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World's Best Restaurant - El Bulli Chef,

El Bulli, Ferran Adria's gastronomic temple north of Barcelona, is the world's best restaurant, followed by the Fat Duck, near London, and Pierre Gagnaire, in Paris, Restaurant magazine said last night. No surprise there.

The top three are unchanged for the third year in a row in the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards. El Bulli has been in the trio since the London-based awards started in 2002 and the Fat Duck has been in the top two for five consecutive years.

What do the top two have in common? Well, both are known for their experimental dishes, such as parmesan air at El Bulli and snail porridge at the Fat Duck. It's also hard to get a table at either one. El Bulli claims as many as half a million people pursue fewer than 8,000 places. The delays are so long at the Fat Duck that chef Heston Blumenthal is devising games to entertain those on the waiting list.

The award rankings are decided by panels totaling 700 chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and critics in 23 regions. Voters are supposed only to name places where they have eaten in the past 18 months. The panelists must be persistent, lucky or well connected if they've been to both El Bulli and the Fat Duck in that period. I guess it's possible. They're among the 10 places I've visited on the list during the past 18 months.

I got into the top two by the simple expedient of interviewing the chefs, so I didn't dine anonymously. At El Bulli, Adria who always tailors his menus to individual tables sent out about 40 courses. At the Fat Duck, Blumenthal joined me and my guest at the table for 15 minutes, so not much danger of lousy service there.

Hare Gravy

The food was superb at both, as you might expect. At El Bulli, the plates included a hare dish, where the meat doesn't show up in familiar form. It exists solely in gravy. There's also a gold egg, whose shell crunches convincingly when you pop it in your mouth, but it's made of caramel. Beetroot comes in the form of a sweet macaroon, pine-nut shell and iced concoction that dissolves in your fingers.

All this is fun. The cooking is both inventive and highly technically accomplished. But part of the excitement and enjoyment comes from the anticipation and the excitement generated by the wait of months for a table, followed by a night- time drive down a coastal road, and by the setting, overlooking a dark beach with waves lapping. Fifty chefs labor all day to feed 50 customers.

It's theater, just like the Fat Duck, where the waiters perform magic tricks with your food and almost nothing is what it seems on the 20-course tasting menu. There are slices of beetroot and orange jelly, only the colors are reversed so your tongue sends you a different message from your eyes. Tea comes as both hot and iced in one glass. A white rose petal turns into an egg.

Where's Asia?

There are many oddities on the awards list, which started as an amusing exercise among friends in 2002 and has grown into an event that attracts top chefs from as far away as Australia. Over the years, the organizers have tried to increase the credibility of the list, and yet it would be wrong to take it too seriously.

Not a single Asian restaurant appears in the Top 50. The closest, this year as last, is Bukhara, a hotel venue in New Delhi that would be unlikely to make many diners' top five if it were in London. It's No. 55 in the world, according to the awards. Japan simply doesn't feature, though Tokyo has the most three-star establishments in the world, according to the Michelin Guide.

China figures only with Pierre, a French restaurant in Hong Kong; Robuchon a Galera a Macau outpost of chef Joel Robuchon; and an offshoot of London's Zuma in Hong Kong. These three venues make it at numbers 88, 98 and 99, respectively.

French Laundry

Mugaritz, in Spain, came fourth this year, its highest showing to date, followed by the French Laundry, in California, and Per Se in New York. Per Se jumped from ninth place last year. Noma, in Copenhagen, rose to 10th from 15th.

Not a single London venue made the top 10 in the awards, which were announced in a ceremony at Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden, attended by chefs including Adria and Blumenthal. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay was 13th, up from 24th.

Among other London restaurants: St John came 16th this year, compared with 34th; Hakkasan was unchanged at 19th; Le Gavroche was 22nd, down from 28th, and Nobu slumped to 30th from 17th. In New York, Jean Georges advanced to 17th from 18th and Le Bernardin to 20th from 26th. Daniel dropped to 41st from 32nd.

Is El Bulli the best restaurant in the world? No one can say and the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards are best regarded as a bit of fun that serve a serious purpose in shining the spotlight of publicity on some of the West's finest chefs.

Here is the list:

1. El Bulli Spain
2. The Fat Duck U.K.
3. [bn:PRSN=1] Pierre Gagnaire [] France
4. Mugaritz Spain
5. The French Laundry U.S.
6. Per Se U.S.
7. Bras France
8. Arzak Spain
9. Tetsuya's Australia
10. Noma Denmark
11. L'Astrance France
12. Gambero Rosso Italy
13. Restaurant [bn:PRSN=1] Gordon Ramsay [] U.K.
14. L'Atelier de [bn:PRSN=1] Joel Robuchon [] France
15. Le Louis XV Monaco
16. St John U.K.
17. Jean Georges U.S.
18. [bn:PRSN=1] Alain Ducasse [] au Plaza Athenee France
19. Hakkasan U.K.
20. Le Bernardin U.S.
21. Alinea U.S.
22. Le Gavroche U.K.
23. Dal Pescatore Italy
24. Le Cinq France
25. Troisgros France
26. El Celler de Can Roca Spain
27. Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville Switzerland (new entry)
28. Hof van Cleve Belgium
29. Martin Berasategui Spain
30. Nobu London U.K.
31. Can Fabes Spain
32. Enoteca Pinchiorri Italy
33. Le Meurice France (new entry)
34. Vendome Germany (new entry)
35. Die Schwarzwaldstube Germany (new entry)
36. Le Calandre Italy
37. Chez Panisse U.S.
38. [bn:PRSN=1] Charlie Trotter []'s U.S.
39. Chez Dominique Finland
40. DOM Brazil
41. Daniel U.S.
42. Oud Sluis The Netherlands
43. Cracco Peck Italy
44. Asador Etxebarri Spain (New entry)
45. Les Ambassadeurs France
46. L'Arpege France
47. Tantris Germany (New entry)
48. Oaxen Skaergaardskrog Sweden
49. Rockpool (Fish) Australia
50. Le Quartier Francais South Africa

+ChefsWorld Tim Capper  
Tags: Catering Jobs , Chef Jobs , El Bulli , El Bulli Chef , Ferran Adria

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