In the early 1990s, Australia paid a high price for the excesses of the 1980s with what Paul Keating famously called “the recession we had to have”. As economic hard times hit the fine dining scene, several iconic restaurants closed, including Fanny’s in Melbourne’s Lonsdale Street. The restaurant had been opened in 1960 by Gloria and Blyth Staley but the self-consciously upmarket positioning worked against Fanny’s in the new economic climate.
In her book Melbourne by Menu, Rita Erlich tells of visiting Fanny’s in 1989 with French-born English chef Michel Roux. On that occasion, she reports, Gloria Staley was not on the premises and Roux was scathing about the food and the restaurant’s presentation. Erlich reports that he found much of the food overcooked, the brains over-salted and rubbery and the table-linen badly creased.
Despite making changes in the early ’90s, offering cheaper dishes in the bistro and fixed-price meals in the restaurant, Fanny’s struggled to maintain its relevance. Erlich also points out the demolition of the Queen Victoria Hospital opposite the restaurant caused problems of its own, with construction noise and dust affecting the ambience and once-regular patrons from the medical profession going elsewhere.
Fanny’s sister restaurant, Glo-Glo’s in Toorak, had already closed in 1989, sold to the Staley’s son Daniel, who converted it to the short-lived and more casual restaurant, Bookums. Fanny’s continued for a few more years but, it seems, a new landlord created additional problems for the restaurant and it closed for good in 1993.
Mourning the loss of a Melbourne institution, The Age wrote “Fanny’s strengths were its luxuriousness and its stability. You could go there after a decade and still see the maitre d’, Claude Verysser, still order the crisped whiting and chips, the most expensive and most delicious fish and chips in town.” But added: “A restaurant is only as good as its last meal service. Fanny’s lost heart in the late ’80s when diners turned their attention to noisy new cafes and bright new bistros.”