This haute cuisine battle has spent an age in the slow cooker and its flavors are just coming through… The World’s 50 Best Restaurants guide has been dismissed by many critics as “silly” nonsensical “schmozzle” that promotes chemistry-set cooking but love it or hate it there is no getting away from it. Until now that is.
Exasperated by the growing power of the British-based classification, which has long been accused of sticking the knife into French cuisine, Paris has decided to strike back with a list of its own.
La Liste claims to be the first authoritative ranking of the world’s 1,000 most “exceptional restaurants”, compiled from a rigorous mathematical analysis of hundreds of guide books and online reviews. Here’s what its algorithm, Ciacco, has determined are the 10 best in the world.
1 Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, Crissier, Switzerland
2 Per Se, New York
3 Kyo Aji, Tokyo
4 Guy Savoy, Paris
5 Schloss Schauenstein, Furstenau, Switzerland
6 El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
7 Kyubei, Tokyo
8 Maison Troisgros, Roanne, France
9 Auberge du Vieux Puits, Fontjoncouse, France
10 Joel Robuchon, Tokyo
Its organizers could not resist a swipe at their rivals much-criticized “opacity” as they trumpeted their own “fair and transparent methodology” when their revealed their top 10 restaurants Saturday, five days ahead of publishing their full list.
“La Liste is designed to be an aggregator, a ‘best of the best’, modeled on the world tennis rankings, the Shanghai Ranking for universities and Rotten Tomatoes film reviews website,” they declared in a statement.
No French in top 10
While not a single French restaurant makes the top 10 of the 50 Best list – long dominated by the kind of “molecular gastronomy” pioneered by the Catalan chef Ferran Adria of elBulli fame – La Liste has three.
In fact half of its top 10 are run by French chefs, including Benoit Violier who is at the helm its top-rated Restaurant de L’Hotel de Ville at Crissier in Switzerland. It ranks 88th in the 50 Best.
The only place to make the top 10 of both classifications is the Celler de Roca in the Spanish city of Girona. But La Liste’s founder Philippe Faure, the head of the French tourist board, denied it was an exercise in culinary chauvinism.
“Only 116 of the 1,000 restaurants are French, so you can’t say it is a French list,” he said. “Japan has 11 more than France, and the US is not far behind. It’s a very diverse list.”
While he admitted that the idea had come from the French foreign ministry, he claimed it had not “received a penny of public funding”, relying instead on sponsors including Moet and Hennessy and Nestle France.
Jorg Zipprick, the German journalist who crunched its numbers, said La Liste was as impartial as a computer algorithm could be. “It is such a brilliantly simple idea to put together review data from all over the world — we had to do it before someone else did.”
If there is any “culinary nationalism” at play, La Liste points the finger at its competitor, citing rows over its promotion of the new wave of British chefs and those from countries like Peru with which it has built commercial partnerships.
50 Best is ‘fair’
Despite the controversies, 50 Best has turned the stuffy conventions of fine dining on its head since it first appeared in 2002, making previously obscure Scandinavian chefs into global stars, and lichen – once the nibble of choice for foraging reindeer — into a delicacy.
But from the start it had as many haters as fans. It even sparked a protest group, Occupy 50 Best, which railed against its “opaque, obsequious ranking, where nationalism trumps quality, sexism trumps diversity and the spotlight is on the celebrity chef.”
Worse still, the Paris-based group accused the list’s perennial favorites – the Danish restaurant Noma, elBulli and the Fat Duck near London – of sending “hundreds of diners home sick” when their experimental cuisine went wrong.
Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant four times by 50 Best, is rated only 217th by La Liste.
French chef Joel Robuchon, a former 50 Best judge, said the British-based list was prone to “cronyism, ‘flip a coin’ voting, geopolitical influence and lobbying.”
Of course, he is in La Liste’s top 10.
William Drew, editor of the 50 Best hit back strongly at its critics, claiming it was far more transparent than in the past. “We have worked very hard to make it as fair and democratic as possible. We refute the accusations of nationalism. Ours is a genuinely global list based on the views of nearly 1,000 experts, with the vote audited by accountancy firm Deloitte.
“We are not linked to any country or government,” he added in a dig at La Liste.
“I don’t know anything about their much-vaunted algorithm… but you have to ask the question about the number of French restaurants and French chefs in their top 10. Of course French cuisine is hugely important but it is very strange that a list rated by a council set up by the French government should be headed by so many French chefs.”