San Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants 2011

The latest San Pellegrino World's 100 Best Restaurants list was recently released, and I should start by noting that Noma in Denmark has retained its position atop the list. Congratulations to Noma, which by all accounts, is a very fine restaurant and thoroughly deserving of the accolade of the World's Best Restaurant. Meanwhile, Alinea in Chicago has maintained its status as the best restaurant in North America, and Les Créations de Narisawa in Tokyo (serving French cuisine) continues to be rated the top restaurant in Asia, jumping from 24th in last year’s list to 12th this year. Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli has dropped off the list on account of it closing down shortly, whilst another former title-holder, The Fat Duck, slipped further to 5th.

Right, now that the news report is out of the way, I would like to take a more critical look at this list, focusing only on the restaurants that I have been to, and am therefore a bit more qualified to speak about. Nihonryori RyuGin in Tokyo is the list's highest climber, up 28 places to 20th, making it the second highest ranked restaurant in Asia. I dined at RyuGin in December of last year, and whilst there were a couple of dishes that definitely wowed me, the overall experience left something to be desired - it wasn’t even close to being the best meal I had in Tokyo.

Nihonryori RyuGin

Another restaurant I went to last year was Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York (40th). The steamed pork buns – hoisin, cucumbers, scallions, Ssäm Bar’s signature dish, were excellent; as good as the ones one might find in Asia . But that’s the point, they weren’t better than what one might find in Asia, they were as good as – quite an achievement, admittedly, for a restaurant located in New York but rather less impressive when one has every restaurant in the world, including those in Asia which Ssäm Bar has succeeded only in imitating, to chose from. The other dishes at Ssäm Bar, I should add, were just mediocre.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar

At number 60, Hakkasan in London is rated the best Chinese restaurant in the world (Momofuku Ssäm Bar is pan-Asian). Now I am a fan of Hakkasan, but better than every single Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan? No, of course not. London’s Nahm (77th) lost its Michelin Star this year, and not before time – the meal I had there was a complete mess – overly strong flavours thrown at you from all angles without the slightest concept of balance. And yet never mind the amazing Thai restaurants in Bangkok, according to this list, Nahm is the very best Thai restaurant in the world. I have been to Thailand a number of times – believe me, you don’t have to look very hard to find a restaurant that beats Nahm.

Hakkasan

Meanwhile Zuma in London (66th) is, apparently, the third best Japanese restaurant in the world behind Nihonryori RyuGin and Tetsuya’s (Sydney). I have been to Zuma twice, and enjoyed my latest visit last year, but it is still barely the third best Japanese restaurant in London, let alone the world.

Finally, Hibiscus in London has climbed 6 places to number 43 on the list. I ate twice at Hibiscus last year and they were two of the most underwhelming meals I have ever had at a Michelin-starred restaurant (it has two). Boring, tired, uninspired cooking; a featureless, characterless room; poorly-trained wait staff – there really is nothing redeeming about that place at all.

I would like to conclude by saying that I was at first very happy to see the brilliant Cracco in Milan make a re-entry on this list at number 33 as it is truly sensational, but upon further scrutiny it really matters not because the San Pellegrino list now has next to no credibility in my mind.

Cracco

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