Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Restaurant review: the best of the best

The Daily Telegraph just published their ranking of the world’s top 50 restaurants.

For the third year in a row, El Bulli in Spain took the prize away from Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire. Pierre Gagnaire’s three Michelin star, just off the Champs Elysées took the bronze.

The full list is:

1. El Bulli, Spain
2. The Fat Duck, UK
3. Pierre Gagnaire, France
4. Mugaritz, Spain
5. The French Laundry, US
6. Per Se, US
7. Bras, France
8. Arzak, Spain
9. Tetsuya's, Australia
10. Noma, Denmark
11. L’Astrance, France
12. Gambero Rosso, Italy
13. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, UK
14. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, France
15. Le Louis XV, Monaco
16. St. John, UK
17. Jean Georges, US
18. Alan Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, France
19. Hakkasan, UK
20. Le Bernardin, US
21. Alinea, US
22. Le Gavroche, UK
23. Dal Pescatore, Italy
24. Le Cinq, France
25. Troisgros, France
26. El Celler de Can Roca, Spain
27. Restaurant de l'Hotel de Ville, Switzerland
28. Hof van Cleve, Belgium
29. Martin Berasategui, Spain
30. Nobu, London, UK
31. Can Fabes, Spain
32. Enoteca Pinchiorri, Italy
33. Le Meurice, France
34. Vendôme, Germany
35. Die Schwarzwaldstube, Germany
36. Le Calandre, Italy
37. Chez Panisse, US
38. Charlie Trotters, US
39. Chez Dominique, Finland
40. D.O.M, Brazil
41. Daniel, US
42. Oud Sluis, Netherlands
43. Cracco-Peck, Italy
44. Asador Etxebarri, Spain
45. Les Ambassadeurs, France
46. L'Arpège, France
47. Tantris, Germany
48. Oaxen Skargardskrog, Sweden
49. Rockpool (fish), Australia
50. Le Quartier Francais, South Africa

I believe restaurants are totally personal (eating is an emotional experience after all) and, as I’ve been to a few on the list, here’s an assessment based on my personal experience.

Rated #1 – El Bulli, Spain
I’ve never been to El Bulli, but I will. It is run by Ferrán Adriá, was named the best restaurant in the world for the third time in a row and has three Michelin stars. It is also in Roses Catalonia and serves a constantly changing 30 course degustation menu. El Bulli is only open from April to September and only takes bookings one day per year. According to The Daily Telegraph, 8,000 people eat there every year with around 400 attempting to book each table, and for a meal that comes to $300 per head. One day!

Rated #2 – The Fat Duck, Bray, UK
This is a brilliant place where I try to eat every time I’m in the UK. Last time I was joined by Sean and Bronnie Fitzpatrick and Stephen Jones, The Sunday Times rugby writer, for an evening of rugby talk. The time before that it was at a table hosted by Lord John Browne from BP. Eric Doerr runs a great front of house, and the wine list is second to none. To give you an idea of the Tasting Menu, here are a few samples: Ballotine of Anjou Pigeon and Parsnip Cereal with my two favorites, Egg and Bacon Ice Cream and Snail Porridge. The Fat Duck’s use of personalized iPods with a sand and sea combination is brilliantly theatrical. If El Bulli is better than The Fat Duck, it deserves to be #1.

Rated #3 – Pierre Gagnaire, France
Maurice Levy first took me to Pierre Gagnaire, along with Procter & Gamble’s A.G. Lafley and Jim Stengel. We also had the experience of having Zinadine Zidane at the next table. Since then I’ve eaten twice at this terrific restaurant and have had wonderful experiences each time. It’s top-notch French cooking in a completely contemporary style. One of the things they offer is a complete menu of lobster options. Sensational. There is also a list of Bordeaux to die for.

Rated #5 – The French Laundry, US
I went there last year and it was a disaster. Of course, it was very exciting to go to Thomas Keller’s landmark restaurant in the Napa, but as I reported on this blog, the whole experience was overblown and overrated. For a start, they served two sittings, which I find primitive in a top-notch restaurant, and also kept us waiting for 30 minutes in the garden. No drinks, no aperitifs, no hors d’oeuvres, bare walls with no art, and all this (allegedly) to prevent us being distracted from our food. It was pomposity taken to the extreme. The food, when it turned up, was predictable and middle of the road. The service was American artificial.

Rated #9 – Tetsuya’s, Australia
I first went to this place 15 years or so ago. It was crowded, eclectic, exotic and incredible. Terrific Asian fusion dishes served in tiny portion degustation style. Casual, social and very Australian.

Rated #13 – Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, UK
A disappointing, middle of the road, mid-1990’s kind of place, in spite of its high star quotient. Very see and be seen. When I was there, Mick Jagger and Pierce Brosnan were both in the restaurant, so it was highly charged from that perspective. Everything was pretty good, but it lacked true impact and memorability.

Rated #18 – Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, France
A Gordon Ramsay like experience but with better food and more beautiful surroundings. Classic, traditional and top class.

Rate #20 – Le Bernardin, New York, US
The best cooked fish in New York. A pretty good spot with interesting cuisine, good service and well worth its rating.

Rated #22 – Le Gavroche, UK
I’ve been going to the Roux brothers emporium for around 20 years now. Over that time, I’ve celebrated a few milestones there with my eldest daughter Nikki. Its basement like environment is not too uplifting but the art on the walls compensates for all that. The place is jam-packed full of Chagall and Picassos and is a complete contrast to The French Laundry. A good three Michelin star French experience.

Rated #30 – Nobu, London
When I’m in London I stay at the Metropolitan where Nobu is housed. I also live one block away from Nobu in New York. It’s hard to get bad food at either place. The fish is fresh, the menu is interesting and all in all, it’s a first class experience.

Rated #37 – Chez Panisse, US
Its glory days might be over but it’s a great setting and has a strong organic point of view. Chez Panisse has a point of difference and it delivers. Definitely worth a visit.

Rated #41 – Daniel, New York
I’m more of a David Bouley fan than Daniel Boulud one but, having said that, I have to admit Daniel delivers.

Rated #49 – Rockpool (fish), Australia
Neil Perry’s place on The Rocks in Sydney is just opposite Saatchi & Saatchi’s office. It’s a terrific spot. Fresh fish with interesting Asian fusion and great chilled white wines. It deserves its place in the top 50.

Later on this week, I’ll write up my 10 favorite restaurants in the world to go along the big names on The Daily Telegraph’s Top 50 list.