Update: the results for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants are now live. Read the story here.
For 16 years now, the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (W50B) has been massively influential in defining haute cuisine. It’s the Oscars of the culinary world, an industry-voted list that acts as a barometer for dining trends all over the globe. Sure, the system is not without its controversies — that it’s too eurocentric, that there’s not enough female representation, that it’s unreliable — but there is no denying the influence of the list.
Just as you shouldn’t rely on the Oscars as a guide to what movies to watch, the W50B list, too, isn’t a dining guide. It’s a celebration of the culinary zeitgeist, and the people defining it.
The early years of the list between 2002 and 2009 saw restaurants like elBulli and The Fat Duck dominating the top spots. Those too, were the same years where the spheres and hydrocolloids of “molecular gastronomy” exploded onto every menu. Cue the next decade, when Copenhagen “New Nordic” restaurant Noma took the first place for three years running, prompting an epidemic of foraging, fermentation, and wild game in every progressive-aspiring restaurant.
Many of these places close down, but some move on to their own, justified greatness. The techniques and ideas that the winners create spread, to the point where you don’t have to dine at W50B-listed restaurants to feel their effects. Everyone eats — it does not matter whether you can afford weekly $700 meals with a wine pairing.
Chefs like Ferran Adria (of elBulli) and Heston Blumenthal (of The Fat Duck) paved the way for a more empirical, technology-driven style of cooking that dispelled culinary myths, and bloomed dozens of new techniques. Meanwhile, Rene Redzepi (of Noma) opened up a whole new world of discourse on sustainability and locavorism, breaking the hegemony on what was traditionally considered “fine” ingredients — suddenly everyone was looking in their own backyards for culinary gold.
In the business of dining
Stakeholders for these events come in at every level. High-end German appliance manufacturer Miele has been involved as a sponsor for the event since 2018’s Asia’s 50 Best awards, and sees it as an opportunity for discourse.
Says Dr. Axel Kniehl, executive director of marketing and sales with Miele: “What makes The World’s 50 Best Awards celebration so interesting for us … it brings together the best chefs in the world, promoting an exchange of ideas in the global fine-dining community. Miele customers benefit from fresh inspiration for new recipes and corresponding programmes for the appliances.”
This year, the award ceremony is coming to Singapore — its first time in Asia. There are many other firsts too. There’s now an even 50/50 gender split on the voting panel, while previous first-place winners will be put on a separate Best of the Best group, to allow for a “broader field of restaurants and chefs to step onto the global stage”, shares William Drew, director of content for W50B.
Of course, awards and events like these are businesses (including others like the Michelin guide), and don’t usually sprout up in countries on their own accord. The W50B held its first 13 award shows in London (the home of William Reed Business Media, which created the list) before moving the show on the road — New York in 2016, Melbourne in 2017, and Bilbao in 2018.
Tourism boards are usually closely involved, as is the case with Tourism Australia, which spun the 2017 W50B ceremony into a multi-million dollar marketing campaign that promoted the country as a dining destination. According to an article by Business Insider article, food and wine spending by tourists in Australia came in at AUD$5.8 billion (SGD$5.4 billion at that point of time) that same year; while Marketing Mag reported an audience reach of 4.4 billion, with AUD$46 million in equivalent advertising value.
The impacts of holding the awards in Singapore
For Singapore, things will be happening on an even bigger scale. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has signed an unprecedented three-year partnership with William Reed Business Media (WRBM), which will further see held here Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards, and #50BestTalks in 2020; and The World’s 50 Best Bars awards in 2021.
“WRBM has been very successful in attracting international media attention with its World and Asia editions of 50 Best restaurants and bars. This has benefited many of the restaurants and bars that are featured in the lists.” Shares Ranita Sundra, Director, Retail and Dining, STB.
Singapore has the chops to back up all that potential publicity too. Internationally-awarded restaurants, a diverse cultural mix of cuisines, and sprawling hawker centres draw their fair share of jet-setting eaters and hungry travellers. In 2018 alone, tourists spent US$2.2 billion (SGD$2.86 billion) on dining.
Drew says: “In Singapore, we identified the perfect host city. It remains a cultural and commercial hub for the region, it’s a hotbed of great food and drink, it mixes diverse cuisines from fine dining to hawker stalls, it has a great infrastructure and is a destination the food community is keen to visit.”
If it’s any indicator of the effectiveness of these things: the emergence of best-of lists like the World and Asia’s 50 Best and the Michelin guide in Singapore has been packing in the restaurants.
Odette, which recently took the top spot on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, now has a months-long waitlist for a table. Chef-owner Julien Royer revealed that guests started getting much more international after they climbed to no.5 in 2018, with an almost 50-50 split between locals and visitors to Singapore.
