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Feb 15

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants

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No. 1 – Noma – Cophenhagen, Denmark

Following what chef-owner René Redzepi calls a ‘restaurant mid-life crisis’, Noma has dramatically re-taken the top spot in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The period of angst and creative hiatus he refers to was not prompted by last year’s ‘demotion’ to second spot, but conversely by Noma capturing and retaining the title of The S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant over several years previously.

In the past year or so, the restaurant has been transformed once again with a fresh approach and energy. Its renewed confidence is based on greater knowledge and considered experimentation, rather than the intuition and raw discovery of its earlier period. Many of the dishes are actually simpler now, but no less original – and no less connected to the Nordic terroir. Diners at the 45-seat restaurant, located in a stripped- back warehouse on Copenhagen’s dockside, are introduced to Noma’s food via its inimitable series of ‘snacks’ – 10 servings that include the likes of sea urchin toast and caramelised milk and cod liver. These are followed by 10 further courses – a dish of beef tartar and ants among them – before the meal is rounded off with a stunning array of ‘treats’. Redzepi’s food can at times be shocking – visceral even – but diners who are prepared to put themselves in the kitchen’s hands rarely leave disappointed. With flavour to the fore, there are dishes here that slap you in the face and make you feel glad to be alive.

Never content to sit still, Redzepi and his crew are shipping the restaurant out to Japan in early 2015 for two months, where they will seek to apply their philosophy to Japanese ingredients. But for now Noma can celebrate its 10th anniversary on top of the world once again.


No. 2 – El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain

El Celler de Can Roca is at heart a local family-owned restaurant rooted in the fiercely independent state of Catalonia. But at the same time, it has featured on this list for almost a decade – reaching the vaunted number one spot last year – and secured a global reputation for its gastronomic prowess.

Brothers Joan and Josep opened El Celler de Can Roca in 1986 alongside their parents’ simple restaurant in a working class suburb of Girona. In 2007 they relocated to the current premises up the road. By then Joan, a hugely accomplished chef, and wine aficionado Josep had been joined by their much younger sibling Jordi, who was forging his own stellar career as a pastry chef. The combination has proved to be a gastronomic holy trinity.

Guests entering El Celler de Can Roca immediately find themselves enveloped into a world of genuine hospitality. The 14-course culinary experience not only sees Catalan ingredients cooked with supreme precision, but that also stimulates diners’ senses, emotions and memories – whether via an evocative smell, an explosion of flavour or a visual trick. Some dishes are elaborate, such as a salad of sea anemone, razor-clam, cucumber and seaweed in escabèche, others are more straightforward; but each is beautifully balanced.

The food is matched with a mesmerising array of wines and Sherries, largely but not exclusively drawn from the Spanish peninsula. Diners in the 55-seat dining room will look into a triangular glass-walled garden in its centre, as the engaging but unobtrusive service continues serenely around them.

Osteria Francescana

No. 3 – Osteria Francescana – Modena, Italy

In third place for the second consecutive year, Osteria Francescana continues to fly the flag for a nation that is arguably under-represented on the list. Italians are famously spiky when it comes to people interfering with long-established culinary traditions, yet Massimo Bottura is able to balance the demands of heritage and modernity and has created a restaurant where traditionalists and those seeking something entirely new are both amply catered for.

It’s not hard to identify what people like about the effervescent Bottura’s more avant-garde creations – they’re fun and unapologetically eccentric, yet always underpinned by perfect execution and, most importantly, deliciousness. The menu can now be split into three categories. First up are the traditional dishes from the Emilia-Romagna area that have little or no edgy elements, such as Bottura’s spectacular tortellini with Parmesan sauce and tagliatelle with ragù. Indeed, overseas visitors may notice that a good proportion of the restaurant’s Italian customers will opt for these superior staples.

Then there are the modern classics, such as the kitchen’s five ages of Parmesan and foie gras crunch – a take on a Feast ice cream with a hunk of foie gras bound in hazelnuts and filled with balsamic vinegar. Finally, there are the newly developed dishes, with recent examples including ‘camouflage’ – a thin layer of foie gras decorated with powders (hare blood, chestnut, various herbs), arranged to look like army woodland camo. Anyone sampling Osteria Francescana for the first time would be advised to try one in each category to get a true sense of the team’s extraordinary range.

Eleven Madison Park - New York City

No. 4 – Eleven Madison Park – New York, USA

You’d be excused for thinking that a fine-dining restaurant housed in New York’s Credit Suisse building would be something of a dour affair. After all, global financial services and food don’t make for obvious bedfellows. But at Eleven Madison Park, chef Daniel Humm and co-owner Will Guidara’s sleek Art Deco restaurant, the experience is anything but dull.

From card tricks – a server appears with a deck of cards on which different ingredients are written and bids the diner pick a card, only for a chocolate to be revealed from a secret compartment under their dessert bowl that is made from the filling on the chosen card – to unusual serves, nothing about a meal here is humdrum. Take the carrot tartare course (yes, really) which begins with a waiter affixing a meat grinder to the table and inserting two frighteningly fresh carrots. As they are being ground the diner is presented with a selection of condiments, including a quail’s egg yolk and shaved fresh horseradish, and is then left to construct their own dish.

Given the grandeur of the spacious dining room – its huge floor-to-ceiling windows and wooden floors are an imposing backdrop – this fun and fine dining is all the more welcome. It’s an approach that makes this the leading restaurant in North America, and which is now being mimicked in other top-end dining rooms around the world. Humm and Guidara can revel in the fact that at Eleven Madison Park, you saw it first.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

No. 5 – Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London, UK

It may have launched as The Fat Duck’s young townie cousin but, since opening in 2011, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal has rapidly grown up to become widely celebrated in its own right. Signature dishes including Meat Fruit and Tipsy Cake with spit-roast pineapple have already gained iconic status around the world and Dinner continues to wow its patrons with ever-evolving creations.

Headed up by Blumenthal’s right-hand man, Ashley Palmer-Watts, the restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London’s Knightsbridge is all about recreating history – British culinary history to be exact. Recipes from as far back as the 1300s are given a 21st-century makeover with contemporary ingredients and new-age cooking techniques, resulting in a menu that takes diners on a journey full of wonder and discovery. What may seem simple on the outside is carefully planned and cleverly constructed behind the scenes. A case in point is the Bohemian Cake, which takes its historical connection from Mrs. AB Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes from 1891. What once was a simple chocolate lemon cake has been reinvented as a modern-day dessert comprising yuzu-soaked chocolate sponge encased in grapefruit jam and chocolate mousse, flecked with chocolate and served with honey ice cream. Dinner is not about delicate combinations or table theatrics, but gutsy dishes that deliver a taste sensation with lasting impact.

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