What’s the world’s greatest restaurant? Best chefs and those who diverge over their fortunes to eat their food are captivate with the question. Now a new ranking has emerged to provide some extra fodder to the debate. The ranking’s creators shared their global top 10.
The World’s Best Restaurant? Yes, as voted for a panel of almost 1,000 gastronomic experts worldwide. After two years in the No.2 spot, Massimo Bottura’s tranquil restaurant in a Modena back street rightly steps up to take the global crown, reflecting the chef’s ongoing creativity, immense skill, undimmed passion and fierce determination to defy the odds.
What was stacked against him? Italian tradition. The 53-year-old chef-owner, who celebrated Osteria Francescana’s 20th anniversary in 2015, has long played with Italian culinary standards – reinventing, subverting and improving. But in a country whose food culture is deeply conservative, that is a daring and sometimes controversial path to take. Bottura has not only drawn global plaudits and worldwide custom, but also won over his own nation’s critics.
What diners can expect: Unusually for such an exalted restaurant, it still offers an a la carte option alongside two tasting menus. Of these, Sensations is the progressive, seasonal ever-changing showpiece; Tradition in Evolution is something of a greatest hits compilation, celebrating the Emilia-Romagna region in which Modena sits and whence the chef hails.
A few highlights: The famous Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano explores the region’s esteemed cheese via temperature, texture and, of course, taste. Conversely, Autumn in New York reflects the chef’s international outlook and influences (his wife, Lara, is American): pickled and preserved fall vegetables are combined with a mineral broth featuring dried mushrooms and pumpkin concentrate, with spectacular results.
The dining room: Bottura’s creations are heavily influenced by art and music (jazz in particular), and three elegant rooms that make up the dining space are adorned with high-quality contemporary artworks. This remains very much a luxurious fine dining establishment, but recalibrated for the current era.
What else: The effervescent Bottura founded Food for Soul non-profit project in early 2016 in a bid to fight hunger and food wastage.
El Celler de Can Roca
It’s a family affair: The three Roca brothers are each global leader s in their respective fields – Joan as a chef, Josep as a sommelier and Jordi as a patisssier– so their combined creativity is almost overwhelming. But their warm fraternal dynamic also pervades the whole atmosphere of this unique, and hugely popular, restaurant.
Where exactly is it again? El Celler pilgrims must head to the small provincial city of Girona in Catalunya, an hour or so north-east of Barcelona. Once there, leave the attractive medieval old town behind and head to the nondescript working-class suburb of Taiala, where you’ll find the spacious, purpose-built restaurant secreted behind a discreet entrance passageway.
Once you walk up the passage: It’s a haven of tranquillity boasting a wine-lover’s fantasy cellar, a triangular glass-walled modernist dining room and a contemporary tasting menu that draws extensively from the Catalan terroir, while also taking cues from around the world.
What’s on the menu: While there are established favourites including Iberian suckling pig and variations on its multi-layered prawn compositions, the menu is never allowed to rest on its much-vaunted laurels. In recent years, the team has closed the restaurant during August to embark on annual tours to South America, Turkey, the US and more in order to broaden their collective culinary experiences. Influences are then fed back into dish development back in the enviably large kitchen back home.
A few final words: The brothers are hugely respected, their restaurant is highly influential and the dining experience remains extraordinary.
Eleven Madison Park
NEW YORK, USA
What sets it apart: Co-owners Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm are focused on breaking down the boundaries between the kitchen and the dining room, so the whole experience at Eleven Madison Park is harmonious. Front-of-house staff are so intimately familiar with the dishes that service becomes an art, and the chef often tailors his food to the individual diner, creating quirky personalised dishes.
The food: Swiss-born Humm and New Yorker Guidara recently cut their tasting menu down from 14 courses to about seven, with the idea to shorten the meal slightly and give more attention to each individual dish. Some of Humm’s classics remain, including the perfectly cooked honey and lavender roast duck and a playful dessert ‘game’ of ‘Name That Milk,’ featuring Mast Brothers chocolate.
