Food & Wine
These are the 10 restaurants that top the World's 50 Best Restaurants, the hugely hyped awards event that bills itself as ''an annual snapshot of the opinions and experiences of over 800 international industry experts''.
So are these 10 restaurants and their chefs smarter, better and more creative than everyone else, or merely part of an ever-shifting, fashionable overview of restaurant trends at the pointy end of dining? Probably both.
In setting out here what the world knows about these restaurants, it's obvious they are genuinely redefining dining today, at the highest possible level. Whether they're the 10 best, or 10 of the best, doesn't really matter.
Whatever side you come down on, there's no denying the list's power. Get your restaurant into the top 50 and you will be booked out for months. The day after Copenhagen's Noma restaurant was named No.1 for the second consecutive year, it was bombarded with 100,000 requests for a table. Make that 100,001, thanks.
1. Noma Copenhagen, Denmark
(No change from 2011)
Chef: Rene Redzepi
Rene Redzepi and restaurateur Claus Meyer caused shock waves in 2003 when they opened Noma in a former whale blubber warehouse with a menu sourced from purely Nordic ingredients.
As Redzepi said: ''If the world is going to come to its senses, we are going to have to develop our own awareness and consciousness about terroir. The wheat we grow for the bread we bake, the beer that we brew, the animals that we breed.''
By concentrating on wild salmon, seaweed, birch sap, horse mussels and locally foraged, smoked, salted, pickled and dried foods, his influence has been profound. Diners at Noma eat musk ox tartare in their fingers, cut their food with reindeer-horn hunting knives, pick shellfish off hot rocks and pluck marinated snails from nasturtium flowers.
Noma has been named the best restaurant in the world for the past three years and Redzepi has become one of the world's most prominent culinary evangelists through his role in chef symposiums, such as MAD Foodcamp and Raw Food.
Getting a table: Three months in advance via online booking. Phone for reservations of eight to 15 people. +45 3296 3297, noma.dk.
2. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
Chefs: Joan Roca and Jordi Roca
A typical meal could kick off with anchovy-wrapped olives, brought to the table hanging from a bonsai tree. Next might be Campari bonbons, deep-fried battered anchovy bones, veal tendons with sea anemone, steak tartare with mustard and, finally, a rose souffle.
The extraordinary thing about El Celler de Can Roca is that it's a family restaurant, with Joan Roca as head chef, Jordi Roca as dessert chef and a third brother Josep Roca as maitre d' and head sommelier. One of Spain's most forward-thinking restaurants, El Celler opened in 1986, moving to its modern, light-filled space with kitchen and laboratory in 2007.
The brothers describe it as a freestyle restaurant committed to the avant-garde - hence the technical wizardry - but still faithful to the memory of the family's ancestors, and dedicated to feeding people. The youngest, Jordi, is known as a dessert magician, even creating a perfume, Cloud of Lemon, that smells of one of his desserts.
Getting a table: Book 11 months in advance for weekends, seven months in advance for weekdays via email or phone. +34 972 222 157, cellercanroca.com.
3. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain
Chef: Andoni Luis Aduriz
Spain's most intellectually challenging chef studied human livers at the local hospital for two years in order to perfect his cooking of foie gras. So it's a relief when the charred steak arrives, resembling a lump of red-hot coal. Or the potatoes turn up, powder-coated with black clay, looking like inedible stones.
''Few professional chefs have changed the course of culinary history," Heston Blumenthal says. "Andoni is one of them."
After working with two of Spain's greatest chefs, Ferran Adria and Martin Berasategui, Aduriz opened Mugaritz in 1998. His ''techno-emotional'' cuisine is designed to defy the diner's preconceptions. He says diners come to Mugaritz to ''take a risk, to unleash all your senses and let them wander at will along unmarked paths full of stimuli, surprises and dangers''.
Getting a table: Five months in advance for weekends, two months in advance for weekdays, via phone, email or website. +34 943 522 455. mugaritz.com.
4. D.O.M., Sao Paulo, Brazil
Chef: Alex Atala
"D.O.M.," Atala says, "is what Brazil tastes like." An early career as a DJ and member of a punk band was supported by working in restaurant kitchens in Belgium, Italy and France.
He returned to Brazil in 1994 and, in 1999, opened D.O.M (an acronym for a phrase meaning "God, the best, and greatest".) There, he combines the wild flavours of the Amazon rainforest with a sleek, modern, European-based technique, realised in artful dishes of codfish brandade in a black bean reduction; filhote (similar to catfish) in a manioc (cassava crust); palm heart fettucine; and Brazil nut cheese.
Atala once served raw Amazonian river worms to Ferran Adria of elBulli and dished out live crawling ants at the MAD Foodcamp in Copenhagen last year. In other words, expect the unexpected.
Getting a table: Three weeks' ahead via phone or email. +55 11 3088 0761, domrestaurante.com.br.
5. Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
Chef: Massimo Bottura
Massimo Bottura is every inch the intellectual Italian chef. His food is rooted to the traditions of his home town of Modena and the region of Emilia-Romagna- the land of Parmigiano and balsamic vinegar - yet he is always looking to the future, straining at the leash, inspired by artists, musicians and ancient philosophers.
In 1995, he opened Osteria Francescana, a small, unprepossessing restaurant of just 11 tables, which this year not only made the top 10 for the third year running but was also awarded three Michelin stars for the first time. This amazes him, because the Michelin guide has traditionally rewarded the French style of fine dining, and not the auteurs, iconoclasts, intrepid individuals - or the Italians. Fellow three star-winner Alain Ducasse calls him "the best Italian chef of the present and the future".
Getting a table: Two months in advance via website. Phone confirmation required with 48 hours' notice. +39 059 210 118, osteriafrancescana.it.
6. Per Se, New York
Chef: Thomas Keller
The chic, glamorous Per Se has made the top 10 of the World's 50 Best Restaurants list every year since 2005. Thomas Keller's unequivocal love and mastery of French cooking goes back to the early 1980s, when he relocated to France to cook at some of the most acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurants, including Guy Savoy.
He opened the French Laundry in Yountville, California, in 1994. It was named No.1 in the World's 50 best in 2003 and again in 2004, the same year Keller opened Per Se in New York.
Every day Per Se creates a unique nine-course menu for $US295 ($NZ373). The aim is to ''excite your mind, satisfy your appetites, and pique your curiosity''. His signature dish is a delicate combination of tapioca, oysters and caviar, titled Oysters and Pearls.
Getting a table: One month in advance via opentable.com or phone. Confirmation required. perseny.com, +1 212 823 9335.
7. Alinea, Chicago
Chef: Grant Achatz
Some food comes suspended on high wires, some is served on the table - without plates - and some arrives resting on pillows of lavender. A ravioli of parmesan and truffle emulsion is designed to be eaten while inhaling the aromas of smouldering tomato vines.
Grant Achatz worked with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry for four years, before moving to Chicago as executive chef of the highly acclaimed Trio in 2001. Three years later, he opened Alinea in Chicago's Lincoln Park. Dinner there is a roller-coaster ride of 12 or 24 courses that astound and amuse at every turn. Achatz once said that he wanted diners to feel as if they were taking a journey, zig-zagging between challenge and comfort.
Getting a table: Reservations via phone or email, online system to launch soon. Fully booked for July, reservations for August and September postponed while an online system is installed. www.alinea-restaurant.com, +1 312 867 0110.
8. Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain
Chefs: Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak
San Sebastian's reputation as the ultimate foodie paradise can be traced to the 1970s, when Juan Mari Arzak transformed his grandparents' tavern into the birthplace of modern Basque cuisine. Arzak's radical spin on Spanish fine dining was an instant hit and he became the first Spanish chef to be awarded three Michelin stars.
Juan Mari shares the spotlight with his daughter, Elena, named best female chef of 2012 by the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Dishes include foie gras with raspberries and caramelised figs, dusted eggs with mussels, monkfish with gooseberries, sole with head cheese.
Getting a table: Three months in advance online. Phone for reservations with less than 72 hours' notice. www.arzak.es, +34 943 278 465.
9. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
Chef: Heston Blumenthal
Blumenthal is different, and not just because he poaches things in liquid nitrogen and serves up an iPod so you can listen to the sounds of the sea while you eat seafood. Apart from one week's work experience at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, he is a self-taught cook.
His first London restaurant, a luxe brasserie ensconced in the lavish Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, was the highest new entry in this year's top 50 list. The historically inspired British food includes the Meat Fruit, which looks like a single mandarin complete with leaves but is actually rich, light chicken liver parfait encased in tangy, fragrant mandarin gel, accompanied by toasted brioche; and a light-as-a-cloud-of-drunken-angels Tipsy Cake, served with Victoriana spit-roast pineapple.
Getting a table: Ninety days in advance via website. Contact team for bookings of more than six. +44 (0)20 7201 3844, dinnerbyheston.com.
10. Eleven Madison Park, New York
Chef: Daniel Humm
Swiss-born Humm is no household name but he might well become one, judging by the adoring reviews of Eleven Madison Park. Visionary New York restaurateur Danny Meyer opened the opulent art deco restaurant in 1998. Last year, after it won its third Michelin star, he sold it to Humm and general manager Will Guidara.
What makes Eleven Madison different is its menu, which lists each dish by its core ingredient. You could choose sea urchin, skate, chicken and coconut as your four-course dinner, or lobster, carrot, duck and chocolate, and get a torchon of sea urchin, caviar and duck liver, charred lobster poached in Meyer lemon broth, or dry-aged duck. A top-of-the-range menu, costing $US340 ($430) a person, comprises 17 courses, 13 glasses of wine and a kettle of NY chowder you pour into teacups.
Getting a table: Bookings available 28 days in advance via opentable.com or by phone. elevenmadisonpark.com, +1 212 889 0905.
- The Age
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