The ‘80s ‘greed is good’ philosophy came to an abrupt end when the stock markets crashed on Black Monday, 19 October. Many blamed computer trading for the severity of the crash. In Australia the ridiculous lending of the recently deregulated banks had created a property frenzy and surging demand. The crash led to the ‘recession we had to have’ in the early ‘90s and hit top-end restaurants hard.
During the 1980s, dining became a form of conspicuous consumption. In Melbourne, business people lunched lunched at Florentino and The Society, or at Blyth and Gloria Staley’s Fanny’s. At night, the Staley’s Glo Glo’s in ritzy Toorak was the height of glamour. The Staleys extended their restaurant empire to Sydney with Chez Oz which became, according to Good Living, “the mecca for business boys and fashion girls”. It also became fashionable to hire name chefs to cook dinner in your own home.
The lavish lunch wasn’t confined to Australia’s eastern capitals. According to the Financial Review:
Australia’s most infamous lunching restaurant of the 1980s was the Mediterranean, in Subiaco, 10 minutes from Perth’s CBD. It was not unusual to see Alan Bond, the late Laurie Connell, Peter Briggs and Kevin Parry at the famous “Friday lunch”…In its heyday it was not uncommon to see four-figure lunch bills presented to a table of two.
The Mediterranean Garden Restaurant was owned, at various times, by two of the most notorious entrepreneurs of the 1980s, Alan Bond and Laurie Connell. The rich set treated the restaurant very much as their club, and the walls were adorned with caricatures of members of the “big money” set, including Bond and Connell, as well as Robert Holmes a Court, Rose and Lang Hancock and the (later disgraced) Premier of Western Australia, Brian Burke.
“The Dom Perignon was flowing like wine. Owner Vito Checcini says they get through seven dozen bottles a week, at $95 a pop. One customer comes in regularly once a week with a group of friends and the bill rarely comes to less than $3,000,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald in November 1986. The bulk of that bill was for liquor.
Black Monday, coming in the year following the introduction of the Fringe Benefits Tax, marked the beginning of a very tough time for restaurants that lasted through the early 1990s. It hit the Mediterranean’s regulars hard as their financial empires came crashing down. Several went to gaol. The restaurant lingered on for some years, although reporters visiting in 1993 found only 14 customers. It was apparently still open for a “welcome back” lunch in 1997 when Alan Bond was first released from gaol. Many years later, in 2012, the premises became Liberal politician Julie Bishop’s electorate office.
As a result of challenging economic times that followed Black Monday, there was a swing towards bistros and more casual dining.