Monday, 25 April 2011

World's 50 Best Restaurants – Don't Make Me Laugh!

It's been a week now, but I'm still seething, when I'm not laughing. So why am I indignant yet amused? It's because of the joke that is San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants. I find it laughable that some believe it to be a better guide than Michelin. Don't get me wrong, I don't set much store by Michelin but at least with their Tokyo and Hong Kong guides, they attempt to respect Asian food. In contrast, San Pellegrino features few restaurants in Asian cities that serve local cuisine.

So let's consider the gospel according to San Pellegrino:

1) Of their best 50, only four are in Asia, with the best-placed restaurant, Tokyo's Les Creations de Narisawa, in at No. 12. In the next 50, there are a further seven restaurants in Asia. So out of the best 100, eleven are in Asia. Did I mention that 60% of the world's population lives in Asia?

2) The best restaurant in Hong Kong is Amber. I'm sure it's very good but does modern French food represent the best of this fine foodie city? Of the three other restaurants in Hong Kong featured in the best 100, two also serve French food with the other, Bo Innovation, serving a molecular gastronomic take on Chinese food. It seems that the city's traditional Chinese restaurants just don't cut it.

3) That's because it would appear London, not Hong Kong, is the place to go for Chinese food, as Hakkasan is apparently the best Chinese restaurant in the world. Well at least you can't accuse the voting panel of not having a sense of humour. It's just that joke isn't funny anymore.

4) The best Thai restaurant in the world is also in London. Yes, that's right, there isn't a single Thai restaurant in Thailand that can compare to Nahm. This is getting more than slightly ridiculous now, not even the most partisan Londoner can surely believe that their home city boasts both the best Chinese and the best Thai restaurant in the world. Can they?

5) The Japanese can feel rightly aggrieved that despite Tokyo being lauded as the best foodie city in the world, it only has three restaurants in the best 100. Mind you, it's probably because standards aren't what they were in the home of sushi. Why else would the favoured haunt of the beautiful people, London's Zuma, be deemed the fourth best Japanese restaurant in the world?

6) And lastly, of the best 100 restaurants in the world, none are in those citadels of Chinese cuisine such as Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai or Taipei. I feel sorry for the 70 million plus people that live in those cities, as the poor sods can't get their hands on the best that their native cuisine offers. If only there was a Hakkasan that they could go to.

In fairness, the voting process is transparent. It's just that the voting panel seem to be a bunch of ignorant bores (I'm being kind - I called them much worse in the original draft) that don't really get Asian food. Why else would they pitch up in an Asian city, and dine out at restaurants serving posh European food. Why not get down and dirty with the local cuisine? Oh well, their loss, not ours. And by the way, in case you're wondering, Noma came in at No.1.


  1. What you wrote made so much sense indeed! Without having tried the original NAHM I can't comment, but I've tried restaurants where chefs trained with David Thompson. They're just like ZUMA - not authentic, but altered to be what they think is a beefed up version of Japanese/Thai food. As for Amber, yes it is probably one of the best restaurants in HK (in terms of culinary sophistication and consistency). But then again, having Hakkasan being the top Chinese restaurant in the world is a bit of a joke!

  2. Very well said indeed.

    But I don't set much store by Michelin either.

  3. Well I went to Nahm in BK earlier this week and was the worst meal I have had in BK so far. And it was fairly brilliant.

    So you have a city full of insane food and it doesn't get a mention but ZUMA?!?!!!! does. Ridiculous.

    Ps on a more serious note it seems this list is trying to do "progressive" or on trend dining and it is pretty fair to say most restaurants in HK are off tren and more concerned with serving traditional (often brilliant) food.

    The problem is with the scope and ambition of the list itself. By all means try to list such things but ZUMA?!!!! freaking ZUMA? At Robuchon HK? And Bo Innovation (derivative hell hole)


  4. Very well said and very funny Mr Noodles! Exactly how I feel!

  5. I don't disagree with you Mr Noodles, there should definitely be a much greater representation of Asian cuisine (from Asian countries!) - and cuisine from other parts of the globe - in the Top 50 list.

    However, the only thing I'll say is that I think you're directing your anger in the wrong direction. Just like Michelin, the Top 50 list works on the basis of restaurants putting themselves forward. I know that the team behind the awards have tried really hard ever since their inception to get more Asian countries/restaurants involved, and they're just not doing it in any number at present - which is reflected in the list that we see.

    So, yes please let's have greater variety in the list, but let's appeal to the restaurants rather than the list-makers to get that happening.

  6. Great post Mr Noodles I think the issue with the 50 best is that London in particular is very over represented as the awards are based in London and places such as Hong Kong (and also I note my home country of Australia) are very under represented because only a small number of the voting panel are eating in those countries each year.

