World’s Best (a crazy quest)

Last night in London lots of the world food glitterati crowded into the Guildhall to eat canapes and drink champagne and celebrate themselves.

It’s been referred to as the Golden Globes of Restaurants- perhaps for the questionable mechanics of the voting system (well explained by Cara here) but you can’t deny that the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant list has influence.

As tweeted by Rene Redzepi, chef of Noma, best restaurant for the past three years  on Saturday: “1204 people on the waiting list for this evening. Same day in 2008 (Monday 28th of april) 14 guests in all day.”

The awards have influence alright. On general bookings and on stray punters like us.

Last night The Hungry One and I sat on the couch. We watched the live streaming, drank a mediocre glass or two of Malbec and did some musing.

Those who’ve been reading this blog for a while know we’ve been on a mad quest for the best. When things went  pear shaped a few years ago we went in search for comfort food in some unusual places.

Chasing down reservations at the top 10 restaurants in the world from El Bulli, to Noma and The Fat Duck involved 3 am alarms in Sydney and constant pressing of ‘redial’. It meant translating emails into three languages. It also meant learning it’s easier to get a table for four than two (double return on same real estate) and that lunches are better than dinner. It wreaked a bit of havoc with both our finances and waistlines.

After we ticked off Le Chateaubriand for my 30th birthday in Paris last year, I thought we were done. While we hadn’t ticked off all top 10 (that pesky list keeps changing, doesn’t it?) we’d given it a red hot go.

This is a hard habit to justify. You can’t and you sound like a right ivory towered muppet for even trying.

Like people who spend lots of cash on concert tickets, shoes or cars, it helps if your significant other understands – not that many people will be able to swallow spending up to a week’s rent on a supper. In my case, The Hungry One is a terrible enabler.

For us those meals were the sweet to some pretty salty years.   They meant on nights when I couldn’t sleep, instead of counting sheep I’d challenge myself to remember all the dishes in a 15 course tasting menu at Osteria Francescana, or make tallies of fish courses across the seas.

It also means that these days when The Hungry One says he likes something I’ve cooked, I take it as a real compliment. It’s up against some pretty stiff points of comparison.

So, last night there were changes in the guard. Heston’s Fat Duck is down to 14 and his new place Dinner is in. Having eaten at both, I’m not sure how much I believe in those rankings. The magic of the ‘Sound of the Sea’ is hard to shake. Luckily the sublime taffety tart is available at both.

Noma is still number one and El Celler de Can Roca, with their candied olives on bonsai trees is still number two.

Mugaritz is three. I thought it might be higher. But then at four, there’s D.O.M; Alex Atala’s place in Brazil.

The rest of the top ten includes some old favourites of ours; namely Per Se, Alinea and Arzak.

Then at number 10 there’s 11 Madison Park. Interesting (and not just because it’s next to the original Shake Shack location in NYC).

We did the tabulations. Out of this year’s top 10, we’ve done 8. Out of top 15; 11. Out of top 100; 24 (with 22 of them written up and linked here).

There are some curiosities in the list. St John has disappeared, for the first time in a while. It’s still one of my favourites. Hibiscus dropped 50 spots- that doesn’t surprise me that much, the dinner we had there was almost indigestibly rich.  The fact that the casual bustly Momofuku Ssam constantly outstrips its 12 seater sibling Momofuku Ko in NYC by 42 spots staggers me.  And I was sad to see the gentle and lovely Bras slip so low. But after the ‘incident with the jacket’, The Hungry One was not disappointed to see French Laundry dwelling down in the 40s.

So, is it over? We’ll see.  After some Malbec and musing, we think there’s a chance we have might find our way to South America at some point.

Old habits die hard.

They might do it on restaurants; I’m just ranking dishes.