The vibe: Housed in an art deco building just of Madison Park, Eleven Madison Park is grand and elaborate whilst remaining relaxed and focused on the customer’s comfort.
Dream team: Best friends Humm and Guidara met a decade ago when they were set up on a professional ‘blind date’ by legendary restaurateur Danny Meyer. They’ve been working together ever since, buying Eleven Madison Park from Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in 2011 and opening the food and beverage spaces at the nearby NoMad hotel in 2012.
New ventures: 2016 sees the opening of Made Nice, a more casual restaurant in New York, and the pair are working on a second NoMad hotel in Los Angeles.
What’s it all about? Central takes guests on a culinary expedition through Peru’s ecosystem, from the Amazon to Pacific coast. Chef Virgílio Martínez and his team forage in the jungle, desert, mountains and sea to discover diverse local ingredients found at every altitude.
Typical dishes: Central’s tasting menu starts from 20 metres below sea level and travels up to 4,100 metres, highlighting the Peruvian ingredients that grow at various elevations. On a recent trip to Aija in the Andes, Martínez harvested wild oca and Andean yams and met a man fermenting ocas in river water, cooking the tuber below the ground on hot stones, inspiring the dish ‘Tallos extremos’.
Worth noting: Central bottles its own filtered, ozonated and purified water on-site using reverse osmosis.
Worth noting II: At the heart of Central is Mater, an initiative that connects cooking with the earth by travelling across the country in search of ingredients and stories from local producers.
Other ventures: Central clutched the top spot on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurant list two years in a row in 2014 and 2015. In London, Martínez heads projects including Lima, Lima Floral and a Lima concession at upmarket department store Harrods, and has plans to bring contemporary Peruvian cuisine to Dubai.
Tell us a story: The Scandi gastronomy movement that has taken hold across the world started at a renovated warehouse in Copenhagen in 2003 when René Redzepi took it upon himself to revive and update Nordic food using contemporary cooking methods. Noma has since gone on to change the way dining rooms operate and put foraging for ingredients firmly in the spotlight.
What’s the vibe? Chefs bring out the dishes themselves to guests in the relaxed and casual dining room that has views over Copenhagen’s quayside. The stripped-back interior matches Redzepi’s unfussy and naturalistic style of cooking.
On the menu: Vegetables and foraged ingredients take centre stage, but don’t be fooled, this isn’t your ordinary restaurant fare. Simple-sounding dishes such as apples and lemon thyme, cabbage leaves and white currants, new Danish potato and nettle and sliced raw squid and kelp provide explosions of taste and texture, with ingredients shown in a different light to how many will have previously experienced them.
Other ventures: Redzepi has successfully taken Noma to London, Tokyo and Sydney, embracing the local cuisines in the process. He plans to close Noma at the end of 2016 and will eventually reopen the restaurant as an urban farm. He has also just opened the more casual 108.
Is that Italy over there? Yes, Mirazur sits on the French side of the riviera, mere steps from the Italian border, and chef Mauro Colagreco says his cuisine owes as much to Italy and his own Argentinian-Italian heritage as to his adopted home country.
What’s the secret? Colagreco’s secret weapon, bolstering his own backyard farm and web of suppliers, is the market of Ventimiglia, a rich source of just-picked heirloom vegetables and sparkling-fresh seafood.
How do those things come together in the kitchen? Picture green beans so tiny, tender and full of sunshine that they steal the show right out from under the (generous) spoonful of caviar they’re served with. Menton’s famous lemons make anchovy fillets set on fried anchovy skeletons pop and sing, while a dish Colagreco simply calls “Green” combines garden peas, fennel and even kiwi fruit in a tribute to freshness.
And what of his signature dish? Oyster with tapioca, shallot cream and pear? A modern classic in the making.
SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN
Who is behind Mugaritz’s magic? Andoni Luis Aduriz, simply known as Andoni, is considered by many observers to be the natural heir to the title of Spain’s most pioneering chef after Ferran Adrià.
