The annual list of the world’s 50 best restaurants was unveiled in London on Monday night, containing some unpalatable news for those in the UK’s culinary scene — and a new number one. Just three UK restaurants made it on to the list, the publication of which is one of the biggest events in the food world’s calendar. This was one fewer than last year, and only half as many as 2008, when six British restaurants were deemed to be among the world’s best.
But the talk of the night was that the title of world’s best restaurant has finally been wrenched from the grip of El Bulli in Spain, with Denmark’s Noma, a relative newcomer, being acclaimed as the globe’s greatest dining experience. René Redzepi’s groundbreaking restaurant in Copenhagen, which serves only food from the Nordic region, was propelled into the top spot thanks to a dedication to regional products fashioned into startling creations such as “vintage potato and whey”, and “lovage and prästost [a Swedish cheese]”.
Some big-name chefs in London again failed to make the top flight, with Gordon Ramsay — arguably Britain’s most successful culinary export — absent from the list, having dropped out of the top 100 last year. Despite all of the publicity from his TV shows in the UK and US, and more than 20 restaurants in four continents, Ramsay failed to regain his place among the top chefs, where he last appeared in 2008, in 13th place.
Ramsay’s protégé-turned-arch rival, Marcus Wareing, head chef at the Berkeley, also failed to make the list, despite being tipped as a “guaranteed breakthrough” in 2010 by organisers last year.
There was good news for Fergus Henderson, who has spearheaded the “nose-to-tail” approach to cooking in the UK at St John in London. He was placed at 43, albeit down from 14th last year.
Another lauded UK restaurant, Hibiscus, headed by chef Claude Bosi, was a new entry, at 49. Nobu, a celebrity haunt famed for its take on modern Japanese cuisine, dropped out of the list, having been placed at 34 last year, while Hakkasan, a Chinese restaurant in London, also did not make the list after coming 36th last year.
Charles Campion, restaurant critic at the London Evening Standard, dismissed the idea that the lack of British restaurants in the list reflected a drop in the quality of food in the UK.
“I have noted a continuous and significant improvement in British restaurants in the last five years, so if the list does not reflect that I would look at the methodology of choosing the restaurants, not the state of British restaurants,” he said.
Some elements of the restaurant business in the UK had lost their sparkle, he said. “The enterprises of the mega chefs have perhaps become a little too large. You can’t be everywhere at once.”
Henderson said he was pleased to be on the list although disappointed there was not a stronger showing from other British restaurants. “I’m quite sad that there are not more British restaurants in the list, because we have a very good cuisine here, as well as the food to make fantastic seasonally changing menus.”
But he applauded the list’s more international flavour, which this year includes restaurants from Croatia, Canada and Slovenia in the top 100. “It’s more international than it ever was, it doesn’t just feel like this London-based thing any more,” he said.
Meanwhile, traditional rivals for the top two spots, El Bulli on the Costa Brava and the Fat Duck, of Bray, Berkshire, moved down to second and third respectively to make way for Noma, after what has been a turbulent year for both restaurants.
Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, celebrated as the world’s leading molecular gastronome, announced in January that his experimental restaurant is to close for two years, while Blumenthal was forced to temporarily close the Fat Duck in February last year when about 400 diners got food poisoning.
Speaking in advance of the awards, on the prospect of dropping further down the list, Blumenthal said the restaurant’s closure could influence its ranking. “Us chefs are incredibly competitive so no one would be a human being if they weren’t disappointed by slipping down a place or two or three,” he said.
Praising Noma, he added: “No one thinks of Denmark as being one of Europe’s gastronomic leaders and what René has done in that country makes it even more remarkable.”
Noma’s breakthrough — decided by a panel of 806 chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and restaurant critics from around the world — caps a remarkable rise. The restaurant leaped from obscurity to third place in 2008 while Redzepi won the chefs’ chef award in the same year, hitting back at critics who he said had called the restaurant “the stinking whale”.
Richard Vines, restaurant critic at Bloomberg, said the Danish chef’s victory was deserved. “[Redzepi] is doing something really different, heading a movement that is trying to rediscover Nordic cuisine. It is genuinely creative and unique.”
He added: “Many people are trying to use seasonal and local food but Noma has taken it to the next level. They are rediscovering traditional ingredients while using modern techniques to create the dishes.”
Noma uses only food from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Isles) and Finland, and employs a network of foragers to find wild herbs and source unusual seafood. In an interview with Jay Rayner, the Observer food critic, he argued the strict framework had unleashed his creativity. “A tight frame sets you free. It forces you to be imaginative,” he said.
Other dishes on the menu include starters of langoustine and seawater or chestnuts and bleak roe, main courses of musk ox and smoked marrow or pike perch and unripe elderberries, while desserts include skyr (a yoghurt like soft cheese) and toasted rye kernels or beetroot and hip rose truffle. — guardian.co.uk