These days, we don’t just go to shopping centres to shop. We go to eat. Shopping centre food courts can occupy up to 25 per cent of a centre’s space and are seen as an important drawcard. It wasn’t until the 1980s that they became such a focus for centre owners, but Australia’s first food court beat the trend by a couple of decades.
The Four Corners Gourmet at Roselands shopping centre in Sydney was ahead of its time, with 14 different outlets purporting to offer cuisine from all four corners of the globe. They didn’t use the term but, with central tables and a range of food outlets arranged around the edges, this was a food court in everything but name. According to a 2018 account in Domain:
Kitchens included Continental Corner, The London Roast, Whistling Oyster, Chuck Wagon, and the Jolly Giant. There were more than 100 items on the menu including chicken cacciatore, cherry pie, clam chowder, hot pickled pork, and, inexplicably, an Indian duck curry from the Red Dragon Chinese.
Fast forward to the 1980s and the food court takes a new turn. Asian food courts sprang up in Sydney’s Chinatown, among the first being Dixon House Food Court, established in 1982. Perhaps trying to capture the atmosphere of Singapore’s eat streets, the Asian food courts provided inexpensive food in a “Laminex and lino” ambience. In Perth, the (now vanished) Sun Markets opened in 1984 in a converted movie theatre. Asian food courts migrated from their mid-city origins with the Chinese-Australian population, appearing in suburbs such as Chatswood in Sydney and Box Hill in Melbourne.
By the end of the 1980s, every self-respecting shopping mall had a food court. As did the posh Collins Chase development at the Paris end of Collins Street, which advertised itself as “Melbourne’s only licensed food court”. Now we expect a range of eating options when we shop. Many food companies such as Michel’s Patisserie, Ali Baba, Boost Juice and Gloria Jean’s have built their businesses almost exclusively in shopping malls.
The offerings at Roselands these days are a little different. There are chains, like Oporto, Donut King, Subway and Gloria Jean’s (but, unusually, no McDonald’s or KFC). Lots of sushi. Plenty more Asian options, including Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indian and Korean. Plus Turkish, Greek and the standard fish and chips and burgers. Although it’s no longer called the Four Corners Gourmet, perhaps it’s closer to fulfilling the international aspirations of its predecessor.