Why a list of the world's best restaurants is relevant to all food lovers
PUBLISHED: 18:11 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 18:16 03 July 2019
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Andy Newman explains why you should care what the very best restaurants are doing, even if you never eat there
Last week saw one of the most important events in the restaurant world, arguably as keenly observed by anyone interested in top-end dining as the annual announcement of the Michelin stars. Chefs all around the globe were agog to find out which establishments would be included in this year's San Pellegrino '50 Best Restaurants in the World' list.
Selected by voting among 1,000 'international restaurant industry experts', the San Pellegrino list is undoubtedly the most respected of these kind of surveys. Which does not, of course, mean that it is free of controversy, or that everyone agrees with its findings. But it does give some interesting pointers as to which parts of the world are the ones to watch if you're interested in eating at the finest tables.
The French will be relieved this year that one of their own has taken top spot, the first time this has happened since the list came into existence in 2002.
Mirazur in Menton on the French Riviera has taken the 'best in the world accolade' for 2019, joining past winners which include such luminaries as Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck, Noma in Copenhagen and Eleven Madison Park in New York. Restaurants which have occupied the top spot are not eligible to appear on the list again, opening the way for someone else to take the crown next year.
France may have taken the number one position, but once again it is Spain which has the most restaurants on the list (with seven). South America features large this year, with Peru alone occupying two top 10 spots. The UK has just two restaurants on the list, both of them in London.
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I have been lucky enough to eat in some of those featured on this year's list, as well as past winners including the legendary - and now closed - El Bulli in Spain. On one memorable occasion I was invited into the kitchen mid-meal at Mugaritz in San Sebastien (number seven on this year's list) and given a personal half-hour tasting by head chef Andoni Luis Aduriz. To this day I don't know why - perhaps he reads this paper.
Many people will view the San Pellegrino list with bemusement. First of all, choosing the best restaurant in the world is completely subjective. One person might like white-linen formality, another might have a much better experience in a more relaxed, informal environment Can we really judge that a sushi restaurant in Tokyo is better or worse than a restaurant showcasing traditional Peruvian food in Lima?
A particularly relevant question that will be on many people's lips is: who cares? For most, these are establishments whose locations and sky-high prices render them completely inaccessible. Why should we take any notice of what goes on in these rarefied kitchens?
The answer is that what happens in these vanguard restaurants will eventually influence what we eat in more day-to-day places here in Norfolk. It's a trickle-down process; just as innovations in Formula One cars eventually make it into the vehicles we drive (anti-lock braking, for example), then what happens at the world's top eateries does influence what appears on many of our plates.
When I ate at El Bulli, there were dozens of chefs from other restaurants spending time in the kitchen there, doing what is called a stage - a kind of work placement, from which they take new ideas back to their own restaurants. Heston Blumenthal spent time at El Bulli honing his skills before opening The Fat Duck.
Many of our best Norfolk chefs have spent time doing exactly this, perhaps not in Top 50 restaurant kitchens, but certainly working alongside chefs who have done exactly that. And many of the innovations, new ideas, ground-breaking techniques and superb food that we enjoy in our county's top establishments can be shown to have at least been inspired by what goes on in the world's best restaurant kitchens.
One final note: almost all of the restaurants featured on the San Pellegrino list share one thing in common. They are chef-led, owned and run by the people who create the menus and oversee the food. Not by faceless corporations run by accountants who couldn't care less what ends up on the plate, as long as it's profitable.
Something worth remembering when you are next choosing where to eat out, at whatever level.