Alan Attwood, the Cheap Eats guide’s inaugural editor, writes: ‘Ah, 1986. What a year. Bob Hawke was prime minister of Australia, Allan Border (“Captain Grumpy”) led the Australian cricket team and the likes of Whitney Houston, Madonna and Robert Palmer ruled on radio… Concluding the introduction to the 1986 guide, I wrote: “This may well be a collector’s item — it may not be long before the $12.50 limit is remembered with fond nostalgia.” That $12.50 (for two sit-down courses) was our arbitrary target for “cheap”.’
Cheap Eats was a complementary publication to The Age Good Food Guide. Whereas the former focused on fine dining, Cheap Eats looked at the…well…cheaper end of the dining out scene. Twenty-five years later, five of the establishments listed in the first guide were still going: Banff (St Kilda), Cafe Sweethearts (South Melbourne), Grossi Florentino Cellar Bar (city), the London Tavern (Richmond) and Pellegrini’s (city).
By 2013, the criterion of two sit-down courses for under $12.50 had been adjusted and the book was titled Good Food Under $30. And by 2016 the Good Food people’s criterion was one course (with change) for under $20.
The stand-alone book was eventually merged into the Good Food Guide as a separate section, which continues to identify places where you can get a feed for less than $20. That feed might be a burger, a gourmet toasted cheese sandwich or a bowl of noodles.
There is now a plethora of cheap eats guides covering the Melbourne food scene, pointing to good value food from every conceivable cuisine: Indian, Vietnamese, American, Ethiopian, Israeli, Chinese…the list goes on.