Another month, another list of the world’s greatest restaurants. Hot on the heels of the list of Asia’s Top 50 restaurants announced some weeks ago, which I wrote about, is a new list of the world’s 100 best restaurants. There is already one such list, produced out of the UK by Restaurant magazine, which has enormous impact in Europe, and which has greatly boosted the reputations of such European restaurants as The Fat Duck, El Bulli and most recently Noma.
The new list (in whose compilation I have some involvement) comes out of New York and has its origins in the web. It is produced by Glam Media, which has the number one position in terms of online global search in lifestyle, and its Foodie.com site is already among the leading food verticals (around 20 million unique users a month) despite being launched only in February 2012.
The Real Deal: Fortunately, all three restaurants on the main list – Bukhara (above), Karavalli and Indian Accent – are Indian restaurants, not mock-New York nouveau Japanese places
When the folks at Glam Media in New York called me and asked if I would be part of a jury to select the world’s top restaurants, I was sceptical and reluctant. There were many reasons for my hesitation. The first were the reservations I outlined in this column a month ago: how can I judge whether say, Bukhara is better than Noma unless I have been to both? The reason most of these Top 100 lists are a little nonsensical is because no member of the jury has eaten consistently at all the restaurants that could make it on the list and so the rankings are arbitrary. Number 52 may well be a better restaurant than Number 2 or Number 1. The jury is in no position to decide because most of its members have not eaten at those restaurants.
The good thing about the Foodie Top 100 is that it makes no attempt to rank the restaurants. It just picks what it regards as the best restaurants in the world without claiming that one is better than the other.
My other reservation had to do with methodology. I am never clear about how these lists are actually compiled. In some cases, the selection is made without the names of the jury being revealed and in other cases, when you do discover who did the selecting, you feel that they would have been better off not revealing the names of the people whose opinions we are being asked to respect.
A list of Heavyweights: The jury of Foodie Top 100 includes some really big names from the food journalism world, like Alexander Lobrano (above) and Ruth Reichl
The Foodie Top 100 on the other hand, follows a completely transparent process. Rather than rely on 40 or so anonymous judges or assorted no-hopers per region, it lets a jury of food critics decide. These include some really big names from the food journalism world. Gael Greene, Patricia Wells, Ruth Reichl, Jonathan Gold, Alexander Lobrano, Masuhiro Yamamoto, the blogger Aun Koh etc. (and at least one small name: me). The total jury has just 10 people plus three from Glam Media. So this is not an opinion poll. These are the judgements of some of the world’s best and most experienced food writers.
I don’t know how the process worked once our selections got to New York but in the interest of transparency, I am going to explain what my role was. I was asked to pick 20 to 25 restaurants (mainly from India, though I was welcome to nominate places in other countries too) that I regarded as the finest in the world, to offer some comparative rating of my selections, and to write around 250 words per restaurant.
My guess is that other jury members did the same and the final list consisted of the top places we had picked. But there are also regional lists and these will be published separately. There will also be a book, out later this year, that will feature all the selected restaurants.
I’ve been looking at the final list and the chief difference between these selections and other such lists is that the Foodie Top 100 is not trying to be trendy or controversial. There is no attempt to cater to foodie fashions (molecular gastronomy, foraging, eating live prawns etc.) and the bulk of the list seems designed to be authoritative rather than outrageous, which is what you would expect from a jury of heavyweights.
Indian Accent restaurant
Secondly, the bias against France and Japan, which is a feature of some lists, has been corrected. The French get 29 restaurants on the list. The Japanese get an equal number. (Though you could argue that Japan beats France if you take the line that Monte Carlo’s Le Louis XV restaurant is in Monaco and not France).
Some people might regard a list in which two countries account for well over half the selections as being unfairly weighted. My own view however is that this is entirely fair. It is also roughly the view of the Michelin guide as well, where France and Japan have the most Michelin-starred restaurants. Others will object that the US gets 20 restaurants while England gets only four but having eaten at many (if not most) of the restaurants listed in both countries, I think this is okay too. New York has much better food than London. And the US is a much larger country.
And though the Foodie Top 100 is meant to provide a counterpoint to Michelin (“I’ve made no secret of my long-time disappointment with the whimsies of restaurant guides. How do you lose a star one year and gain another the next?” one of the Foodie judges, Gael Greene says), I actually thought that the list echoed Michelin’s views in many areas. A large proportion of the restaurants selected have three or two Michelin stars and the list keeps with Michelin’s tendency to reward the great masters of cuisine. All three of Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants (London, Paris and Monte Carlo) make it to the Top 100 though a trendier guide would probably not have included the London outpost. (Which I like, but which British food critics have mauled). Thomas Keller gets two restaurants (Per Se and The French Laundry) on the list and the inclusion of the classic Chez Panisse and the Waterside Inn demonstrates an unwillingness to cater to current fashions and trendiness.
Which brings us to the East. When nearly 70 per cent of a list focuses on France, America and Japan, there is not much room for the rest of the world. Fortunately, because this is not a British list, there is no obsession with all things Scandinavian or even Spanish. Noma makes the list. But that is about all as far as Scandinavia is concerned. (Spain’s Arzak does not cut it.)
I think that Thailand deserved at least one entry on the list but I am not shedding any tears over the failure of Dubai to make the grade and it seems to me to be entirely fair that Singapore gets only one entry. (Iggy’s, obviously).
These Men Made It Happen: Chef Naren Thimmaiah (above) runs the massively influential Karavalli; Manish Mehrotra of Indian Accent is the now most respected modern Indian chef in the foodie world
India gets three restaurants on the list (Australia gets just one; as do Germany and Austria). This is more than most lists usually give us. And fortunately, all three are Indian restaurants, not mock-New York nouveau Japanese places. The three winners include Bukhara, easily the world’s most famous Indian restaurant and therefore, a natural choice. But it is the other two inclusions that please me more. Karavalli in Bangalore, run by Chef Naren Thimmaiah, is a massively influential restaurant that has never got the global credit it deserves so I’m happy it is rated as one of the world’s best restaurants. And Indian Accent is the cuisine phenomenon of this decade. Manish Mehrotra cooks in a small hard-to-find restaurant in Delhi’s Friend’s Colony but the man is such a genius that he is now the most respected modern Indian chef in the foodie world, up there with the likes of Vineet Bhatia.
There is also a regional list where Thailand gets three restaurants (including the wonderful Mezza Luna which was unfairly ignored in the slightly risible Asia Top 50) and Singapore gets six (including My Humble House). But India gets more restaurants (9) than Australia (7, which includes Brisbane’s Esquire which should really be on the main list as well). What this means is that, outside of Japan, India has the best restaurants in Asia. And who could possibly argue with that? (All the other lists, actually. They rate us much lower.)
I’ve listed all the Indian winners on the regional list on these pages. I’m delighted that the master chef Urbano Rego – easily the greatest Goan chef in the world – has been recognised for the exceptional Goan cuisine at the Beach House. Congratulations are also due to the Taj group which has five out of the nine listings (plus Quilon on the regional London list) and to the always consistent Gajalee in Bombay, India’s finest sea-food restaurant. You don’t have to be fancy to be great – and Gajalee proves that.
The India list
Have You Eaten Here Yet? Beach House from Goa and Southern Spice from Chennai (above) are featured on the regional list of the best restaurants in India
Though three Indian restaurants (Bukhara, Indian Accent and Karavalli) made it to the global list of the world’s 100 best restaurants, there is also a regional list with the best restaurants in each country. These are the Indian names on that list.
From HT Brunch, April 7
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