World’s 50 Best, 2013 5

Every man  loves a list, and the catering world is no different. There is the ritual award season for about 6 weeks in September & early October where AA, Good Food guide & Michelin release their annual guides of movers & shakers domestically, but the perennial publication of The World’s 50 best restaurant list is in April, in fact it’s in a couple of days time.

Now I know this site hasn’t been the biggest fan of the way the World’s 50 Best list is constructed & some of its obvious gaping flaws; but the one thing you can’t knock is the relentless polished PR push that the 50 Best machine exudes. In fact, last year saw the release of Asia’s  50 Best, probably after widespread calls that the globe’s largest inhabited continent wasn’t particularly well represented in the main list. A chance meeting with a journalist from the World’s 50 Best camp at a press event opened the channel for dialog. The upshot of the conversation was, that maybe my expectations where too high (collating & verifying some 900+ judges bills is a tremendous task & virtually impossible),  but they could see my point concerning transparency.

There have been a number of negative news stories surrounding the World’s 50 Best, with several credible journalists throwing their toys out of the pram in more ways than one. I think I’ve documented most of them particularly well on this blog, so I’m not going to re-hash them for you, despite how much you love it.

New Number 1?

So first up, probably the biggest tip I’ve got. Many of you will have noticed in my tweets during the Noro-virus outbreak at Noma, that there was an implication that the Copenhagen restaurant would fall from the summit of World’s 50 Best. My sources have indicated to me that El Cellar de Can Roca has exchanged places with Noma to reach number 1. Another highly talked about restaurant is Frantzén / Lindeberg in Stockholm, Sweden, placed at position 20 in the 2012 list, making it the second highest entry behind Heston Blumenthal’s eatery, Dinner. Frantzén / Lindeberg comes widely recommended with experienced Michelin diner & blogger Elizabeth on Food rating it at 97/100, concluding:

It is almost to much to ask. But Frantzén/Lindeberg delivers on all fronts. What stayed with me most was the absolute calm and virtuosity with which the food was prepared in front of our eyes, from the first amuse bouche until the very last fermented garlic toffee-bite, as if nothing could be simpler than this.

How does the UK fair?

Personally speaking, I don’t particularly think it’s going to be a great year for the Brits. Gordon Ramsay has switched PR companies again, to the restaurant PR equivalent of the Illuminati ( not quite as At first we feast site had it), so they now handle: Fat Duck group; Tetsuya (in Australia & Singapore); Gordon Ramsay Holdings; DOM (in Brazil); Bo Innovation; Obelix; Zuma and Restaurant Sat Bains to name a few. Despite the involvement of this PR heavy weight, the level of press interest in the UK scene has dipped significantly this year, when you compare the amount of attention that say, The Ledbury got 2 years ago. I’ll be surprised to see any great moves by the UK restaurant establishment, except for maybe Dinner by Heston or Bar Boulud, where post event parties were held last year and Zuma, where the chefs lunch was located the following day.

Who are the winners?

As ever, the miraculous availability of places for restaurants that only have a handful of tables, never ceases to amaze me. The tactics of the Scandinavian tourist boards, has been to somehow make these exclusive seats available, if you’re one of the 900+ strong army of judges. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard how journalists have managed to score spots. So journalists, don’t slate bloggers when in actual fact you’re worse than us when it comes to flexing potential influence. I’d expect to see the likes of Fäviken rise significantly this year; the publication of a well received book & the exclusivity that the tiny restaurant affords, gives you all the desirability required to be noticed. However, Fäviken, I believe will buck the trend for the foraging restaurants. It’s been 3 years since Noma made the top spot & I believe that particular style of food has gone as far as it can. After the decidedly mixed reviews of Noma at Claridges, ants in a jar springs to mind, have people finally seen it for what it is? For those that missed out on the whole London experience in 2012, I can reveal that Noma are apparently considering a repeat performance this summer. Other movers; on the whole I’m hoping to see more from the Asian contingent. Self proclaimed ‘Demon chef’ Alvin Leung’s Bo Innovation in London,has had very ‘Marmite’ type reviews, which possibly doesn’t bode well for the original, more established mothership in Hong Kong. But I believe the main winners will again be the Spanish, so expect promotions for El Cellar de Can Roca, Mugaritz & Arzak to name a few.

Other winners which have already been announced in the run up to the big night:

  • Alain Ducasse – Lifetime achievement award.
  • Nadia Santini (Dal Pescatore, Italy)  – Best female chef.

rene redzepi 50best ofm

As with any list or guide, it is flawed & not definitive (yes, even yours Hardens!). Many will point to the array of press junkets & how easy it is to get a table (many of which are complimentary) at such exclusive eateries for the judges. But I’ve studied The World’s 50 Best list for a number of years now, and it’s a celebration of great restaurants. Yes, Noma probably isn’t going to be everybody’s bag, mine included, but is it doing something different and excelling at it? Yes is the firm answer. Is Rene Redzepi the best chef in the world, as proclaimed on the front cover of Observer Food Monthly? No, no he isn’t, he’s the chef/owner of what is currently the best restaurant as defined by 900+ people and that’s the point; it’s a team game. It isn’t just about the food, it’s everything, the attention to detail, ambiance, the staff, etc.  I’ve also asked around & there doesn’t appear to be a full list of the 900+ people who are judging these restaurants, yes you can see who chairs each region on the Worlds 50 Best site & their manifesto, but nothing really more than that. Interestingly, the 50 Best have now listed the main rules on voting, maybe trying to go some way to extinguish Will Drew’s comments about not actually having to have eaten in a restaurant to vote for it.

As taken from the Worlds 50 Best website:

  • Voting is strictly confidential before the awards’ announcement
  • Panellists vote for 7 restaurants, at least 3 must be outside their region
  • Voters must have eaten in the restaurants they nominate in the last 18 months
  • Voters are not permitted to vote for restaurants they own or have an interest in
  • Nominations must be made for the restaurant, not for the restaurateur or the chef
  • Panellists submit their 7 choices in order of preference (and is used to decide on positions in the event of a tie)
  • Other than this there are “no rules”.

So will this list cause controversy? Maybe for a week or so, then it’ll be accepted & used as part of the PR guff that gets sent out on a weekly basis. Ultimately, as The Guardian’s restaurant critic & World’s 50 Best former UK chair, Jay Rayner said on this very blog:

IT’S JUST A BLOODY LIST. One we love arguing about. Everybody should calm down a bit.


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