The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2019: No Australia, boo hiss

The Forest, from Mauro Colagreco's restaurant Mirazur.
The Forest, from Mauro Colagreco's restaurant Mirazur. Photo: Eric Wolfinger

The dust has settled from the 18th annual World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, held in sizzling Singapore on June 25. France's Mirazur has been crowned No.1, and the only Australian to get to say anything on stage was the event host, Annabel Crabb, who looked like a tutu-toting ballerina in a sparkling neon jewellery box.

It's always a fascinating glimpse into a very strange and surreal world, as top chefs from across the globe come together like a dysfunctional family, Russian chefs walk around in look-at-me jackets emblazoned with "EGO MUST DIE", Tetsuya Wakuda dishes up caviar nigiri, and everyone talks up niceness and diversity.

The team from Mirazur on stage in Singapore.
The team from Mirazur on stage in Singapore. Photo: Supplied

But this year was a game-changer, as the organisers of W50B, London-based media company William Reed, made a serious attempt to overhaul the antiquated, Eurocentric, male-dominated systems set in place over the years.

No Australia, boo hiss

The release on June 19 of the restaurants numbered 51 to 120 broke the bad news that Australia's two hottest favourites had taken a tumble, with Brae moving from 58 to 101, and Attica from 20 to 84. There was no sign of our third Most Likely restaurant, Quay.

Host Annabel Crabb (right) presents Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon from Central in Peru, with the award for Best ...
Host Annabel Crabb (right) presents Virgilio Martinez and Pia Leon from Central in Peru, with the award for Best Restaurant in South America. Photo: Supplied

For the first time since the World's 50 Best list was introduced in 2002, Australia has not a single restaurant on the list. (On that inaugural list, we had no fewer than three major players: Melbourne's Flower Drum at 27, Tetsuya's at No.10 and Neil Perry's Rockpool at No.4.)

Ironically, the rule that makes the criteria for inclusion more legitimate – that voters must have dined in the restaurants they vote for – is far-flung Australia's worst enemy. With most of the voting Academy based in Europe and the US, the World's 50 Best can never be a true list of the world's top restaurants.

And while it would be immature for us to love the list when we are on it, and hate it when we are not, it's not sour grapes to say the numbers are stacked against Australia.

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Quay's Peter Gilmore pointedly says we should stop considering the 50 Best a benchmark as to where Australia stands in world cuisine. As he posted on social media platform Instagram, "With over 95 per cent of voters of this list living overseas, and the fact that they are unlikely to visit Australia very often to be eligible to vote for an Australian restaurant, it's a minor miracle that any Australian restaurants ever make the list."

One strike and you're out

From now on, once a restaurant has taken the No.1 spot, it becomes ineligible to make the list again. Whaaat? You mean a chef must work for 10 years to get to the top of the list and then fall on his or her sword and disappear from the list? That is crazy.

Dominique Crenn's Atelier Crenn debuted at No. 35.
Dominique Crenn's Atelier Crenn debuted at No. 35. Photo: Stephanie Hua

It means this year's list has no Celler de Can Roca, no Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana and no New York's Eleven Madison Park (which makes it even more cutting that Attica, Brae and Quay couldn't get a place).

According to Lisa Abend of Time magazine, it was top chefs such as Daniel Humm and Massimo Bottura who lobbied for the change, arguing that it would "unclog the top" and allow for a more dynamic and free-flowing list. Naturally, most chefs ranking beneath them agree.

To make up for their disappearance from the list, the organisers have awarded the kamikaze crew hall-of-fame "Best of The Best" status. "It's not eliminating them completely, but they will be glorified in many different ways," explains Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin (currently ranked 36), something of a spokesperson for the awards. "It pays them respect."

Chef Jose Andres at his restaurant, China Chilcano, in Washington, DC. Andres won the American Express Icon Award.
Chef Jose Andres at his restaurant, China Chilcano, in Washington, DC. Andres won the American Express Icon Award. Photo: Scott Suchman

However, there is no doubt it diminishes the achievement of being No.1, when you haven't actually beaten the acknowledged best.

Money and the World's 50 Best

And what about bums on seats? When El Celler de Can Roca was announced the world's best restaurant for the first time in 2013, it received 2 million booking requests within 24 hours. Even today, when there are so many different restaurant resources available, the list is still an economic force.

As Septime's Bertrand Grebaut (15) says, "What does being on the list mean? It means the phone rings. It means we get younger diners and more Asian diners. It is a picture of the gastronomic world at one moment."

So what will happen to those restaurants forced off the list? Keen foodie travellers seeking top spots to dine in New York will no longer see Eleven Madison Park. It's dead to them. Surely this is an own goal for the chefs? But chef Daniel Humm seems perfectly happy about his death penalty. "It can't be our moment forever, and we are happy to not compete every single year," he said at the awards' media conference. It's a generous act.

All of which makes this year's real winner not Mirazur, but Noma at No.2 (its new incarnation is considered a different restaurant to the original one and is therefore eligible). By coming in second, it gets to stay on the list and play again next year – smart move.

Sex and the World's 50 Best

This year, gender equality was enforced on the voting panel (50 per cent men, 50 per cent women) on the premise that men vote for male chefs and women are from Venus. The stronger female representation had little impact on the low tally of restaurants led by female chefs, which remains at five. (Women vote just like normal people, apparently.) New to the list were Leonor Espinosa of Bogota's Leo and San Francisco's Dominique Crenn, whose Atelier Crenn debuted at 35.

Twins! And more twins!

There must be something in the San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna water (sponsors of the award). This year threw up multiple sets of brothers and even two sets of twins, including the identical twins Ivan and Sergey Berezutsky of Twins Gardens (ranked 19) in Moscow, and German-born Thomas and Mathias Suhring of modern German restaurant Suhring in Bangkok, ranked 45. Add the winners of the Miele One to Watch Award, Riccardo and Giancarlo Camanini of Lido 84 on Italy's Lake Garda (78), and Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo of Italy's Le Calandre (31), and no wonder they call it a brotherhood.

Niceness is the new foraging

It's the new Festival of Being Nice. What used to be a morass of envy, competition and ego is now a warm buzzy love-in in which diversity, inclusion, youth, age, females, immigrants and every other minority in town is embraced and celebrated. Winner of the American Express Icon Award, Spanish-born American Jose Andres, isn't playing catch-up on this new post-foraging movement, like some. He's leading it. Through his World Central Kitchen, he helps co-ordinate wide-reaching disaster relief. "We don't wait to be invited," he says. "We just go in and start cooking and feeding people." His message to fellow chefs is simple. "We just cook for the few," he says. "We have to learn how to cook for the many. We have to give voice to the voiceless."

Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack attended World's 50 Best Restaurants as guests of the Singapore Tourism Board.

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