The other day on Twitter, Daniel Boulud of the self-titled New York restaurant posted a photo. In this photos he was dining at London’s new hit, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant Dinner. His companions are Heston himself, as well as chefs Thomas Keller (Per Se), Grant Achatz (Alinea) and Juan Mari and Elena Arzak (Arzak). Later, he was passed in a cab by chef Eric Ripert (La Berandin).
Also in the last few days, David Chang (Momofuku) was tweeting about getting Welsh Rarebit from room service at the new St John Hotel, the accommodation offshoot of Fergus Henderson’s great restaurant of British food. The previous day he had eaten a meal prepared by Rene Redzepi (Noma) and Claude Bosi (Hibiscus).
Aside from demonstrating the wonders of Twitter for keeping in touch with people living significantly more interesting lives than you, these little vignettes are to show just how many of the world’s most exciting chefs were in the British capital at the same time. But why were they there?
Some people would argue that they were there in a self-serving orgy of publicity seeking and backslapping for a style of food that only elitist wankers would want to eat. But, in my opinion, those people are idiots.
Rather they were there to celebrate food and restaurants around the world, in the form of the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards. In the eight years since these awards were created, they have become the ultimate expression of what gourmands around the world are getting excited about.
So, what were this year’s results, and what does this mean for the rest of us?
Following on from last year, the Nordic local food warriors from Noma held on to the top spot, collecting their award in Viking helmets. This was a no brainer. Rene and team are inspiring the world with their underlying philosophy of sticking to a particular space and place with cuisine, making food that can only really be made in that location.
Even Canberra has been touched by the Noma brush. A brief sojourn by a Noma trained chef at Pelagic left behind the amazing dish ‘Taste of the Sea’, which tastes like you’ve plunged your face into a rock pool at the beach.
Despite the exit from daily serving of the old master elBulli, Spain keeps its head up high with El Celler De Can Roca and Mugaritz taking spots two and three. Both do what is referred to as ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine, using scientific knowledge and world-class ingredients to make food that triggers memories, and make you feel something.
The ideas that underlay each of these restaurants are repeated through most of the list. Few, great, local ingredients, modern techniques, and a location based sensibility. You couldn’t call it a formula, because so many people get it so wrong, but with someone who knows what they are doing, these aspects can make for a very exciting restaurant.
Other trends, the return of the French, with Le Chateaubriand in the top 10, and a few of the legends of French cuisine back inside the top 20, with Joel Robuchon, Pierre Gagnaire and Alan Passard. But, with Osteria Francescana at number four, and five other modern Italian places on the list, I wonder whether Italy is where we will be looking next.
Australia didn’t have a great year, having only one restaurant in the top 50 for the first time since the list began. Yet Quay deserves its position at a very respectable 26, and hopefully next year Attica will jump those last few spots (currently at 53) to become only the second Melbourne joint to make it in the list (Flower Drum was in the first 5).
The biggest trend on the list this year, for my mind, was the number of places that have no menus. Whether the customer is given an ingredient list, or the chef just decides and brings something out, there is less and less choice in this level of restaurant. Which I am more than happy with. It’s always better to put yourself in the hands of you’re a great chef. It’s also more efficient for the restaurant, which doesn’t hurt.
This has turned into a bit of a disconnected mess of a rant, but that is because there is so much to discuss in this list. I could talk about how the voting system makes it difficult for Australian restaurants to get on this list at all. I could talk about the rise of Central and South America, with the undoubtedly exciting D.O.M. from Brazil leading the charge. I could talk for hours and hours about what these things mean for the rest of us, and I encourage you to ask me, because I would love to.
At the end of the day, though, the list is just a list. It makes for an interesting talking point, and they are all exciting restaurants, but they aren’t the only restaurants in the world. If you get the chance, you should go, but don’t ignore smaller places.
Although, one day I want to get on to the Academy that votes for these things, and be sitting in Guild Hall in London when this is announced. Just to be in that room with all those great chefs would be amazing.
Not to mention, I’d kind of like to eat their food.