Royer opines: “I have always said that [Singapore] is like the crossroads of the world and an inspiring place to be a chef. W50Best helps to elevate this by showcasing the culinary talent here on a global stage. I think it gives the next generation of chefs in Asia exciting things and opportunities to work towards.”
Meanwhile, Stefano Marini, CEO of longtime-W50B sponsor Sanpellegrino shares that the “cross-continent exchange among chefs from all around the world…will spark new conversations and ideas on food, causing a positive domino effect of culinary progression — motivating restaurateurs, and chefs to push themselves in innovation when they realize that opportunities globally are more available and accessible than ever before.”
San Pellegrino is also the organizer of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef, which promotes culinary talent both regionally and globally — selected finalists for the 2020 Grand Finale include five chefs from Singapore.
Showing off Singapore’s foodscape
Like the Olympics, the W50B is a great way for its host city to show off — almost everyone who is someone in the restaurant world will be gathered in the city for the period, exploring, tasting, and talking about all their experiences. Dave Pynt, chef-owner of Burnt Ends (no. 59 on the list this year) explains, “all the different traditions, every level of local food, from the hawker centres to the fine dining restaurants will be showcased. Everything is going to be eaten this weekend…Things are going to be f***ing busy, but it’s going to be interesting. This will help re-affirm Singapore’s position in the food world.”
The awards ceremony itself is something to behold if you’re even just somewhat invested in the world of gastronomy — many of the greatest names in the culinary world all gathered in one place. It’s almost like a cast reunion of Chef’s Table, except with partying. And chefs know how to party.
For now, the placements for no. 51 – 120 (an additional 20 spaces have been added from last year to celebrate major sponsor San Pellegrino’s 120th anniversary) have been announced — barbecue-focused Australian restaurant Burnt Ends climbed two spaces from no. 61 last year; and is the only Singaporean eatery to appear so far.
No. 51 – 120 on the list:
- Reale – Castel del Sangro, Italy
- Mikla – Istanbul, Turkey
- Arzak – San Sebastian, Spain
- D.O.M. – Sao Paolo, Brazil
- Maeemo – Oslo, Norway
- Relae – Copenhagen, Denmark
- Nobelhart and Schmutzig – Berlin
- Sud 777 – Mexico City
- Burnt Ends – Singapore
- Indian Accent – New Delhi, India
- Uliassi – Senigallia, Italy
- Nihonryori RyuGin – Tokyo, Japan
- Florilege – Tokyo, Japan
- The Ledbury – London, UK
- Selfie – Moscow, Russia
- Core by Clare Smyth – London, UK
- Astrid y Gaston – Lima, Peru
- Faviken – Jarpen, Sweden
- Nahm – Bangkok, Thailand
- Saison – San Francisco, USA
- SingleThread – Healdsburg, USA
- Aqua – Wolsfburg, Germany
- Mani – Sao Paolo, Brazil
- Lasai – Rio de Janiero, Brazil
- DiverXo – Madrid, Spain
- Momofuku Ko – New York, USA
- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare – New York, USA
- Lido 84 – Gardone, Riviera, Italy (Miele One To Watch)
- Mingles – Seoul, Korea
- Estela – New York, USA
- Quique Dacosta – Denia, Spain
- Engima – Barcelona, Spain
- Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London, UK
- Attica – Melbourne, Australia
- Amass – Copenhagen, Denmark
- Tegui – Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Martin Berasategui – Lasate-Oria, Spain
- Lun King Heen – Hong Kong, China
- 108 – Copenhagen, Denmark
- Alo – Toronto, Canada
- Sushi Saito – Tokyo, Japan
- Harvest – St. Petersburg, Russia
- La Cime – Osaka, Japan
- Aponiente – El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain
- Gaa – Bangkok, Thailand
- Belon – Hong Kong, China
- Vendome – Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
- Anne-Sophie Pic – Valence, France
- The Jane – Antwerp, Belgium
- Oteque – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Brae – Birregurra, Australia
- Amber – Hong Kong, Chian
- Jade Dragon – Macau, China
- Cococo – St. Petersburg, Russia
- Kadeau – Copenhagen, Denmark
- Restaurant David Toutain – Paris, France
- Il Ristorante Luca Fantin – Tokyo, Japan
- L’Astrance – Paris, France
- Alcalde – Guadalajara, Mexico
- Neolokal – Istanbul, Turkey
- Chambre Separee – Ghent, Belgium
- St. John – London, UK
- Vea – Hong Kong, China
- La Colombe – Cape Town, South Africa
- Per Se – New York, USA
- St. Hubertus – San Cassiano, Italy
- Epicure – Paris, France
- Ernst – Berlin, Germany
- Atomix – New York, USA
- Sugalabo – Tokyo, Japan