The bÃªte noire of Melbourne restaurateurs Stephen was an important part of The Age team, however major disagreements with the upper echelons of the paper led to his eventual retirement from that august journal. There is still considerable bitterness between Stephen and The Age.
He is now writing for The Financial Review,Gourmet Traveller and HQ; he is also the author of Stephen Downes' Top 50 Restaurants in Australia.
His early writing was aggressively pro-French and he was criticised for his French wife and love of pommes frites; nowadays he seems to have been seduced by the multi-cultural cafes of Sydney whose cause he trumpets with such evangelical fervour that one is tempted to speculate that "the flower of the Loire", as he called his wife, has been replaced by the orchid from Bangkok - not so says Stephen.
During his French phase he wrote some seminal pieces including the freshly opened oyster review of La Chaumiere which brought our oyster eating practises into line with the rest of the world.
He is the only full time food writer, concentrating on restaurants, that we know of in Australia. He is extremely serious about that writing, his only source of income, but pessimistic about its effect: "I see what I've done in the past five years, what I've tried to do quite simply and within my own means, is to help people arrive at some sort of framework by which they can then go out and say this restaurant is good and value for money or bad, and I think in the main, just judging by the lack of influence that I have, the lack of readership, certainly the continuing standard of restaurants in general, that you could fairly say the job is not done, that I haven't succeeded."
Much attention has been paid to his feud with one of Melbourne's best restaurants which, having been caught up in the rivalry between Stephen and The Age, is crowned with glory by one, only to be damned by the other. A middle course for both of the protagonists would allow we restaurateurs to get on with the business of succouring the un-needy.
Stephen now writes for The Sunday Age, and The Australian Financial Revue. His judgements have become more eccentric with time as, having recanted his past love of French food with its absolute values, he attempts to make sense of the 'modern mixed menu'. Something that has eluded most of the English speaking world!
In 1997 Stephen admitted taking a consultancy with Crown Casino that related to their restaurants. This error in judgement effected his status. Since then Stephen has left the Sunday Age and the Australian Financial Review. He now writes for the Herald Sun.