The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2012: Who made the cut?
Paris, New York and Tokyo, eat your heart out -- the world’s best restaurant is not on your turf, but a dimly-lit warehouse in an obscure part of Copenhagen no one had heard of eight years ago.
That’s when chef Rene Redzepi opened Noma with somewhat strange ambitions -- to serve only food native to Scandinavia -- so no olive oil or other fancy Mediterranean stuff. He created dishes with obscure items like milk skin, hay and pine needles, and against all the odds, it worked.
Noma this week made it a hat trick in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants awards, taking the top award for the third year in a row. And behind him come a whole raft of new young culinary hotshots known as the New Nordics -- 10 percent of this year’s Top 50 restaurants are in Scandinavia.
Spain has done even better, mind you, with 30 percent of the Top 10 -- yet again -- in a row. Spanish restaurants remain at no. 2, 3 and 8, just like last year. And this is without the help of superstar chef Ferran Adria, first-ever winner of the awards, who broke records by holding the top spot for four years in a row with elBulli before closing it in 2011.
All are in the foodie north of the country, ditto another two which made the list.
Of course, New York's Manhattan was not to be ignored, and also claimed 10 percent of the list and 20 percent of the top 10. Per Se scored at no. 6, Eleven Madison Park at no. 10, while Le Bernardin, Daniel and Momofuku were further down the list.
Alinea in Chicago, the French Laundry in Yountville and a rather more obscure Californian entry, Manresa in Los Gatos, made the United States the most successful country on the list, with eight winners.
However, the world’s fourth-best restaurant is in Latin America, which took four gongs in total.
Asia, however, is the continent to watch, with six in the top 50, and a further 10 in the second half of the top 100. Iggy’s of Singapore and Narisawa and Nihonryori RyuGin of Tokyo lead the way at no. 26, 27 and 28 respectively. Behind them are Waku Ghin in Singapore, Amber in Hong Kong and Nahm in Bangkok -- Thailand's first ever restaurant to make the top 50.
Bizarrely, Nahm was born not in Thailand but in London of an Australian chef, and London, host to the awards, has just about held its head up.
The Fat Duck, once no. 1, may have slipped -- down to 13, but chef Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental, became the highest ever new entry at no. 9, while the Ledbury, down the road in Notting Hill, is the fastest climber in the list, leaping a whopping 20 points to no. 14. However, two British restaurants on last year’s list have dropped out.
It’s in the second half of the list that new stars are being born, with Moscow, Dubai, Cape Town and Sydney all earning multiple showings.
But so too do Scandinavia, Spain and the United States, who for the foreseeable future are going to be the countries to beat. Not to mention the French, whose dozen in the top 100 puts them one behind the United States, the overall winners.
The list is compiled by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy -- a panel of more than 800 chefs, food critics, restaurateurs and other influential leaders in the restaurant industry.
The Top 10
1. Noma, Denmark
The name means Nordic food, and that’s what you’ll get -- anything from Greenland musk ox to tiny shrimp from the Faroe Islands, plus herbs, grasses and berries foraged by the chefs, who come here from all over the world to study with the master and are required to be humble enough to bring their food direct to the table.
Chef-proprietor Rene Redzepi is actually half-Macedonian, and claims to be inspired by Sat Bains, the obscure provincial British restaurant which sits way down the list at no. 97.
He is the first to admit that topping the list has changed Noma’s fortunes: “We’ve gone from a Monday when we had 14 people in all day to more than 1,200 on our waiting list.”;
The restaurant is in a charming old warehouse reached by ferry from Copenhagen harbor, but if that's too far try Noma's London pop-up at the Claridges Hotel from July 28-August 6.
2. El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
The three brothers who own this ultra-modern restaurant in the industrial town of Girona are jokers as well as clever cooks.
They start diners off with caramelized olives, which come to the table on bonsai trees; from there on, expect the classic Catalan ingredients which made this region famous in the days when Ferran Adria of elBulli was king.
3. Mugaritz, Spain
Andoni Luis Aduriz holds sway in Spain’s single foodiest town, San Sebastian on the north coast, where he tingles taste buds with food that looks nothing like fare that will knock your socks off.
You might get a single piece of white hake on a white plate, or a potato resembling a stone all on its own in a bowl.
However, it’s magic -- not for nothing did Aduriz also pick up this year’s Chef’s Choice award from his top 50 list-mates.
4. D.O.M., Brazil
Chef-patron Alex Atala has taken the humblest native fare -- palm hearts and cassava -- and put them on the culinary map along with rarer produce of the Amazonian rainforest.
Expect to hear a lot more about cambuca fruit, manioc root and tucupi juice, with other Brazilians coming up the list behind him.
In the heart of Sao Paolo, the waiting list just got a whole lot longer for this 50-seat restaurant which climbed three places up the top 10 this year to take the Best In South America award.
5. Osteria Francescana, Italy
Massimo Bottura has put Modena -- also famous for Ferraris and Balsamic vinegar -- firmly on the dining map without pretension or fuss, despite winning a third Michelin star last year.
Dinner might start with something as simple as a perfect plate of coppa ham before Massimo starts shaking it up a bit.
He has the advantage of being in the heart of Emilia-Romagna. Italy’s foodiest region, it’s home to both the spaghetti Bolognese and Parmesan cheese which are eaten by Italo-holics the world over.
