Tuesday, April 27, 2010

S.Pelligrino and the World's Top 50 Restaurants

In their press release S.Pellegrino tell us that over the past nine years their awards have produced the most credible guide to the best places to eat on earth.
A restaurant’s ranking is decided purely on the votes of a large panel of well respected international judges collectively called the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy. The Academy comprises of over 800 international chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and restaurant critics.

If the their assessment of the world’s top restaurants is to be believed the best restaurant in Melbourne by a long way is Attica which ranks 73 in the world! Indeed there is no other Melbourne restaurant in the top 100. Evidently Jaques Reymond, Vue de Monde, Taxi, Rockpool and the rest of the high flyers here are not all that good after all. In trying to understand how these food critics have judged restaurants it seems that there is a strong emphasis on invention at the top end. Certainly it is a key feature of Noma, the new number one, of El Bulli, now number two, which is closing for good at the end of this year and The Fat Duck which has slipped one place to number three. A few other things which distinguish the best restaurants seem to be the ability of their executive chefs to publicize themselves, their respect for fresh local ingredients and their philosophies. They are prominent at international food and wine festivals, they are frequently seen on TV and they have well publicized cookbooks. I might add it is a challenge to prepare dishes from some of them like Tetsuya’s. Tetsuya has fallen 21 places to number 38 with Quay being rated 27 – Australia’s highest. Marque, the only other Australian restaurant to get a mention, gets in at 67.

It would be only fair to tell us just what the make up is of the marking system. Is there any form to it at all or is it just how the judges happened to feel on the occasion when they ate there. Is it one person’s opinion? What is the minimum number of visits? Can a wonderful restaurant make the top rank if only eight of the judges put in a rating or does it take a bigger percentage of the 800 to get there? Furthermore at how many of the other supposedly excellent restaurants in the country did they dine? Do they start at 100 and take marks off for faults in service, décor, ambience, presentation, taste consistency, matching of ingredients and dishes, the wine list, the view, restaurant design, space and noise? Or do they have a system of marking weighted for different aspects of the dining experience or does each judge make up his/her mind by their own system. When the final marks are discussed do the strong personalities dominate or is there a secret ballot. Is there any account of potential biases?

There are only three restaurants in the whole of South America, the first at number 18, D.O.M. in Brazil, Biko, at 46 and Pujol at 72 both in Mexico. Argentina, Peru and the rest of South America and many other countries don't get a mention. Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics are no place for gourmands.

I'd like to know a lot more about the judges, their relationship to each other and the marking system before giving them the sort of credibility they give themselves.

These ratings have to be taken with more than a grain of salt.

Score: 12/20


John Salisbury said...

Nice to have you back Elliot.

You have been very quiet lately.

Best regards John.

Elliot & Sandra said...

Hi John
Haven't been away but very busy and mostly eating at fovourite old haunts. Jaques Reymond which is variable but excellent last time we were there, acouple of weeks ago., Imperial Kingdom and Chun Po, both old favourites and Silks, always good. Have not got round to writing up MoMo Restaurant, Lento and a few others Tonight We are going back to Belle Videre.
We are doing a lot of reading about a variety of aspects of food such as looking at guides, the art of recipe writing, restaurant reviewing and food in literature and art.
Of course I also have a full time job and a lot of extra work and social obligations. So much to do, so little time.

John Salisbury said...

Last time at Reymond's Sandra expressed a desire never to return...
Wendy and I find Imperial Kingdom a little to "grotty" though we have visited many times...
Will be keen to know how you found MoMo

Paul said...

You can actually see who is in the academy at the moment.
It wasn't there before the awards, presumably to stop people soliciting votes. There are a large number of recognisable names including some Australian ones, but at the end of the day, it is a popularity contest, albeit with some knowledgeable voters. Voters have 5 votes and can vote for up to 3 restaurants in their own area (Australia is under Australasia & Oceania) and at least two votes must go to restaurants outside the area. To vote for a restaurant the voter must have eaten there in the past 18 months. I don't really know but I suspect there isn't much more to it than the voters listing their top 5.
From this, you would expect that Australia and other parts of the world like South America might have difficulty getting the majority of voters to eat in thier restaurants.
While I'm sure that Attica's place is well deserved, it was no doubt helped by Ben Shewry's appearance at Madrid Fusion, which would have put Attica on the global map at the right time.
I also suspect that the votes would be in before the Melbourne Food and wine festival which is unfortunate as there would be some of the academy out for it, who no doubt get to eat at some of Melbourne's contenders, but they wouldn't be required to vote again until almost a full year later.
I won't buy into the Sydney vs Melbourne thing as I haven't eaten at any of the 4 Australian restaurants that made the list, but I have eaten at several of the better Victorian restaurants over the past year. I also got to eat at Arzak (No. 9 on the list) about 2 years ago. While Arzak was a fantastic experience, I'm not sure I could put it ahead of the Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld, which was my favorite of the past 12 months

Elliot & Sandra said...

Hi Paul.
Thanks for that comment and the link. Clearly the process of selection is riddled with biases and flaws but, without putting to much store by it, it gives us something to think about. Odd that the Academy is listed alphabetically by first name. I would have liked to have known who the judges were in each country.
Do you think a Zagat style (votes and opinions of the public, filtered by editors), or a Michelin style guide ('expert' opinion by incognito knowledgable inspectors) could work in Australia?

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Paul said...

I don't think I'd trust a Zagat style guide. Its a great idea in principle, but in practice I'm not sure how you control the PR companies. I don't think you can rely on the sincerity of the judgement.
I guess I'd favour the Michelin style guide. I guess you could say we have something like that now with the Gourmet Traveller 100 or the Age and Sydney Morning Herald good food guides.
Just to expand on my theory about Madrid fusion helping Attica, I notice that Mark Best from Sydney Restaurant Marque (No 67) also attended.

Elliot & Sandra said...

Hi Paul
I'm sure you're right about Madrid Fusion. The ineresting question is How come they got the invite. As I recall it was attendance by invitation only.
We do need some more interactive and respectable food writing than we have in Melbourne just now. Something I think I will write about soon

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