How does it play out? A meal takes place over 20 courses – several of them, if the weather is clement, served in the gorgeously appointed gardens around the restaurant. Basque cuisine often combines elements of the mountains and the sea, and so it is at Mugaritz where the menu might roam from oyster and young garlic omelette and pig tails and squid, via a crunchy “sandwich” of local cheese presented in a book, to a loin of lamb smoked over eucalyptus and served with “its cultivated wool”.
What’s the vibe: One of the greatest things about Mugaritz is the sense of play, whether it’s the waiters throwing a curve-ball for the wine lovers at the table with a mystery bottle (a well-aged rosé from Lebanon’s Chateau Musar, perhaps), or the presentation of chocolate petit fours in stacked oak boxes designed to allude to the seven deadly sins.
Chef’s story: Yoshihiro Narisawa left home at age 19 and spent eight years cutting his teeth in some of Europe’s most venerated kitchens, including those of Joël Robuchon and Paul Bocuse. In 1996, he returned home to Japan and opened La Napoule in Kanagawa Prefecture. Seven years later in 2003, he moved to his current venue in Tokyo’s non-touristy district of Minami Aoyama and formed Les Créations de Narisawa. When the restaurant celebrated its eighth anniversary, it was renamed Narisawa.
About the cooking: Narisawa has coined his own style of cuisine, Innovative Satoyama. Since Japanese cities are surrounded by forest and ocean, its people live hand to hand with nature, taking only the most necessary resources for daily life from the earth.
What to expect on the plate: Almost all ingredients used at Narisawa are Japanese and the chef visits all the producers and liaises directly with them. The menu comprises sustainable ingredients that are faithful to the environment and the seasons, so a dinner at Narisawa is a journey in Japanese seasonality and culture.
And to drink: Narisawa is one of the best places in the world to appreciate the finest of Japanese winemaking, with Pinot Noir from Nagano, Riesling lion from Iwate, aged Bordeaux-style blends from Yamagata and beyond.
What’s it all about? It may, on paper, sound fairly traditional – family owned for generations, with a bias towards Austria’s rural Styrian region – but under the guidance of chef Heinz Reitbauer, Steirereck has become a byword for cutting-edge cooking rooted in the Austrian landscape.
What’s the vibe? Housed in a monolithic glass cube in Vienna’s Stadtpark, Steirereck’s design may be super-modern but the interior speaks a recognisable language of international fine dining. It’s a bright, tranquil vision of wood, concrete and starched white table linen.
Typical dishes: Reitbauer’s signature says everything you need to know about his outlook, being equal parts culinary theatre, precise technique and obvious reverence of local ingredients. The freshwater mountain fish, char, is cooked at the table in hot beeswax before being returned on a plate with yellow carrot, pollen and sour cream.
What else? While the tasting menu is, undoubtedly, the best way to engage with Reitbauer’s vision, it says everything about his relaxed style that you’ll find a Wiener Schnitzel on the menu – one of the things that makes Steirereck so enduringly popular with the lunch crowds.
What makes it special: Nestled beneath mountains in a sleepy village an hour’s drive from San Sebastian, the old stone building that houses Asador Etxebarri is a destination in its own right. So peaceful are the surroundings that the chimes of church bells and the odd bleat of an animal are the only sounds to be heard.
The chef: Victor Arguinzoniz was born in the village, just moments away from the restaurant, and worked in a flag factory for many years before buying the restaurant with his father and uncle. He taught himself to cook and built his own kitchen full of manual grilling contraptions using multiple types of wood. Known for his devotion to the barbecue, he is rarely seen out of the kitchen.
On the menu: Etxebarri’s tasting menu takes in enormous juicy Palamós prawns, homemade chorizo tartare and finally a huge tomahawk steak before dessert. Customers can also order à la carte, with the speciality being Arguinzoniz’s personal favourite – grilled eel.
Bonus point: Arguinzoniz’s produce is so fresh that some of it comes from his own back garden, yards from the restaurant. He recently purchased eight buffalo, which graze in a field overlooking the village, alongside chickens and homemade chorizo that hangs outside his house. He produces fresh buffalo mozzarella daily, to serve alongside goat’s milk butter and other snacks.