October 14, 2021

You can pretend not to care about the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, but when esteemed chefs, culinary pioneers and their accompanying media entourages, all of whom have survived the harsh “winter” that is the pandemic, gather together in Antwerp, even the most hardened souls secretly bask in the unspoken camaraderie and glamour.

The last time I had attended the awards was in Singapore, two years ago. It was a week-long affair parading our UNESCO Hawker Culture while vaunting fine-dining restaurants that house some of the best chefs in the world. The clinking of ice in cocktail shakers, chefs dancing on the tables of MBS’ Marquee with reckless abandon, the smell of satay grilling on open flames were my last memories of carousing. In 2020, the awards went on a hiatus to design new initiatives (like 50 Best for Recovery, which has raised more than US$1.23 million since its launch) and strengthen its cause towards aiding the global recovery of the hospitality sector.

This year, the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards returned to the stage at the Flanders Meeting and Convention Center in Antwerp, Belgium. It was wet but nothing could dampen the spirits of the attendees as they took to exploring the fascinating foodscape of Flanders. In fact, the pelting rain hardly tapered when impeccably dressed guests (with la bella figura) started to tread the gilded hallways, only to be interrupted by cameras, flashing lights and Massimo Bottura, who played host to the behind-the-scenes red carpet show.

[Related: Osteria Francescana’s Post-Lockdown Menu Is More Substance Than Style]

A throng of waiters armed with trays of Nyetimber sparkling wine and cold Estrella Damm beer awaited at the bottom of the stairs to soothe and emancipate. Mushroom croquettes and other anonymous little dishes were ushered to standing guests, but they pale in comparison to the slices of free-range Cinco Jotas Ibérico ham.

The ceremony began on a sombre note. Like the Korean dystopian thriller, Squid Games, director of content, William Drew, first paid tribute to those we have lost over the last couple of years. There was nouvelle cuisine godfather Pierre Troisgros, Indian-born American chef Floyd Cardoz who was taken by Covid-19 amongst the personalities, and restaurants like The Ledbury, Tickets, Fäviken, Relæ, 108 that were forced to close.

The change in the hall was palpable. Suddenly, there was a different sense of gratitude that extended from the stage well into the back of the hall—setting the scene for the representing chefs to support and celebrate each others’ success.

From Germany to Japan to the far-flung edges of Slovenia, accolades handed out celebrated diversity, sustainability and innovation. The world’s best female chef went to Pía León from Peru, The One to Watch award went to West African-inspired Ikoyi in London and Chef Will Goldfarb of Room 4 Dessert in tropical Bali received the recognition for The World’s Best Pastry Chef.

From Asia, Sühring was the solo representative of Bangkok while Japan was represented by Florilège, Narisawa and Den. The pride and joy of Hong Kong, modern Cantonese restaurant, The Chairman earned the highest climber award. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet in Shanghai climbed the ranks to No. 35.

Singapore had a solid showing with Perth-born chef Dave Pynt’s Burnt Ends breaking into the top 50 for the first time since debuting on the extended list of restaurants ranked 51–100 in 2016. Patriotic enthusiasm reached an all-time high when Odette was announced at 8th place, rising ten spots. At the National Gallery Singapore, chef-owner Julien Royer spins out delicate French-inspired plates, which speak of his emotional relationship with food and his flights of inspiration from Asia.

An hour later, the ceremony culminated in the most glorious bursts of sparkling confetti from the ceiling as restaurant Noma took to the stage as the best restaurant in the world. “It is during the last four or five years can I say this with only the scars inside of me to prove it, only now has our minds, body and souls caught up with what we started on this very stage some 11 years ago,” said chef Rene Redzapi. His valedictorian speech was replete with regrets, relief, struggles and emotion.

