Two South African restaurants made it on to the S Pellegrino annual list of the world’s 50 best restaurants, which was unveiled in London this week. It contained some unpalatable news for those in Britain’s culinary scene — and a new number one.
Cape Town’s La Colombe, which combines Asian influences with a modern French style of cooking, finished in 12th place and won the best restaurant in the Middle East and Africa category. The other Cape Town-based restaurant on the list, at number 31 this year, up six places, is Le Quartier Francais, which uses local meats, such as warthog loin or springbok, to great effect.
Three British 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 in 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 prastost”.
But 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 United Kingdom and United States, 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.
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 past 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.
Fergus Henderson from the St John restaurant in London, placed at 43, said he was pleased to be on the list although disappointed there was not a stronger showing from other British restaurants. 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 anymore,” he said.
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.”
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. —