I have been meaning to write this for years but as it can be a sensitive subject, I didn’t want to upset the many chefs and partners that work closely with FOUR. However, in the wake of this year’s release of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, I feel it is time to voice my concerns.
There are two things that I love about the World’s 50 Best award. Firstly, I firmly believe that the 50 Best awards have slapped the stuffing out of the boring, monotonous, overly meticulous Michelin ranking, where the standard of the restaurant is not solely based on the food, but whether they have such things as linen covering the table, or silver and crystal tableware. Michelin also almost always sways far too much towards the idea that French cuisine is the best, which doesn’t allow for very much innovation within the voting system.
The second thing I respect is the broad spectrum of countries and areas that are represented within the list. It is a worldwide culinary award, which therefore means everyone has the opportunity to receive equal exposure under, as well as be exposed to, the world gastronomy spotlight. Places like Peru, Scandinavia, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, or even the smallest little restaurant in the smallest little village, have all been allowed to show their culture, traditions, method and individual ideology on food, thus giving them their chance to shine, be a pop star, or simply welcome visitors from all over the world.
There is no doubt that this is all thanks to the World’s 50 Best. Because, lets be honest, even the Osteria Francescana was relatively unknownonly a few years ago. Being based in a small obscure town that only really attracted those with a desire to walk around Ferrari or Pagani factories and obsess over cars most can’t afford, meant that it was off the mainstream radar. And that’s just one example; I could list many other places, like Fäviken, Asador Etxebarri, etc. with a similar story.
That is more or less where my admiration or love for the ranking ends. Now, for what I hate.
To start with, what is the voting system actually based on? From what I see the current ranking seems to be based on how forward-thinking, modern, or vanguard the cooking can be, because if it were based purely on your restaurant experience, then why are some of the masters not there? Whether it is the more modern or classically trained chefs, I’m talking about Ducasse, Alleno, Gagnaire, Wohlfahrt, Fehling, Cannavacciuolo, Beck, Ono – the list is endless. It seems they have been overlooked in the current World’s 50 Best. But how can this be? Surely eating at one of their restaurants is equally amazing as any of the top 50, even the top ten?
Sometimes it seems almost like the ranking has to be different, just for the sake of it. I get the feeling that, what increasingly happens is, when a trend ends, as does your place in the ranking. One year you are in the top spot, the next year you are nowhere to be seen.
So, let’s talk about the criteria you have to meet to be nominated. Unless I’m mistaken, until very recently it was suggested that you could vote on hearsay or word of mouth alone. The rules have now changed, but this was stated on the list of requirements back in 2012/13. Similarly, another new point that has been added to the rules of voting is that you can’t vote for a restaurant that has closed, or will close within three months. The reason I am highlighting this point is that I find this rule very vague. How is the closure defined? What if the restaurant is relocating to another site, or is moving to Australia or Hong Kong for three, six or nine months as restaurants so commonly do nowadays? This potentially rules out a lot of top quality restaurants from the list purely because they are open for a limited time.
And if one of the criteria is that you have to have eaten there within the last 18 months, that seems to leave a lot of room for gaps in continuity. How do you know the quality is still the same now? Is it still doing well? Has the chef changed? This seems like a serious flaw in the system to me.
Which brings me to my next point. I believe that the success of a restaurant is determined by all the factors that contribute to a fully functioning business. This means that people are regularly visiting and the restaurant is financially stable. Ultimately, if you are not making money and are on the point of closure, you’re not doing really well, are you? The success of the business surely needs to be considered as part of the voting system because the ranking system is not solely based on the chef’s capabilities. Otherwise it would be called world’s best chefs.
What else makes a dining experience truly memorable? I would say from the minute you make a reservation, the experience starts. How they pick up the phone, the way they answer, the way they accommodate the guests’ needs from the outset, are all part of the journey. An example of this that springs to mind is when I was asked to make a reservation at El Celler de Can Roca, at the time when it was ranked at No.1 in the world. Perhaps due to the recent fame they had received and the demand they were under, my reservation wascompletely ignored. They didn’t even have the basic courtesy of acknowledging my request, even if it to say that the reservation wasn’t possible. Now if this is how I am treated as someone who owns a prestigious food magazine, then how must they be treating the rest of the clients?The levels of customer service should remain equal to all guests, at all times.In my opinion how you treat the very people who support, fund, and celebrate you, are intrinsic to becoming a great and successful restaurant, which must surely all count to being voted one of the world’s best restaurants?
I could go on, but in the end, what seems to be very clear is that there really is no effective and concise way to judge who are the world’s best restaurants. Flawed, biased and vague criteria within the voting systems for these popular culinary awards, simply highlight that it is virtually impossible to narrow down the world’s best restaurants into a list, and especially not of 50!
Overall, what matters is that the people who go and spend money in these restaurants and make them thrive or die, are really the only opinions that count. So I would suggest making a list of your own favourite restaurants and that list will be the only ‘best’ list of restaurants in the world that matters to you.