  7. HK Epicurus / Pig Pig - thanks! I'm still not sure how Hakkasan garnered so many votes!

    Kavey - thanks! I know what you mean about Michelin, but at least they feature local restaurants with local chefs in their Asian guides.

    Tom - I think you're spot on that the list leans towards the 'progressive' and whilst I can understand that, what really irks me (and you) is how some fashionista hang-outs like Zuma crept into the Top 100.

    Mama Lan - thanks! BTW your supper club looks v.interesting.

    Gastronut - having reread the rules (see below), my anger is rightly aimed at the voting panel. If my understanding is correct, any restaurant in the world can feature on this list. Perhaps, if some of the voting panel went to more interesting places then we would have a more interesting list.

    This method means that restaurants cannot apply to be on the list, and cannot be nominated, and no external influences (from Restaurant magazine or our sponsors) can influence the list. It also means that every restaurant in the world is eligible, unless the restaurant is closed at the time of going to print in mid April, or we receive notice that it will be closing in the near future after the results are published.

    GChick - another good point, Australia is under-represented. On London and HK, I'm not sure if they are under or over-represented but what I will say is that both cities are represented by the 'wrong' restaurants.

  8. These awards are for industry people to pat themselves on the back and nothing else, a bit like the oscars really.
    I'd love to have read your first draft, but you have hit the nail on the head with this.

  9. How anyone can attempt to order the world's restaurants in terms of 'best' and then limit them to 100 is beyond me. No mention of BK, or Shanghai? Zuma ranking above all those Japanese restaurants actually in Japan? Pfffff.

    It's become a recursive, reductive process where the same old places, or new places and new takes on the same old thing seem to get in. If you are on the list last year, then the voting panel have to go to you (same goes if you were on the list the year before)... and there is only so many restaurants that people can visit in a year.

    Meh. It's a marketing exercise for San Pellegino and something that sells Restaurant.

  10. Mzungu - fear of legal action meant my initial draft didn't see the light of day. Phrases like 'culinary imperialists' might have got me into bother!

    Gworm - unbelievably, neither Thailand nor Mainland China are represented in this list. This is criminal as both countries serve some of the best grub on the planet.

    You also raise a v.good point that the voting panel repeatedly revisit the same old places - Noma, Fat Duck, Joel Robuchon blah blah blah...

  11. I think to me, the result of The Ledbury making it upto the Top 50 list (best new comer) kind of made me appreciate their change of appreciation of trend. I just blogged about that a few weeks back, and that meal was just soooo delicious - but not necessarily stunning in terms of appearance. It's homely food given a twist and pushed to its limit, without being alienating or incomprehensible.

    I would so love to fine there again, and order their other (better) signature dishes. The rest of the List? To be honest, I think El Celler de Can Roca was slightly over-rated, but that meal was still great. I just think it wasn't great enough to be no.2 in the world, I guess. There're plenty of restaurants in say Sydney or even Melbourne in Australia, which carries more surprises and similar execution. Down-South is where they become overly neglected, I mean, Quay to me is good, but definitely not the outright best resto down-under. I could think of at least 10 or 12 alternatives..!

  12. HK Epicurus - there are some great restaurants on the list - it's just the lack of diversity in cuisine and location that wind me up. And as you rightly point out (as did Gourmet Chick), the neglect of Australia is criminal.

    Thinking more on this, I think having a Best 100 is intrinsically flawed - perhaps there is a case to have different categories/regions e.g. Best 20 Asian, Best 20 in Europe etc...

  13. Any list is always subjective with some more than others. The voting panel is already flawed at the design level. Very well said. Unless the voting panel is happy to go to some places which might look grubby but their food puts some of the best to shame, we wont have a good representation. In the meantime I will just continue to ask the locals on their recommendations happily.

  14. Kay - any list is subjective and it isn't so much that they ignore the grubbier places but the fact that they seem to ignore entire cuisines and cities (except for a few token representatives) that wind me up.

  15. I have worked with David Thompson's original sous chefs as well as 3 years in the first Zuma. I thought they were great/ authentic/ etc until I went to Japan....
    They have their place for newbie diners who want to be seen, but are nothing compared to the lowliest neighbourhood izakaya anywhere in Japan!
    It seems that the restaurant with the largest marketing budget always wins...

    1. Anon - thanks for your insight. The 2012 World's Best list is similarly skewed to certain locations and styles of cuisine. I wonder if it'll ever be interesting, or will it just continue being a fashion parade.

  16. I totally agree with your views Mr. Noodles! I love modern French cuisine but it is not the benchmark for restaurants to make it to the top especially in a place like Hong Kong. The panel should see more of Australia. Quay is excellent but there are others!