Would any critic dare to try to name the 50 best operas/singers/actors, artists in the world, except as some sort of perverse game? The concept of the World’s 50 (or 100 or 1000) Best Restaurants is obviously a dodgy one. Who decides who’s on the list? What qualifies them to judge the question? And are the procedures they use transparent? The list for 2015 has just been published. It contains the names of most of the usual suspects – El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (1st), Osteria Francescana, Modena (2nd), Noma, Copenhagen (3rd), Central, Lima (4th) Eleven Madison Park, NY (5th), Mugaritz, San Sebastian (6th). Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (7th)… I’ve actually been to two or three of these. They were very good indeed. But the best in the world? Says who?
There’s the rub. This nonsense has been going on since 2002. Here’s what I had to say about it in 2006, and it doesn’t look as though much has changed:
“It’s disappointing, but I no longer receive weekly e-mail alerts from Restaurant magazine (probably fallen victim to my new spam filter), so I was unable to participate in this year’s voting to choose the World’s Top 50 Restaurants.
A pity, as I cast 20 or 30 votes last time – though I no longer remember when, or whom I voted for. I suspect I wasn’t the only person to vote early and often in 2005, because that year 14 of the “winning” restaurants were British.
Though my fellow voters and I should probably be investigated by the Electoral Reform Agency, there have been improvements. I clearly recall not only that the initial list in 2002 maintained absurdly that more of the world’s top restaurants were in Britain than in France, but that some of the victors were so obscure that – dare I suggest it? – it is unlikely more than a single respondent had even been to some of them.”
I remarked then that some electoral reforms were carried out in 2006, and that they seemed to have done their job, as the list was boringly predictable. However, even with the 20 regional panels, each with only five votes, and the provision that only two of those could go to restaurants within the judges’ own region, the procedures were still opaque, and a prejudice in favour of “molecular gastronomy” still apparent.
When writing about restaurants in The Wall Street Journal, I told my editor that I refused to refer to Restaurant Magazine’s 50 Best ratings, simply because I did not wish to give them credibility. It’s now 13 years since this very silly list began. It may well be less corrupt in 2015, but it’s no less ridiculous.