6. Per Se, United States
Thomas Keller may have made his name with the French Laundry, which took the World’s Best Restaurant award for two years running, but it was in New York rather than California’s wine country where he really started pushing the envelope.
The fireworks are all in the cooking; the surroundings here are un-showy, understated luxury in a plush modern room overlooking Central Park.
7. Alinea, United States
Grant Achatz might just be the most out-there chef-patron on the planet, let alone Chicago and the United States.
He surrounds some of his dishes with wire and even serves some courses directly onto the table.
It’s all highly molecular -- gels, foams, powders and other agents that transform food into performance art are the order of the day.
8. Arzak, Spain
Evolution has kept this fourth-generation restaurant founded in the 19th century, at the forefront of the world’s culinary achievements -- only what you’d expect from the first family of foodie San Sebastian.
Father and daughter Juan-Mari and Elena Arzak collaborated with Ferran Adria on molecular experiments back in the day, and still have their own food lab above the restaurant.
But in spite of dishes like monkfish and gooseberries being served on computer screens, classic Basque cuisine is at the heart of the place, and it’s a very cozy, old-fashioned room where everyone feels like family within five minutes of arriving.
9. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, England
He made his name with snail porridge and bacon and egg ice cream, but at Dinner -- in London’s Mandarin Oriental hotel -- Heston Blumenthal has gone for historic British recipes dating back as far as the 14th century.
Thanks to Dinner, a new word is bound to enter the Oxford Dictionary next year -- the meat-fruit is Heston’s most famous new confection, actually a chicken liver parfait cunningly disguised as a mandarin orange.
10. Eleven Madison Park, United States
This New York restaurant has sky-rocketed to stardom, leaping 14 places up the Best 50 list and soaring from a single Michelin star to three in a single bound.
Diners are expected to choose one core ingredient for each of their four courses for what’s described by Restaurant Magazine, which founded these awards, as “a dynamic but relaxed dining experience that’s deeply rooted in New York.”
Best of the rest
One to Watch: La Grenouillere, France
On the bland shores of the Channel in genteel Montreuil-sur-Mer, Alexandre Gauthier has created a cutting-edge temple of gastronomy since taking the reins from his father in 2003.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Thomas Keller
A recognition of The French Laundry as no. 1 for two years running in 2003 and 2004 and an acknowledgement of the rise and rise of Per Se, climbing ever closer towards the top spot itself.
Best Female Chef: Elena Arzak
Fourth-generation chef whose dad, Juan-Mari, credits her entirely for keeping Arzak at the top of the fiercely competitive San Sebastian tree -- and in the world’s top 10 -- by constantly creating diverting and innovative new dishes.
Dinner, London at no. 9: The meat-fruit and other olde British conceits
Frantzen/Lindeberg, Stockholm at no. 20: New Nordics on the rise.
Faviken, Jarpen, Sweden at no. 34: Only 12 seats in a remote location 500 miles from the capital.
Waku Ghin, Singapore at no. 39: A sensation since opening in 2010.
Quique Dacosta, Spain at no. 40: Serving cacti and other native edibles of the Costa Blanca.
Vila Joya, Albufeira, Portugal at no. 45: Austrian chef serves roast goose liver and smoked eel as well as the salt cod the country is famous for.
Geranium, Copenhagen at no. 49: The Noma effect trickling down.
Nahm, Bangkok at no. 50: Surely the only award-winning Thai restaurant to have opened in London before its native land, with a chef from somewhere else altogether.
World's best restaurants 11-50
Rounding out S.Pellegrino's list of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2012 are:
11. Steirereck (Vienna, Austria)
12. L'Atelier Saint-Germain de Joël Robuchon(Paris, France)
13. The Fat Duck (Bray, England)
14. The Ledbury(London, England)
15. Le Chateaubriand (Paris, France)
16. L'Arpege (Paris, France)
17. Pierre Gagnaire (Paris, France)
18. L'Astrance (Paris, France)
19.Le Bernardin (New York, United States)
21.Oud Sluis (Sluis, Netherlands)
22.Aqua (Wolfsburg, Germany)
23. Vendôme (Bergisch Gladbach, Germany)
24. Mirazur (Menton, France)
25. Daniel (New York, United States)
26. Iggy's (Singapore)
27. Narisawa(Tokyo, Japan)
28. Nihonryori RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan)
29. Quay Restaurant(Sydney, Australia)
30. Schloss Schauenstein (Fürstenau, Switzerland)
31. Asador Etxebarri (Atxondo-Bizkaia, Spain)
32. Le Calandre (Rubano, Italy)
33. De Librije (Zwolle, Netherlands)
34. Fäviken Magasinet (Järpen, Sweden)
35. Astrid y Gastón (Lima, Perú)
36. Pujol (Mexico City, Mexico)
37. Momofuku Ssäm Bar (New York, United States)
38. Biko (Mexico City, Mexico)
39. Waku Ghin (Singapore)
40. Quique Dacosta (Denia, Spain)
41. Mathias Dahlgren(Stockholm, Sweden)
42. Hof van Cleve (Kruishoutem, Belgium)
43. The French Laundry (Yountville, California)
44. Amber (Hong Kong, China)
45. Vila Joya (Albufeira, Portugal)
46. Il Canto (Siena, Italy)
47. Bras (Laguiole, France)
48. Manresa (Los Gatos, California, United States)
49. Geranium (Copenhagen, Denmark)
50. Nahm (Bangkok, Thailand)
For more on the awards, visit the official World's Best Restaurants website.