The gentle clink of glasses, the low hum of conversation, the soft lighting, and the tantalizing aromas.
All were sadly missed when restaurants all over the world were forced to close their doors in 2020 and 2021, leaving the ovens cold and the owners and employees facing an uncertain future.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, which are considered the Oscars of the fine dining world, were also forced to take a break last year, but they’re back, and the top two eateries on the list are both in Copenhagen.
This year’s No. 1 spot goes to perhaps the most well-known name in gastronomy: Noma. René Redzepi’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant first opened in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn neighborhood in 2003 and was named the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2010.
Previous winners of the top title were ineligible for the list due to a new rule introduced at the 2019 awards, but Noma was able to make the cut because it closed in 2016 and reopened in a new Copenhagen location two years later.
This fundamental change in the rules excludes New York’s Eleven Madison Park, The Fat Duck near London, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, and Mirazur in Menton, France, the 2019 winner. These restaurants are now part of a separate “Best of the Best” program, of which Noma is the most recent addition.
The struggle for survival
Redzepi took the stage at the Flanders Meeting and Convention Center in Antwerp, Belgium, to recount the life-changing experience of winning the award for the first time 11 years ago: “Following this victory, all dreams appeared to be open. It also gave us the opportunity to be a part of a transformation of an entire region’s food culture.”
He also discussed the industry’s difficult times. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how fragile our dreams can be, and how incredibly grueling and difficult this industry can be,” he explained.
Spain’s performance in Western Europe this year was also strong. Larrabetzu’s Asador Etxebarri, where all dishes, including dessert, are flame-grilled, finished third, while chef Victor Arguinzoniz was voted Chefs’ Choice Award winner by his peers. Barcelona’s Disfrutar climbed to No. 5, San Sebastian’s Mugaritz fell to No. 14, and Madrid’s DiverXO climbed to No. 20.
Lima, Peru’s capital, had two restaurants in the top ten: Central, by chefs Virgilio Martnez and Pa León, which climbed two spots to fourth place, and Maido, at No.7, whose deal is Japanese-Peruvian fusion, with a highlight being the lucuma ice cream topped with soy sauce and macambo foam.
Despite the fact that Lima’s restaurants and others from Mexico City to Singapore made the top 10, no restaurant outside of Europe or North America has ever won the World’s 50 Best award.
All 18 winners have come from Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, and France since the competition’s inception in 2002.
There were no Australian restaurants in the top 50, though Brae was ranked 57th and Attica was ranked 97th on the long list. Some speculated that Sydney’s Quay would re-enter the top 50 after extensive renovations were completed in July 2018, but it was not to be. Circular Quay’s restaurant was last ranked in the top 50 in 2013.
Prizes of distinction
The Art of Hospitality Award went to Vienna’s Steirereck, which is located at No. 12 and serves dishes such as sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke with lamb sweetbreads and the signature char fish cooked tableside in beeswax with yellow carrot “pollen” and sour cream.
The Sustainable Restaurant Award went to Boragó in Santiago, Chile (number 38 on the list). It has its own biodynamic farm and focuses on “zero-kilometer” cooking.
Ikoyi, in London’s St. James’s, was named One to Watch. It is led by childhood friends Jeremy Chan and Ire Hassan-Odukale and offers authentic West African flavors in a chic modern setting.
Will Goldfarb of Bali’s Room 4 Dessert – and star of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” – was named Best Pastry Chef.