"When you look at the most exciting restaurants in the world at the moment, they're not in Paris and London. They are hidden away. You've got to make the effort."
-Matt Preston, Australian food critic; former judge, MasterChef Australia (Chef's Table S1E05, Ben Shewry)
The newly minted release of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants tells me that the rise of progressive food is no longer stealthy in its pace. Chef Virgilio Martinez’s brainchild, Central, in Lima, Peru, was hailed as World No. 1 after spending fifteen years metamorphosing indigenous ingredients from the ecosystems at various altitudes in Peru. It deserved the win. However, one thing did not get past me: Central had no Michelin stars to date. Upon investigation, I discovered that the food guide, created in 1900 by a French tyre company for its customers to have good meals along their travels and now the pole star of exquisite dining spots, did not exist in Peru. Ironically, it does not exist in most coveted culinary destinations, which made me think: how does the "best restaurant" in the world not have a single flower-shaped star to its name?
Paul Bocuse remarked, "Michelin is the only guide that counts," making its yearly launch as excitable as the Oscars’ night. From only gracing restaurants with a single star, the guide soon augmented itself into a three-star system across more than twenty-five countries. Tokyo alone is armed with two hundred and sixty-three of them. The 50 Best List was conceived in 2002 by the UK media company William Reed as a feature in the magazine Restaurant. It sought stardom amidst the awards show and a worldwide release on their website.
Localites shunned Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana as an act of stupor until it had won three Michelin stars by 2012. Later, it was mentioned in the World’s 50 Best List in 2016 and 2018. Contrastingly, Ana Ros’ Hisa Franko in Kobarid has been on the list since 2017, but won 2 stars in 2020, which put Slovenia on the Michelin map. Notwithstanding these overlaps, there seem to be discernible differences in their nature. Since both were considered the two Bibles of dining trends, I asked, “Why should we bother with one if we have the other?”
Michelin was able to create a more niche selection of high-quality dining owing to its time-honoured existence. Their anonymous inspectors seek mastery of techniques and consistency over a period of time, making it easy to lose a Michelin despite spending years to get one. Rumour has it that their identity is so covert that even the company’s top executives do not know who they are.
The San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna’s 50 Best List draws up an inventory of restaurants, new and old, that are flag bearers of culinary bravado. It is much more yielding in nature. An academy of 1080 gourmands, not unknown, casts their vote and produces a comprehensive list of restaurants. So far, it is Copenhagen’s restaurants that have been notoriously popular for claiming the top spots, along with many in Latin America and even Mexico, where the Michelin stars do not have a home. It even has an extended version, a region-wise selection where many Indian restaurants have been featured, and even one for the best bars—the Little Red Door in Paris’ third arrondissement has not budged from the list for a decade. As for the Best of the Best list, the places are no longer eligible to win, for they have surpassed even themselves. It is as follows:
El Bulli, Ferran Adrià (2002, 2006–2009)
The French Laundry, Thomas Keller (2003–2004)
The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal (2005)
Noma, René Redzepi (2010–2012, 2014, 2021)
El Celler de Can Roca, Joan and Jordi Roca (2013, 2015)
Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura (2016, 2018)
Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm (2017)
Mirazur, Maulo Colagreco (2019)
Geranium, Rasmus Kofoed (2022)
If I had to, I would speak more about this. The spots on the list seem to be plentiful, while the stars are scanty but bright. There is a lot to know and much more to observe. Like any school of art, the frontrunners of modern cuisine are encouraged to not live within any confines. So far, it seems as though these tellers are doing a good job of giving credit where credit is due. Besides, who is going to complain when they’re telling you where the good food is?
Raagini Poddar, Editor in Chief (BACA 2025)