On Tuesday evening, a new era began as the very first World’s 50 Best Awards held in Asia unfolded in Singapore. The glittering event saw the culinary world gathered at Marina Bay Sands to witness the reveal of the prestigious list.
It appears Singapore’s home ground advantage did not apply, with only one restaurant from the city-state appearing on the list.
Singapore restaurant Odette clinched the 18th spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, up 10 places from no. 28 last year. The modern French restaurant helmed by Julien Royer recently overtook Bangkok’s Gaggan for the top spot on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
An elated Royer shared: “I was no expecting anything at all. It’s an honour to just be on this list. We came in at 28 last year, our first time on the list, and we are 18th this year. It seems like eight is my lucky number.”
Odette’s ranking at no. 18 (sitting below Gaggan which comes in fourth) appears to be dissonant with the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list – where Odette topped the list, ahead of Gaggan. Could this incongruence be explained by a difference in voting panelists powering both lists?
Movements on the 2019 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list
Despite its domination of the list, France has never had a restaurant in the no.1 spot until this year — with the transcultural Mediterranean fine dining restaurant Mirazur taking the title of the best restaurant in the world, up from third place last year.
Fittingly enough, Argentinian-Italian head chef Mauro Colagreco is perhaps symbolic of the increasing inclusivity, and multiculturalism of the restaurant industry worldwide. “We need to share and understand the cuisine beyond borders…our vision is to try to give love, and live happily with our work. It’s a simple vision, but it’s a vision of life,” said Colagreco.
Copenhagen’s Nordic pioneers Noma, which rebuilt itself from ground-up after a hiatus, is the highest new entry on the list at no. 2 — technically that is; since the first iteration of the restaurant saw it clinch the top spot in 2014.
Elsewhere on the list, Moscow’s Twins Garden made its debut in the top 50, gaining foothold with a staggering 19th spot. The progressive Russian restaurant is known for its farm-to-table cuisine and inspiring wine programme.
Colombia also made its mark with its first entry: Leo, a groundbreaking restaurant from Bogota that showcases exotic, indigenous ingredients such as fat-bottomed ants.
It was however not the highest climber on the list, an accolade which went to Spain’s Azurmendi for catapulting from 43rd to 14th position.
Rise of the Asian tigers
Chinese cuisine also saw a rare entry on the World’s 50 Best list. Hong Kong’s modern Cantonese restaurant The Chairman takes the no. 41 spot as a new entry. The hidden eatery is known for its locavore ethos and simple but produce-driven dishes like steamed flower crab with aged shaoxing wine, rice noodles, and chicken fat.
This is also Hong Kong’s first entry since contemporary French restaurant Amber took no. 24 in 2017.
As with every other industry, trends follow economic progress at different paces. New ingredients, techniques, and cultures are a definite bonus. It’s no coincidence that there are more Asian restaurants on the list.
What’s in a vote?
The structure of the awards has also seen some major changes this year.
Notably, restaurants that have topped the list previously — a surprisingly small number despite the award’s 18-year-reign — will now be placed in a Best-of-the-Best category. The French Laundry, elBulli, The Fat Duck, El Celler de Can Roca, Osteria Francescana, and Eleven Madison Park will no longer be eligible for the top 50 spots. The chefs of these restaurants will instead be given this platform to highlight their own passion projects and help impact positive change in the industry.
Despite the newly implemented 50-50 gender split on the 1000-strong voting panel, the male-bias observed in previous years remains. Only four female chefs and co-chefs made the list this year, down from five last year. They include Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn (who previously spoke out against the Best Female Chef category), Pia León (Central); Ana Ros (Hiša Franko), and Daniela Soto-Innes (Cosme).
Soto-Innes, who runs the trendy Cosme in New York (opened by Enrique Olvera of Pujol), took the title Best Female Chef of 2019 — an accolade previously also held by Ana Ros and Clare Smyth. Cosme is also known for its inclusive kitchen, contemporary Mexican cuisine, and mezcal programme.
Meanwhile, this year’s Chefs’ Choice award — voted by winners on the list — goes to culinary doyen Alain Passard of L’Arpege. Passard is best known for removing meat dishes that helped his celebrated restaurant earn three Michelin stars and replacing them with a vegetable-only menu. While the move shocked critics, he retained all his stars.
Next up – Middle East and Africa?
After years of focusing on technique, ingredients, and — more recently — sustainability, the industry is looking inward at its most precious resource: people. Diversity, well-being, and positive work environments were the most salient topics discussed this year; with many of the listed restaurants this year representative of that discourse.
In a push for diversity and representation, the Middle East and Africa are also being discussed as possible places for the awards to expand to — the World’s 50 Best brand currently has separate categories for Asia and Latin America.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019
1. Mirazur | Menton, France
2. (Highest new entry to date) Noma | Copenhagen, Denmark
3. Asador Etxebarri | Atxondo, Spain
4. Gaggan | Bangkok, Thailand
5. Geranium | Copenhagen, Denmark
6. Central | Lima, Peru
7. Mugaritz | San Sebastian, Spain
8. Arpège | Paris, France
9. Disfrutar | Barcelona, Spain
10. Maido | Lima, Peru
11. Den | Tokyo, Japan
12. Pujol | Mexico City, Mexico
13. White Rabbit | Moscow, Russia
14. (Highest climber) Azurmendi | Larrabetzu, Spain
15. Septime | Paris, France
16. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée | Paris, France
17. Steirereck | Vienna, Austria
18. Odette | Singapore
19. (New entry) Twins Garden | Moscow, Russia
20. Tickets | Barcelona, Spain
21. (Re-entry) Frantzén | Stockholm, Sweden
22. Narisawa | Tokyo, Japan
23. Cosme | New York, USA
24. Quintonil | Mexico City, Mexico
25. Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen | Paris, France
26. Boragó | Santiago, Chile
27. The Clove Club | London, UK
28. Blue Hill at Stone Barns | Pocantino Hills, USA
29. Piazza Duomo | Alba, Italy
30. Elkano | Getaria, Spain
31. Le Calandre | Rubano, Italy
32. (New entry) Nerua | Bilbao, Spain
33. Lyle’s | London, UK
34. Don Julio | Buenos Aires, Argentina
35. (Re-entry) Atelier Crenn | San Francisco, USA
36. Le Bernardin | New York, USA
37. Alinea | Chicago, USA
38. Hiša Franko | Kobarid, Slovenia
39. (New entry) A Casa do Porco | São Paulo, Brazil
40. Restaurant Tim Raue | Berlin, Germany
41. (New entry) The Chairman | Hong Kong, China
42. (New entry) Belcanto | Lisbon, Portugal
43. (Re-entry) Hof Van Cleve | Kruishoutem, Belgium
44. The Test Kitchen | Cape Town, South Africa
45. Restaurant Sühring | Bangkok, Thailand
46. (Re-entry) De Librije | Zwolle, Netherlands
47. (New entry) Benu | San Francisco
48. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet | Shanghai, China
49. (New entry) Leo | Bogotá, Colombia
50. Schloss Schauenstein | Fürstenau, Switzerland
Images courtesy of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants unless otherwise stated