From the Michelin Red Guide’s starred restaurants to Australian Gourmet Traveller’s Top 100, restaurant lists are always contentious — few more so than the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The regional edition, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015, announced in Singapore last night, already has everyone talking. But what does that mean for food-loving travellers like yourselves?
Thankfully we’re not nursing hangovers today. We should have been at the third Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, held at the luxurious Capella in Singapore, where we woke up feeling a little worse for wear the morning after the awards ceremony last year.
For that we blame too much free flowing bubbly and Vietnam’s Chef Bobby Chin, who threw a surprise post-awards birthday party for Chef Gaggan. If only we’d drank more of the free-flowing San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna instead — courtesy of the long-time sponsors of the Restaurant magazine awards, which for some years everyone knew as “the San Pellegrino list”.
Sadly, we weren’t in Singapore due to an eye issue I had (long story), heavy workload (what’s new), and some serious trip planning we need to do for upcoming assignments to Vietnam, Northern Thailand and Myanmar (I’ll save that for another post).
Terence and I would have loved to have been at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015 to see humble Chef Joannès Rivière of our favourite Siem Reap restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak, which hit the list at #50, quietly collect his award, and Chef Gaggan Anand, who topped the list at #1, bound enthusiastically up to the stage with a big grin to savour the moment with his team.
We would have been proud as punch to watch Tetsuya, whose first restaurant we ate at in Rozelle many years ago, receive a lifetime achievement award, as well as to see his Singapore restaurant Waku Ghin get a gong at #9. We also would have enjoyed watching Chef Tim Butler and owner Darren Hausler of another of our favourite Bangkok restaurants, EAT ME, which shot up the ranks from #37 to #25.
But there also would have been twinges of disappointment seeing Asia’s best restaurant of 2014 and #3 restaurant of 2013, Chef David Thompson’s Nahm, drop (in my opinion, bewilderingly) to #7, and two other superb Bangkok restaurants, Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan Jones’ Bo.lan, and Ian Kittichai’s Issaya Siamese Club, drop from to #28 to #37, and #31 to #39, respectively.
There’d also be mixed feelings when it came to seeing some of the Singapore restaurants where we’ve had wonderful meals shift places on the list, from joy at seeing Julien Royer’s Jaan, which climbed from #17 to #11 to disappointment for Ryan Clift whose Tippling Club dropped from #23 to #36. Ignatius Chan’s Iggy’s also slipped a little, from #12 to #18, although Les Amis took a step up from #14 to #13.
But what does all this mean? Does it say anything about the restaurants, the state of the industry, or the voters and their changing tastes? Does it even matter? I’ll need another post to reflect upon those questions. But in the meantime, as David Thompson said to us a few weeks ago when we interviewed him for stories in Bangkok, “it’s just a list”.
Restaurant lists such as these don’t need to be taken all that seriously, yet they are handy in that they serve as helpful guides. The Bangkok restaurants, above, all of which we’re big fans of – Gaggan, Nahm, EAT ME, Bo.lan, and Issaya Siamese Club — may have moved around but they all remain Bangkok’s best restaurants, indeed Thailand’s best restaurants, no matter what order you might want to put them in. They are the restaurants to which we send food-loving travellers visiting Bangkok.
Sure, there are a couple of Bangkok restaurants missing from the list this year, in my opinion, that are easily on par with the bottom ten restaurants on the list in terms of the quality and creativity of the cuisine, the service, the ambiance, and so on. There are also a couple in Singapore that I think deserve to be on the list.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list actually extends to 100 restaurants, and I’d argue that Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list should too. There’s no argument that there are enough world-class restaurants sprinkled across the region.
One reason that the Bangkok restaurants I’m referring to are not on the current Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is because many of the 300 industry and media voters on the regional panels wouldn’t have eaten at them, because, in the case of one in Thailand it’s not in Bangkok, and the other is under the radar. But I bet we’ll see them on the list next year. These things take time.
And of course something has to give. Unless Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is expanded to 100 restaurants, then a couple of the restaurants I love might have to slip off in order to make space for the new spots. That’s the nature of lists.
So what does all of that mean for food tourists and gourmands? For people who appreciate truly outstanding, refined, and often inventive food, cooked by chefs who are passionate about what they do, and served in beautiful dining spaces by restaurant teams that care about you, and your experience of their restaurant’s food, then the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, like the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, should simply serve as a guide.
If you’re in Bangkok or Singapore or Tokyo or Hong Kong or wherever for a few days, you can safely choose restaurants from the list and know that it’s highly unlikely you’re going to have a bad meal, and in fact you’ll probably have a extremely memorable one. Use the list as a restaurant guide to a few cities and don’t be surprised if you find yourself eagerly watching the restaurants announced on your Twitter feed next year.
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015 list
- Gaggan – Bangkok
- Narisawa – Tokyo
- Ultraviolet – Shanghai
- Nihonryori Ryugin – Tokyo
- Restaurant André – Singapore
- Amber – Hong Kong
- Nahm – Bangkok
- 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana – Hong Kong
- Waku Ghin – Singapore
- Jungsik – Seoul
- Jaan – Singapore
- L’Effervescence – Tokyo
- Les Amis – Singapore
- Hajime – Osaka
- Fook Lam Moon – Hong Kong
- FU1015 – Shanghai
- L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – Hong Kong
- Iggy’s – Singapore
- Fu He Hui – Shanghai
- Lung King Heen – Hong Kong
- Mr and Mrs Bund – Shanghai
- Indian Accent – New Delhi
- Robuchon au Dome – Macau
- Tenku Ryugin – Hong Kong
- Eat Me – Bangkok
- Le Moût – Taichung
- Ryunique – Seoul
- Bo Innovation – Hong Kong
- Wasabi by Morimoto – Mumbai
- Burnt Ends – Singapore
- Nihonbashi – Colombo
- Shinji by Kanesaka – Singapore
- Takazawa – Tokyo
- 28 Hubin Road – Hangzhou
- The Chairman – Hong Kong
- Tippling Club – Singapore
- Bo.lan – Bangkok
- La Yeon – Seoul
- Issaya Siamese Club – Bangkok
- Sushi Saito – Tokyo
- Bukhara – New Delhi
- Caprice – Hong Kong
- Ministry of Crab – Colombo
- Sukiyabashi Jiro – Tokyo
- Osteria Mozza – Singapore
- Hakkasan – Shanghai
- Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck – Singapore
- Antonio’s – Tagaytay
- Quintessence – Tokyo
- Cuisine Wat Damnak – Siem Reap
More on Asia’s Best Restaurants and their Chefs
Our Culinary Guide to Siem Reap (29 July 2014) (featuring Cuisine Wat Damnak)
Pictured above: Gaggan Anand at Gaggan restaurant, Bangkok, Asia’s best restaurant for 2015.
NOTE: I include Cuisine Wat Damnak, as well as other mouthwatering experiences and delicious secrets on the bespoke food-focused itineraries I craft. Need further inspiration? See our Culinary Guide to Siem Reap and Cambodian Street Food in Siem Reap from our Footpath Feasting series on street food around the globe.