For a short period of time I’m in the unique position of being able to add our opinion to the debate on what is the best restaurant in the world. I’ve now been to top five restaurants on the San Pellegrino 2009 list of the World’s Best Restaurants. Four of these we have been to in a six-month period. And the last restaurant, El Bulli, we visited in 2005. To be fair, the San Pellegrino list does not truly define a world’s best restaurants. Instead, it is really a list of the world’s, the western world’s, most influential restaurants. That is just how their survey works. I could argue, incorrectly almost certainly, that my list is the true list of the best restaurants in the world. I’d love to be proven wrong.
Perhaps a list like this one does have some value. I’d personally appreciate seeing rankings from other diners similar to what I have put down here. When individual diners can compare their dining impressions to those of others, there is more intrinsic value. It allows for an understanding of testers preferences. Compare what you like to what others like and you have a better idea of which opinions to follow. If a reviewer likes most of the restaurants you like, it is more that the reviewer’s choices for restaurants that you haven’t been to will more likely fit your own tastes.
Communal restaurant reviews have their value, but there are downsides. If twenty percent of the population hates a style of restaurant that you love, it won’t be easy to find your next favorite restaurant. Some people only want to have a good steak. Others think that any restaurant that charges more than $10 a plate is pretentious and too expensive. Do you want these reviews influencing your restaurant choice in a new city? Food is a personal experience. Restaurant reviews need to reflect that.
It works like this for me for wine. When I know a reviewers preferences and how they relate to my own, the information from a wine review becomes more useful. Though it is nearly impossible to accomplish and certainly unhealthy, it would be best to have multiple single diner comparisons for the all of top restaurants. If you have a restaurant-ranking list, feel free to include it (or a link) in the comments.
There are so many restaurants and so little time….
The San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants:
So, without further ado, here is my list of the best restaurants in the world. I only rank restaurants that I’ve been to relatively recently. I’d be more than happy to expand the list. All I need is a generous benefactor.
Anotherheader’s Top Tier Restaurants
* = One Michelin Star
** = Two Michelin Stars
*** = Three Michelin Stars
# SP means the rank on the 2009 San Pellegrino List of best restaurants in the World (3SP means number three on the list)
2 SP, Bray (UK)
Three visits, most recently in November of 2009.
The Fat Duck is simply the best combination of the whole package, front of the house, creativity, presentation, technical innovation, and taste. You can’t go wrong here.
1 SP, Roses (Spain)
We dined once at El Bulli in 2005.
The experience of dining at El Bulli is incomparable. It seems to be everybody’s choice for best restaurant in the world. The location along a cove in the Costa Brava is isolated and unique. Getting to the restaurant is an integral part of the experience. And, without a doubt, the food is technically innovative. The front of the house is the best, though this splits hairs at this level of service. There is just one little thing—the taste experience was not up to the level of some of the other elite restaurants. At times, there are odd, chemical flavors to the food and it seems that the taste of the food took a back seat to the presentation. We’d accept all offers to reevaluate and update this restaurant though it will have to be soon. Ferran Adria has announced that El Bulli will close in 2012.
The French Laundry***
12 SP, Yountville, California (USA)
Two visits, most recent visit in December of 2008
Maybe this is a hometown choice as it is relatively close to my home, but The French Laundry simply excels at what it does. The food is prepared perfectly with ingredients that are unrivaled. What it misses is technical innovation, overt creativity, and over the top presentation. Where it wins is taste, particularly for comfort food. I must find it odd that Per Se, Thomas Keller’s outpost in New York City is ranked 6 on the San Pellegrino list and the original, with immediate access to its own garden, is merely ranked 12.
4 SP, San Sebastian (Spain)
One visit (May 2009)
To me, there is one thing that stands out about Mugaritz—the unique flavor combinations and tastes. Our meal fluctuated between the comforting and familiar to the unusual and challenging. Yes, there’s food science magic going on in the kitchen here. But at Mugaritz, there is a drive to create that never before experienced flavor combination. That’s worth a lot to me.
I’d really like to have a number five on this list. Five’s a nice round number (sort of). In the Second tier restaurants listed below, there are many fine choices. It is just that I can’t move any of these into the top tier. The dining experience gap between the second tier and first tier restaurants is just too noticeable. In fact, I can’t even rank the second tier restaurants amongst themselves.
