What can we learn from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2017?

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 Image: World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards

Image: World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards

On the 5th April, whilst most of us were tucking into our office salad, some of the world’s most famous food journalists, critics and chefs were waiting in anticipation at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne to find out who would be awarded the most prestigious of culinary accolades. In the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, a glamorous celebration of gastronomic excellence, restaurants from over twenty-three countries and six continents were voted for by a panel of foodie experts to determine where the best flavours in the world are to be found.

The foodie within me finds the idea of an event full of talented chefs, mixologists and restaurant owners tantamount to heaven, but not all of us can take heed of the list to the extent of forking out $300 for a dinner (the average price at winning restaurant Eleven Madison Park). As I settle (for now!) for lusting over the menus and photographs of the best food on earth, it is worth considering what restaurant owners, chefs and all of us in the foodservice sphere can take away from the establishments that have earned this ultimate marker of industry approval.

The top 50 restaurants in the world

The awards were conceived in 2002, and quickly grew in reputation to become a global phenomenon. Today, being named on the list – or on the 51-100 line-up – is an accomplishment of real significance for the venues involved. As Bloomberg Pursuits explains, in 2010, the Copenhagen restaurant Noma won the first place spot and saw 100,000 attempted bookings the next day. So this year’s winners can expect to see a real boost from this sought-after accolade.

The top spot Eleven Madison Park, in fact, is already fully booked for parties of two throughout May, a feat achieved in the 24 hours following its win, despite the non-refundable deposit of $642 that such a booking requires. Here are all of this year’s epicurean award-winners who are set to dominate the fine dining scene in 2017.

1.        Eleven Madison Park, New York, USA

2.      Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy

3.      El Celler de Can Roba, Girona, Spain

4.      Mirazur, Menton, France

5.      Central, Lima, Peru

6.      Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain

7.      Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand

8.      Maido, Lima, Peru

9.      Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

10.  Steirereck, Vienna, Austria

11.     Blue Hills at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, USA

12.   Arpege, Paris, Grance

13.   Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Paris, France

14.   Restaurant Andre, Singapore

15.   Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy

16.   D.O.M., Sao Paulo, Brazil

17.   Le Bernardin, New York, USA

18.   Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan

19.   Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark

20.  Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico

21.   Alinea, Chicago, USA

22.   Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico

23.   White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia

24.   Amber, Hong Kong, China

25.  Tickets, Barcelona, Spain

26.  The Clove Club, London, UK

27.  The Ledbury, London, UK

28.   Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand

29.  Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy

30.  Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain

31.   Alleno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen, Paris, France

32.   Attica, Melbourne, Australia

33.   Astrid Y Gaston, Lima, Peru

34.   De Librije, Zwolle, Netherlands

35.  Septime, Paris, France

36.  Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK

37.   Saison, San Fransisco

38.   Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain

39.  Relae, Copenhagen, Denmark

40.  Cosme, New York, USA

41.   Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China

42.   Borago, Santiago, Chile

43.   Reale, Castel di Sangro, Italy

44.   Brae, Birregurra, Australia

45.  Den, Tokyo, Japan

46.  L’Astrance, Paris, France

47.   Vendome, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

48.   Restaurant Tim Raue, Derlin, Germany

49.  Tegui, Buenos Aires, Argentina

50. Hof Van Cleve, Kruishoutem, Belgium

Among the top fifty are three restaurants hailing from the UK – The Clove Club reached number 26, with The Ledbury just behind it at 27, and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal came in at 36. All three venues are located in the country’s culinary epicentre, London. As the organisation notes, Blumenthal – undeniably a gastronomical icon of Britain and a kind of Willy Wonka figure of fine dining – has two causes for celebration. Not only has his restaurant risen nine places since 2016, he has also been personally awarded the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award for his influential work in the world of molecular gastronomy.

However, the awards are not received without controversy. As Eater argues:

“The World’s 50 Best List, routinely criticized for its lack of female-run restaurants, its European focus, and its abundance of exorbitant tasting menu spots, has produced yet another list of male-dominant, European-heavy, expensive tasting menu restaurants.”

