Neither Blake nor Gloria Staley had a background in the restaurant industry when they opened Fanny’s in 1960. He was an accountant, she had been a ‘housewife’ for 18 years. However, the couple travelled widely and were inspired by the fine-dining restaurants of Europe. Gloria Staley, despite her lack of professional culinary training, devised the menus. Her chefs were expected to execute her ideas with nothing less than perfection.
The Staleys were fortunate in the acquisition of their premises. They came with a wine license. Drossou’s had been a Greek restaurant with a wine-shop licence that permitted them to serve wine with or without a “bona fide meal”. So, even before the first restaurant licences were granted in Victoria, Fanny’s could offer a truly European dining experience.
Gloria Staley’s menus reflected trends she observed in London, Paris and New York. They changed with the seasons, the only fixed item being ‘Crisped whiting with French fried potatoes, tomato bearnaise and seasonal salad’. In 1984, this dish would have cost you $17.50 – expensive fish and chips in those days.
Other items on the 1984 menu included ‘Ragout of Duck and Sweetbreads with a purée of celeriac and apple’ (also $17.50), perhaps preceded by ‘Salmon Boudin poached then roasted on a bed of braised leeks’ ($11.50).
In 1990, The Age Good Food Guide wrote of Fanny’s:
Age has not wearied her, nor has custom staled the infinite variety of her never-repeated seasonal menus. Now in her 31st year, Fanny’s is the only mature-age restaurant in the elite class that has remained under the same ownership for so long. Chefs come and go, but it’s Mrs Staley who devises the menus, composing every dish as an individual entity and demanding both technical perfection and artistic presentation.
That may have been so, but three years later Fanny’s restaurant was no more. Trouble with the lease and the landlord was, according to The Age, the final blow at a time when economic recession was driving diners to cheaper establishments.