Anotherheader’s Second Tier Restaurants
There are some mighty fine restaurants in this list. We’d go back to all of them. The list is in no particular order.
Bar Charlie*, Las Vegas, Nevada (USA)
Four visits, last visit in April 2009.
Bar Charlie’s food style is closer to Japanese than it is to western cuisine. This is a style I particularly like, so there could be a bias here. The food combinations are innovative. There’s nothing else quite like it. Bar Charlie is not about technical innovation, though. For me, the food is top tier, the front of the house and location (in a casino), though adequate, are not top tier.
Cyrus**, Healdsburg, CA (USA)
Three visits, last visit Fall 2009
Cyrus is at its best in the early courses that feature Japanese influenced flavor combinations. And don’t miss the cocktails in the bar. The service and the dining room, though good, don’t measure up with the big boys at the top of the list.
El Celler de Can Roca**, 5 SP, Girona (Spain)
Two visits, last visit May 2009
Comforting and tasty, El Celler de Can Roca is hard to beat. The main menu is just short of the top tier offers but the desserts could be the best of the bunch. El Celler’s new dining room is beautiful. Service is not as polished at the restaurants at the top of the list. All that being said, you might be able to convince me that El Celler de Can Roca belongs in the top tier. It will take a few more meals there, though.
Noma**, 3 SP, Copenhagen (Denmark)
One visit, November 2009
If I had to choose a restaurant to eat at every night, Noma might just be it. Comforting and digestible food that you should be eating every day is served. The menu is not particularly innovative, taste or technique-wise. Like El Celler, Noma’s service is young and should have more polish with time.
Ristorante Duomo**, Ragusa (Sicily, Italy)
Considered by some to be the best restaurant in Sicily, Duomo, in the beautiful small Baroque hill town of Ragusa, is perhaps too remote to be on the San Pellegrino radar. The restaurant reflects and perfects the food of the region. Though it might not be my top dining experience, visiting Ragusa and eating at Duomo is simply unforgettable. I want to go back.
Coi**, San Francisco (California, USA)
One visit, March 2010
Coi combines the best of Northern California’s ingredients in inventive and creative combinations. Coi doesn’t match the over-the-top dining experiences of the top tier restaurants but it does not lag too far behind.
Schwarzwaldstube***, 23 SP, Baiersbronn im Schwarzwald (Germany)
The tasting menu is an over the top, eating experience. Though the flavors and the technique are not particularly innovative, if you are looking for a top tier French haut cuisine, look no further. And the location in Germany’s Black Forest is hard to beat.
Anotherheader’s Third Tier Restaurants
There are good ones here, but, for most of these, we seem to try other places first before returning.
Guy Savoy**, Las Vegas, Nevada (USA)
Visited once in 2008.
Arzak***, 8 SP, San Sebastian (Spain)
Visited once in May of 2009
Joel Robuchon At the Mansion (MGM Grand, Las Vegas)***
Visited once in 2007.
The Paul*, Copenhagen (Denmark)
Visited once in 2006
Zuma*, 92 SP, London (UK)
One visit in November of 2009
Mittermeier Restaurant*, Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber (Germany)
One visit, 2007
Gary Danko*, San Francisco, CA (USA)
One visit, approximately 2003
West, Vancouver, BC (Canada)
Two visits, last visit in July 2009
In my opinion, West would easily receive a Michelin star in a ranked city.
Asador Etxebarri, 39 SP, Axpe-Marzana, Atxondo-Bizkaia (Spain)
One visit, May 2009
Andra Mari*, Galdakao/Bizkaia (Spain)
One visit, May 2009
Andra Mari may be the best value of all the restaurants on this list.
Manresa**, 93 SP, Los Gatos, CA (USA)
One visit, December 2007 (We need to try this one again when the restaurant’s garden is popping.)
Other Michelin starred restaurants I’ve dined at:
Cortez* (San Francisco, now closed)
Boulevard* (San Francisco)
Rubicon* (San Francisco)
Mittermeier Restaurant* (Germany)
Agata e Romeo* (Rome)
Lindsey House* (London)
Aqua** (San Francisco)
Dry Creek Kitchen* (California)
Chateau Chevre d’Or** (France)
L’atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel* (France)
Picholine** (New York City)
Picasso** (Las Vegas)
Daniel Boluod Brasserie* (Las Vegas)