Only three female head chefs feature on this year’s list, and every single one of them works in a kitchen co-run by men. This, and the Eurocentric focus of the winners, has been an issue throughout the awards’ history. So perhaps the first lesson we ought to take from the results is that the food business has a long way to go in terms of equality.

Still, within the feedback provided for each winner, important points were raised that can give restaurant owners and chefs an idea of what makes a great restaurant – at least, in the eyes of the industry elite. In fact, there are some key lessons that restaurants of all levels can take from these results.

Eleven Madison Park: What makes it the best?

The judges explain what made New York’s Eleven Madison Park, which has been climbing the rankings since 2010, their top choice:

“The restaurant’s co-owners, Will Guidara and Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm, enhance the fine-dining experience with a sense of fun, blurring the line between the kitchen and the dining room. Housed in an art deco building overlooking New York’s Madison Park, the restaurant’s multi-course seasonal tasting menu celebrates the city’s rich history and culinary traditions.”

What can we learn?

 Image: World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards

Image: World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards

A few key themes become apparent here, fusing the industry’s concerns over sustainability and authenticity into what was, for Eleven Madison Park, one winning combination.

A link to the land

Eleven Madison Park’s seasonal tasting menu successfully addresses the issues around food ethics, mass production of crops and environmentalism. This theme continued in the praise for other restaurants, such as Vienna’s Steirereck, at number 10, which was noted for its “cutting-edge cooking rooted in the Austrian landscape” and “obvious reverence of local ingredients”.

Osteria Francescana, this year’s runner-up, was similarly touted for its menu’s local focus. The judges praised how Chef Massimo Bottura “weaves narratives through his dishes, playing with traditions and experimenting with ingredients from the Emilia-Romagna region from whence he hails.”

Local focus

Also praised was Eleven’s showcasing of New York City’s traditions and culinary roots. This was a trend among the top ten places, particularly in the comments attributed to Central in Lima, which scored a number 5 place. The judges commented:

“An exploration of its country’s biodiversity, Central takes diners on a journey through every altitude, from 20 metres below sea level to 4,100 metres above it, in 17+ courses. The tasting menu is a reflection of Martínez and his sister’s research into ingredients in the Andes, the Amazon and the sea. In its three years as The Best Restaurant in Latin America, Central has been, well, central to Lima’s transformation into one of the globe’s must-visit dining destinations, while chef Virgilio Martínez has led a new generation of Peruvian cooks.”

Not only should restaurants seek to base their menus on the produce available in their local area, but they should endeavour to enrich the culture of their location, too – whether this be taking inspiration from it as Eleven has done, or by contributing to its development a la Lima.

Serving up innovation

The blurring of the kitchen and dining room through interactive experiences is also hailed as important.  innovation and experimentalism is still valued, as it always was, but should not be the sole domain of the chef’s table. Inventive cooking should be brought to customers themselves, in personalised and engaging culinary experiences that make a simple dinner a true memory to cherish.

This was praised in both Eleven and Gaggan, Bangkok’s number 7 winner, whose “developing conversation-starting dishes like the spherified Yoghurt Explosion and creating a dining experience that reflects the warmth of Thai hospitality in Bangkok.” Blumenthal’s Lifetime Achievement Award only emphasises this point, considering that he has built a veritable brand out of bringing the magic of food to diners on screen and in the restaurant.

William Drew, Group Editor of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, comments: “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants is proud to bring together the leaders in global gastronomy for this annual celebration. All 50 restaurants represent the very best culinary experiences and talent. We congratulate each one, as well as all the individual award winners, on their remarkable achievements, innovation and creative passion.”

Evidently, it is creativeness and dedication that brings these world-leading chefs to appear on this prestigious list. Whether you seek to serve a similarly discerning clientele, or simply wish to understand how and why the industry values its main players, consulting the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards is no doubt a good place to gain inspiration.