A lamentable collection of albums sum up some of my early 1990s music memories. The Best… Album in the World Ever! Vol.1. This was followed by the seismic music-scene shifting The Best Air Guitar Album in the World Ever! Then came The Best Panpipes Album in the World… Ever! Circa Records, a brand under EMI/Virgin Records, kept this remarkably successful (and remarkably naff) album series going until 2008, only finally admitting defeat when they had exhausted every conceivable angle. For me, their nadir came with the inauspicious send off The Best Arabian Nights Album in the World… Ever! Vol.7 – though some might argue that the low point was The Best Military Bands Album in the World… Ever! It’s a drunken pub debate primed and ready to go…
So off we trot to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants… Ever! awards night shindig, which unfolds on a Guildhall drenched in warm early spring sunshine. There’s the usual kerfuffle, the usual little digs by the knockers and detractors (“It’s all fluff and bluster, lists are silly, it’s all posturing, it’s a charade, it’s just PR self-abuse”). And yes, it’s an industry love-in, and yes, it’s a night of rampant back-slapping, and yes, speculation is rife: everyone really only wants to know if there will be a new number one this year after a Noma hat-trick in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
There are canapés, as there should be – and boy, do we get a few cheffy lah-di-dah examples: beetroot macarons with smoked salmon, cream cheese and fresh horseradish (psychedelic, bay-bee); textures of carrot (very Noma, darling); foie gras ballotine (Ducasse-esque, sweetie?); egg and bacon with fresh truffle (it’s not Heston’s ice cream, but it’s good). There’s a snazzy Massimo Bottura riff on a tiramisu with Lavazza coffee which, we read, is “Italy’s Favourite Coffee”. Well, of course it is. Their most favourite coffee. Ever. We linger at Bar Tozino, who carve silky sweet slices of Joselito Gran Reserva 2008, which has apparently officially been “Declared the Best Ham in the World”. Ever? They don’t mention “ever”; they probably wanted to, but EMI/Virgin would have come down on their asses like an aggressive corporate monolith. Probably.
The Veuve Clicquot is poured, tongues get looser, and then the thunderbolt drops and the whispers begin
The Veuve Clicquot is poured, tongues get looser, and then the thunderbolt drops and the whispers begin. The influence of Twitter is even more apparent this year than Ever! before, and it’s @Eater (56,487 followers) that delivers the cataclysmic (if not entirely unexpected) news that Spanish newspaper El Imparcial has leaked the winner an hour before we’re due to enter the awards ceremony. Take a bow new number one, El Celler de Can Roca, from Girona, Spain. It’s not just the winner the paper has revealed either, but the whole sodding Top 50. Great. That’s it then is it? Off down the pub…
Except that’s not it. It never is. Downstairs into the Crypt we go, for chatter and gossip, for tittle and for tattle, and for the chance to have a succession of encounters with a few chef Big Dogs: Thomas Keller (number 11 with Per Se), Massimo Bottura (number three with Osteria Francescana), and the celebrating Can Roca brothers. At times it can feel slightly surreal: 49 of the 50 restaurants on the list represented on the night makes one hell of a gathering of some of the best-known faces at the apex of the restaurant world… Ever!
So what does it mean to the restaurants involved to appear on this list? What impact does it have on the business of ushering people into a room, cooking them food and sending them away sated and (if successful) happy enough to come again? And again. After their first gong at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Noma’s René Redzepi said they had a few more calls to their reservations line the next day. Enough, if they were to say yes to every request, to book the restaurant fully for the next eight years…
Possibly the most annoying thing about any list that trumpets the best of anything is that it will be accompanied by the kind of globetrotting trophy hunters that make the skin crawl – the kind that will glee in the chance to “tick off” another one on the list, to crow to their mates that they’ve “done” the best restaurant in the world. Done it. Done. Soulless, vacuous, blood-sucking vamps taking up a seat that would probably be appreciated far more by someone else. They may not even enjoy dining out. Not really enjoy it; what they’re getting off on is the fact that the table is hard to secure, and will cost a significant amount of wedge. Phones set to redial from Tokyo to New York and beyond, poised to jet in, grab a table, look smug. It’s the prize, it’s the trophy. “Yes, darling, we did Can Roca last year didn’t we? Impossible to get a booking now, don’t you know…”
Of course a list of the best restaurants in the world will always be the subjective ruling of a particular clutch of people, but the organisers at Restaurant magazine have at least gone to the trouble of asking the opinions of more than 900 international restaurant experts, covering 26 regions, with a panel of 36 members in each region. Chefs, restaurateurs, food critics… these chaps know their onions more than most.
Whatever you may feel about the value of declaring anything “the best in the world”, the result here is a laudable celebration of some of the finest cooking happening on the planet. The list reads like a fantasy restaurant porn flick: a succession of names that conjure imagined journeys and wished-for main courses, devoured starters and glasses of fizz, the promise of a four-hour lunch, a five-hour dinner – the money shots just keep on coming.
Right, I’m off to go and “do” El Celler de Can Roca, where I hear their newly unveiled “El Somni” private dining experience involves robots, card games, music and video. Oh, and some food. Probably. The best you’ll ever taste.
Next up? Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Because you can’t keep a good restaurant list down. C