Today the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants was announced, and for a food nerd like me, that makes for a very exciting day. The list of 100 restaurants (yes, they name 100) is decided by over 800 food experts (chefs, reviewers, producers and the like) and complied by Restaurant magazine in the UK, and over the past 9 years it has become the ultimate expression of restaurant hype.
I am using hype as a positive here. Whereas ratings such as Michelin stars are all about perfection, the Restaurant top 50 is all about excitement. These are the places where, when people go to dinner, not everything is necessarily perfect, but it makes you go ‘Wow!’ These are the restaurants that I would want to go to over all others.
Which brings me to this year’s list. Sadly, I will mostly not be talking from experience here, as I have only eaten at three of the top 100 – Mugaritz (5), St Johns (43), and Attica (73). Of course, all three of those were exceptional, so that bodes well for the rest of the list.
The big news (well, biggest news) in this year’s list is the ascension of Noma, Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen trend setting temple, to the top spot. It is only the fourth restaurant ever to take the top spot, after The French Laundry, The Fat Duck, and the five time victorious and newly named Restaurant of the Decade El Bulli.
This is a huge thing for the food world, but not all that surprising. El Bulli (which is still at number two) has been the most influential restaurant in the world for quite a while, creating techniques and ideas that are now common place in kitchens everywhere. Foams, savoury jellies, spherification – none of these would exist without Ferran Adria and the team. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your point of view, but when done well these have added to the depth of cuisine.
However, over the past few years, there has been a noticeable change in the way restaurant food is spoken of. Local ingredients and traditional recipe ideas have been the focus, brought into the 21st century by modern techniques. The movement began in Spain, but it has been Noma that has been the most talked about iteration. Redzepi forages locally for native greens, razor clams, and black lobster.
One of their most famous dishes, beef tartar with local wood sorrel, is held in your fingers and wiped through a tarragon emulsion. Reviews talk about reminiscences of Vikings made sophisticated. It is a combination of memory, history and nature, but at the same time completely modern and original.
The top 50 list is dotted with this style of restaurant, with Mugaritz in Spain and D.O.M. in Brazil being the most obvious examples that come to mind.
This brings me to what, as a Melbourne boy at heart, is the most exciting addition to the list. Attica, in the streets of Ripponlea, is a brilliant Australian example of this style of restaurant, even if the memories and traditions are largely from chef Ben Shewry’s childhood in New Zealand. Shewry and his team collect flowers and weeds from around Melbourne every day for their menu, making for beautiful fresh and different ingredients. Combining these with modern, original ideas on how to cook them, Shewry has created many of the most talked about dishes in Melbourne.
I have been to Attica, and the sweet-savoury combination of the Terroir was my second favourite dish of 2009 after the milk-fed veal at Mugaritz. For those who don’t know this dish, it is Shewry’s ode to childhood, and (when I was there) had strawberry icecream, crumbed beetroot cake, sorrel granita, and golden kiwifruit jelly, amongst other things. It was a very unusual dish, but exceptional, perfectly combining sweetness, tartness, and umami. A dessert to be remembered.
People often talk about how one of the problems with this style of list is that it is self-perpetuating. Voters have to have been to the restaurants they are nominating in the past 18 months, and have to choose some restaurants from outside their own region. The prestige of being on this list means that, if someone flies across the world to go to restaurants, they will most likely go to these restaurants, and then can vote for it next time.
Of course, this is a godsend to somewhere like Attica, which will now become the top destination for anyone foodie coming to Melbourne. If they keep their standards up, as they should, I see no reason why Ben and his team can’t move into the top 50 next year.
There are so many other things I could write about with this list. The fact that no French restaurant made the top 10, with Bras dropping a whopping 49 places, from 7th to 56th, could be discussed for ages. The amazing showing of Sydney, getting three restaurants on the list, should be an issue of pride for the whole city. To think that these places are only two hours drive away.
There are other restaurants which I want to learn more about, in particular Daniel in New York which rocketed up 33 places, and the South African restaurant, La Colombe, that came an amazing 12th. It is so exciting how global this list is, with 25 nations represented.
I would love to continue to talk about this list to anyone who is interested, but I think that is probably enough of a rant for the moment.
The only thing to do now is get to more of these restaurants. Trip to Quay, anyone?