My top 5

5) Rocks at Mugaritz

A meal at Mugaritz starts with snacks. There’s a bowl of tiny prawns, crisp fried like want-to-be whitebait. There’s a little cup of aioli that tastes so profoundly of garlic and egg yolk it’s almost rude.  Then there’s a bowl of rocks. We pick one up and tentatively put it in our mouth. It’s a warm, shiny rock. We pick up another. It gives at your teeth and slowly reveals beneath a slightly sandy crust a roasted potato that’s been coated in a local digestive aid of clay and kept warm by hugging the other rocks. We dip our potato/rock into the aioli. We go looking for more. There are only two potatoes, but they and the aioli is so good that the Hungry One has to test every rock. Then when he knows for sure that they can’t be eaten, he dips the rocks in the last smudges of aioli anyway and sucks them clean. Ok. I lie. That was me.

4) Foie Gaytime at Osteria Francescana

It’s fun and delicious and sings with produce from Modena. These were the hallmarks of the food at Osteria Francescana to me. A cube of dense liver, stuffed with a little embryo of aged balsamic and encrusted with nuts and presented on a stick. There’s something inherently cheeky about eating something so decadent off an icey-pole stick.

3) Oysters and Pearls – Per Se

It’s Thomas Keller’s signature dish for a reason. It’s spectacular. The sabayon that binds pearl tapioca, a mound of sterling white caviar and trimmed oysters from Island Creek creates a curious merry go round of textures. Squishy, smooth and sexy. It’s like licking satin and rubbing silk against your cheek. And eating off a mother of pearl spoon, in the gilded tower of the Time Warner Centre in NYC just adds to the hedonism of it all.

2) Egg cooked at the table at Noma

There’s an interactivity and playfulness at Noma. This course comes half way through.“The chefs are tired”, we’re told. “It’s time for you to do some cooking”. Out come smoking hot ceramic plates, and a bundle of hay. Next to them is an egg. Next there’s a plate of artfully arranged greenery and a lump of seasoned goat’s butter. We’re to cook our own eggs. There’s a squirt of hay oil and an egg timer set. We crack the egg and cook the egg for 90 seconds exactly. At that point in go the wild garlic, herbs and lump of butter. We watch over our plates with care and concern. Soon there’s a squirt of wild garlic sauce. We’re allowed to now add in the final pile of delicate herbs and flowers. And to check the seasoning. If ever you wanted to be introduced to how to make food taste like it does in a restaurant, this is a good way to do it. In order to turn the volume of the seasoning up to a  level in tune with what we’ve just eaten we’re having to back and back to the salt. There’s already been a good lump of butter and oil in the dish.  We puncture the luminous orange yolk and adorn the plate with a twirl of crisped potato. Now it tastes in tune. It’s a very, very good egg.

1) Dessert painting at Alinea

It starts with a blank rubber sheet. Then a chef comes from the kitchen and starts to paint and create. Instead of acrylic, there’s liquid chocolate, coconut and a eucalyptus sauce. Then the textures come. There’s chocolate soil and frozen chocolate mousse that looks like artefacts from Mars. There’s coconut ice and circles of molten pudding that are somehow cooking and setting on the rubber as the work is created. All in all it takes about eight minutes. Then it’s left for us to destroy. Which once you taste the first, is not hard. The chocolate is both bitter and sweet. The eucalyptus has a hint of ‘cold and flu’ but more than that, it’s a refreshing clean up to a landscape of indulgence. We’re laughing and scraping- fighting each other for the last bits. It is some of the most fun we’ve had out in a very long time.


Nb, you can read all about our crazy exploits under the ‘Best meals’ tab above, or by clicking here.

  1. The food and service at D.O.M. is fab! not surprised is in 4th Place.

  2. You do such a great job at describing these unique dishes, it is almost like being there and tasting them. Thanks Tori

  3. What sublime dishes! Food really is an art at these places. I’m sure the restaurant world await these results with baited breath (the difference between Noma’s 2012 number and 2008’s is amazing!

  4. I think you two are probably some of the few people at the world who have eaten at most of the list – the five dishes you mention sound amazing!

  5. You know I just ate my coffee cup reading this right? So want to check out these places – and I’m hoping to head over to Europe soon so aiming to cross a few more off the list. 3am wakeup alarm it is..

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