“Just about a year ago, I thought it was all going to end,” Redzepi remarked. “How on earth are we going to stay positive? Productive? Solvent through all of this?” And yet they did, Redzepi even managed to pool together a fund to help former Noma employees struggling due to the coronavirus crisis. “I guess if there’s anything that the pandemic has taught us is that how fragile our dreams can be. How incredibly gruelling and difficult this industry can be,” Redzepi said and congratulated all the winners in the audience.

In an illuminating press conference following the spellbinding ceremony, Redzapi revealed his ‘secret of success’ to hungry reporters. “I have 79 different secrets and they all have names. Kenneth, Anna and the list goes on,” he confessed. “Somehow I managed to find a group of individuals where everyone contributes and that amasses a special energy—that is our secret.”

When asked what kind of restaurant he strives to be in the next decade, he stressed the importance of building the perfect work environment for his team, “We need to be the best place to work in. We need to support everyone in the team such that there is work-life balance. There are some actions that we have to put into fruition and it’s a long grind but we’re extremely excited about it.”


The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Winners

  1. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark (↑ from 2)
  2. Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark (↑ from 5)
  3. Asador Extebarri, Axpe, Spain (Same)
  4. Central, Lima, Peru (↑ from 6)
  5. Disfrutar, Barcelona, Spain (↑ from 9)
  6. Frantzén, Stockholm, Sweden (↑ from 21)
  7. Maido, Lima, Peru (↑ from 10)
  8. Odette, Singapore (↑ from 18)
  9. Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico (↑ from 12)
  10. The Chairman, Hong Kong (↑ from 41)
  11. Den, Tokyo, Japan (Same)
  12. Steirereck, Vienna, Austria (↑ from 17, *Art of Hospitality*)
  13. Don Julio, Buenos Aires, Argentina (↑ from 34)
  14. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain (↓ from 7)
  15. Lido 84, Gardone Rivera (*NEW ENTRY*, Miele One to Watch award of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019)
  16. Elkano, Geteria, Spain (↑ from 30)
  17. A Casa do Porco, São Paulo, Brazil (↑ from 39)
  18. Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy (↑ from 29)
  19. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan (↑ from 22)
  20. DiverXO, Madrid, Spain (↑  from 75)
  21. Hiša Frako, Kobarid, Slovenia (↑ from 38)
  22. Cosme, New York City (↑ from 23)
  23. Arpège, Paris, France (↓ from 8)
  24. Septime, Paris, France (↓ from 15)
  25. White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia (↓ from 13)
  26. Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy (↑ from 31)
  27. Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico (↓ from 24)
  28. Benu, San Francisco, USA ( ↑  from 47)
  29. Reale, Castle di Sangro, Italy (↑ from 51)
  30. Twins Garden, Moscow, Russia (↓ from 19)
  31. Restaurant Tim Raue, Berlin, Germany (↑ from 40)
  32. The Clove Club, London, UK (↓ from 27)
  33. Lyle’s, London, UK (Same)
  34. Burnt Ends, Singapore (*NEW ENTRY*)
  35. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China (↑ from 48)
  36. Hof Van Cleve, Kruishoutem, Belgium (↑ from 43)
  37. SingleThread, Healdsburg, USA (↑ from 71)
  38. Boragó, Santiago, Chile (↓ from 26)
  39. Florilège, Tokyo, Japan (*NEW ENTRY*)
  40. Sühring, Bangkok, Thailand (↑ from 45)
  41. Alléno Paris au Pavilion Ledoyen, Paris, France (↓ from 25)
  42. Belcanto, Lisbon, Portugal (Same)
  43. Atomix, New York, USA (*NEW ENTRY*)
  44. Le Bernadin, New York, USA (↓ from 36)
  45. Nobelhart & Schmutzig, Berlin, Germany (*NEW ENTRY*)
  46. Leo, Bogotà, Colombia (↑ from 49)
  47. Maaemo, Oslo, Norway (↑ from 55)
  48. Atelier Crenn, San Francisco, USA (↓ from 35)
  49. Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain (↓ from 14)
  50. Wolfgat, Paternoster, South Africa (*NEW ENTRY*)