Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 and the Travel Bug
It is the last week of March; the frost has given way to the first tuft of flowers acting as preachers for the balmy days of spring that lie ahead. I’m hugging a steaming hot cup of coffee (it is 9:30 a.m. in France), but a glass of bubbly would have been more befitting to mark the countdown of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021. The hour-long live stream commences, and the list is revealed. Despite being halfway across the world, ripples of joy are felt through the screen and I feel flushed with victory.
Asia’s F&B scene has not only survived the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also bloomed in adversity. The number of first-time entries on the 2021 list is proof—a whopping 11. This includes three from Singapore and one from Vietnam—a country that hasn’t made the list since 2013.
In Singapore, local talent Chef Han Li Guang of Labyrinth and Chef Jason Tan’s restaurant Euphoria made the list at No.40 and No.41. It’s no luck of the draw really, the crisis despite stealing the joys of eating out have had a clarifying effect about what really matters and what does not.
In this instance, we’re not lauding the chefs and projects that are bankrolled by wealthy investors, instead, we’re referring to true passion projects. After seven years of striking out from the banking industry, chef Han of Labyrinth has carved his niche in the world of fine dining; championing a new expression of Singapore cuisine by celebrating the land in all its gleaming facets: traditions, childhood memories and most importantly, local produce. Shining the spotlight on what is deemed as a fairly mundane local produce market, his locavore approach has also won him the Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award. Well-deserved seeing that I would have stayed in the dark about the presence of sea bass and barramundi fish lurking in our local waters till a guided trip to Ah Hua Kelong not too long ago.
Similarly, chef Jason Tan had to battle the odds of opening his new restaurant Euphoria during the height of the pandemic. The result is a manifesto of the restaurant’s Gastro-Botanico theme; whimsical light installations mimicking the signature onion dish and a lush garden setting. What better stage than to celebrate the symphony of legumes?
Another newcomer hailing from Singapore that made the list is none other than chef Rishi Naleendra. Cloudstreet rolled out its red carpet to friends and family the same week of the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in Singapore two years ago. How time flies. Contrived for the intrepid diner, its innovative food pays homage to Chef Rishi’s motherland, Sri Lanka; teamed with stellar service to warrant a must-visit.
The city’s mainstays for fine dining, Jaan, Zen, Burnt Ends, Les Amis and Odette came in at No.42, No.23, No.14, No.13 and No.2 respectively. After clinching the top spot for two consecutive years, chef Julien Royer’s Odette has moved to the second spot, allowing Hong Kong restaurant The Chairman to claim the vaunted spot in this year’s awards ceremony. This big win cements Hong Kong’s first claim to the No.1 spot and boosts China’s eminence on the culinary map.
Talking of the times, perhaps there is one tick about the Asia’s 50 Best awards ceremony—the infamous “travel bug” which inflicts stings and causes a fever better known as “wanderlust.” MONO (44th) in Hong Kong, Hansikgonggan (43rd) in Seoul, last year’s one to watch that made its debut at No.32, Masque in Mumbai and Chef Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn’s latest venture, Nusura in Bangkok; these have been added to my ever-growing list of culinary destinations worthy of leaving the couch for.
The awards serve as glowing news amidst the coronavirus pandemic—the never-ending nightmare that has estranged us from our love for travel dining. But in between the moments, I think of extensive wine lists as the precursor to a sommelier’s recommendation, the gathering of esoteric ingredients in an artful display on my plate and a cheese trolley being rolled around. They all remind me of my glorious dining escapades before being in constant lockdown in France. The F&B scene in Asia is recovering much quicker than Europe and I watch with envy as my Singaporean friends are able to hit up their favourite dining establishments in town. I’ve written about it before, so here I am waiting for my turn.
Here is the full list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021:
The 51 – 100 list can be viewed here
50. Wing Lei Palace, Macau
49. Toyo Eatery, Makati, Philippines
48. Seventh Son, Hong Kong
47. Lung King Heen, Hong Kong
46. Gaa, Bangkok, Thailand
45. Shoun Ryugin, Taipei, Taiwan
44. Mono, Hong Kong
43. Hansikgonggan, Seoul, South Korea
42. Jaan by Kirk Westaway, Singapore
41. Euphoria, Singapore
40. Labyrinth, Singapore
39. Anan Saigon (Best restaurant in Vietnam)
38. Ta Vie, Hong Kong
37. Amber, Hong Kong
36. Born & Bred, Seoul, South Korea
35. Nihonryori RyuGin, Tokyo, Japan
34. Seventh Door, Seoul, South Korea
33. 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong
32. Masque, Mumbai, India
31. Cloudstreet, Singapore
30. Maison de La Nature Goh, Fukuoka, Japan
29. Ministry of Crab (Best Restaurant in Sri Lanka)
28. Caprice, Hong Kong
27. Ode, Tokyo, Japan
26. JL Studio, Taichung, Taiwan
25. Belon, Hong Kong
24. Logy, Taipei, Taiwan
23. Zen, Singapore
22. Fu He Hui, Shanghai, China
21. Raw, Taipei, Taiwan
20. Nusara, Bangkok, Thailand
19. L’Effervescence, Tokyo, Japan (Highest Climber award – up 20 places)
18. Indian Accent, New Delhi, India (Best Restaurant in India)
17. Neighborhood, Hong Kong
16. VEA, Hong Kong (Art of Hospitality Award)
15. Mume, Taipei, Taiwan (Best Restaurant in Taiwan)
14. Burnt Ends, Singapore
13. Les Amis, Singapore
12. Sazenka, Tokyo, Japan
11. Sorn, Bangkok, Thailand
10. Mingles, Seoul, South Korea (Best Restaurant in Korea)
9. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan
8. La Cime, Osaka, Japan
7. Florilège, Tokyo, Japan
6. Sühring, Bangkok, Thailand
5. Gaggan Anand, Bangkok, Thailand (Highest New Entry Award)
4. Le Du, Bangkok, Thailand (Best Restaurant in Thailand)
3. Den, Tokyo, Japan (Best Restaurant in Japan)
2. Odette, Singapore (Best Restaurant in Singapore)
1. The Chairman, Hong Kong (Best Restaurant in Hong Kong and Asia)