World’s Ultimate Meal

The top ten restaurants in the world are anointed annually. In 2012 they were scattered across eight cities. Surely only a fool would embark on a quest to eat at all of them…

It’s exacted a toll on both waistlines and mortgage, but in the name of research we have finally ticked them all off.

These temples of gastronomy traverse a fine line between theatre and food, performance and indulgence. And they offer an all together different interpretation of what constitutes ‘dinner and a show’.

In the spirit of vicarious feasting, fantasy and folly; here’s what just might be the world’s ultimate meal. (This fictional ten course tasting menu has been stitched together by selecting one stellar course from each of 2012’s top ten restaurants).

Nb, the rankings for 2013 will be announced in London on 29 April, 2013.

1)  Candied olives on a tree (El Celler de can Roca)

You know it’s not your average dinner when it begins with the delivery of a tiny tree to the table. It’s as meticulous as a bonsai and dangling from it are small shiny orbs. “It’s a Mediterranean welcome. Please pluck the olives” is the instruction. The olives are green, stuffed with anchovies and coated in a crisp shell of caramel that crackles. It doesn’t take long before we’re giggling like children and parting all the branches hunting madly for more; it’s the joy of Easter Sunday mashed with aperetivo hour on the Costa Brava. All good meals should start like this.

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona. Ranked #2.

2) Edible Rocks (Mugaritz)

It’s one thing to pick your own olives for snacks. It’s quite another to be asked to eat rocks. Yet high in the hills behind San Sebastian they’re what follow an amouse bouche of fried school prawns. We pick one up and tentatively put it in our mouth. Yes, that’s indeed a warm, shiny… rock. We pick up another. This one gives at the teeth and reveals beneath a sandy crust a roasted Ratte potato that’s been coated in a local digestive aid of clay. To the side there’s a Kandinsky yellow, roast garlic emulsion. It’s for dunking and depth. We go back to the bowl in search of more potatoes. There are only two, but they and the aioli are so good that we find ourselves testing every last stone, just to be sure.

Mugaritz, San Sebastian. Ranked #3.

3) Languoustine with Oysters and Seaweed, Noma

From rocks as food, to boulders for flatware. At Noma, much of the food is hand foraged- and your digits are what you’ll use to eat much of the meal. We use our index finger and thumb to pluck a barely-cooked langoustine, splayed across a warm boulder. The outside is crusted, the inside pinkly raw. Beneath there’s a gentle dust of dried Icelandic seaweed. Flanking it is a creamy puree of oysters and parsley, both briney and fresh. If you came to Scandinavia searching for a way to digest great design, this is it. It’s elegant restraint, coupled with an artful melding of land and sea- all captured in three small bites.

Noma, Copenhagen. Ranked #1.

4) Green tomato gel, with flowers (D.O.M)

Chef Alex Atala may be famed for reinvigorating interest in indigeous Brazilian ingredients, but he also deserves accolades for one of the world’s prettiest dishes. On a ridged plate a shallow pond of translucent green tomato gel appears like plate of glass. Pressed over it is a garland of baby basil, borage flowers, a fine dice of tomato and segments of citrus. Eating this is as cleansing as being baptised in a babbling brook, meanwhile the flavours of early summer chime through as clear as a bell.

D.O.M, Sao Paulo. Ranked #4 .

5) From Chicken to Egg (Arzak)

There may be some wit in the name, but there’s serious skill at play in Arzak’s famed ‘from chicken to egg’. It’s yolks, slowly poached in chicken stock, dotted with crispy browned chicken shmaltz and protected by a gossamer tent of egg skin, which slowly melts in front of you. Then the yolks burst and bleed across the plate, coaxing it all together. It doesn’t matter which one came first. With this dish, everyone wins.

Arzak, San Sebastian. Ranked # 8.

6) Foie Gras Crunch (Osteria Francescana)

At the heart of this cube of Noto Almond and Piemonte hazelnut crusted foie gras you’ll find an embryo of Modena’s most famed product, artfully captured as a gel. To any Australian, with the outside crumb and the tell-tale wooden stick poking out the bottom, this dish will mostly resemble a Golden Gaytime. It’s an intriguing exercise in balance; with the rich density of the liver being cut by the sweet vintage balsamic tucked inside. And the texture?  It’s both satin sheets and gentle rubble- all captured in the mid course novelty of eating something so rich, from a Paddle Pop stick.

Osteria Francescana, Modena.  Ranked # 5.

7) Powdered Duck with Confit Fennel and Umbles (Dinner)

The ‘meat fruit’ at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner may steal most of the limelight, but the Powdered Duck (c 1670) with smoked confit fennel and umbles is just as much of a star – and not just for the delight that comes with being able to order ‘umbles’ (offal; in this case duck hearts). The main event in this historically inspired dish is two duck legs, gently cooked until the flesh lolls from bone. There are notes of cinnamon clinging to the skin. Beneath it are slow cooked segments of fennel which offer a sweet twang of aniseed. There is nothing humble about this dish, particularly when united with its side dishes; a pot of sticky gravy and a bowl of mash – which is more akin to potato infused cream. I’m fairly certain that nobody back in 1670 had it this good.

Dinner, London. Ranked #9 .

8) Picnic in the Park Cheese (Eleven Madison Park)

A cheese course in a tasting menu can often be a let down- a downy plate of dairy, or a leaden cart that trundles to the table like a broken Mr Whippy Van. That’s unless you’re in New York, at Eleven Madison Park. Here it comes with a Yankee accent, full of whimsy. It’s a picnic basket, housing a loaf of warm-pretzel dough. Beneath that is a wedge of Vermont wash rind cheese, that’s been bathed in beer and aged at Greenwich Village’s famed Murray’s Cheese shop. There are grapes and a pot of plum mustard relish. And to drink, there’s a speciality Picnic Brew, custom made by the Ithaca beer company. Whether you drink the beer from the crystal glass, or straight from the bottle (as at all good picnics) is completely up to you.

Eleven Madison Park, New York. Ranked #10.

9) Table Painted Dessert (Alinea)

It starts with a blank rubber sheet. Next a chef emerges from the kitchen and begins to paint the table in front of you. Instead of pots of acrylic or watercolour, these designs are fashioned from liquid chocolate. Then other flavours are invited out to play; in this instance it’s coconut and the strident scent of eucalyptus. Soon there’s chocolate soil and frozen chocolate mousse that resemble artefacts from Mars. There’s coconut ice and circles of molten pudding that cook and set on the rubber as the work is created. All in all it takes about eight minutes. Finally it’s time for you to destroy the masterpiece. It’s a race at the table as you all scrape and plunder the tablecloth, fighting for the lion’s share of the last bites.

Alinea, Chicago. Ranked #7

10) Petit Fours (Per Se)

This might be a gilded restaurant overlooking Central Park, but the petit fours at Per Se give you full licence to behave like a kid in a (very grown up) candy shop. From chocolate truffles hiding flavours of fennel, prune and Armagnac, stout, and Baileys cheesecake, to blueberry and lemon macarons, it crescendos to a cappuccino semi freddo set in a coffee cup and hot, finger licking donuts. And just when you think you’ve had enough; more sweets arrive until the table is groaning under the weight of sugar and spice. If you just can’t fit another thing in, be sure to snaffle a few cellophane wrapped soft caramels for your pocket – at least that way you’ll have something to remind you in the morning of just how sweet life can really be.

Per Se, New York. Ranked # 6.

First published on The Vine.

{ 1 Comment }
  1. Everything in this post is making me so so hungry. <3

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