Fourteen chefs from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list relive the meals they’ll never forget.
Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 19
All the world is in love with Nordic cuisine and the rapture continues for Rasmus Kofoed, who presents the flavours and textures of the region’s wild and organic produce at his restaurant in the national soccer stadium.
“About five years ago, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience attending a dinner in one of the elaborate dining halls at the Palace of Versailles. Some good friends invited me, as a surprise birthday gift, to a special dinner prepared by several two- and three-Michelin-starred chefs. The whole experience was magical, from entering the palace to looking up at the ceilings and the surroundings while enjoying a beautiful meal. It made me dream about what it would have been like to have dined there with Louis XIV.”
Arzak, San Sebastián, Spain
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 30
The restaurant has been in her family for generations and now Elena Arzak carries the torch for New Basque cuisine, creating dishes such as sea bass served on an electronic tablet showing images of the ocean.
“Sometimes your dream is close to home. I love fish and always look forward to grilled turbot in season at Elkano in the lovely fishing village of Getaria, about half an hour from San Sebastián. My grandmother was obsessed with fish – she taught my father and me how to choose the best raw ingredients. Chef Aitor Arregui is tireless in his search for the perfect fish each season. The turbot is cooked whole on the charcoal grill outside the restaurant and finished with salt and a special vinaigrette that melds with the juices of the fish. It’s lovely and gelatinous, especially the tiny rice-shaped bits between the fins. In July, they stuff baby squid with caramelised onion – another favourite!”
Eleven Madison Park, New York City, USA
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 1
When he dropped out of school in Switzerland at the age of 14, Daniel Humm would never have guessed that in his 40th year he would be lauded as the greatest chef in the world. At Eleven Madison Park, he takes inspiration from the city around him to create fine-dining nirvana.
“One of my favourite restaurants in the entire world is Zürich’s Kronenhalle. Being from Switzerland, I love that it captures the old-school glamour of Zürich. Many of the delicious, classic Swiss dishes are served tableside by the warm and friendly staff. There’s also a bar with walls covered in amazing works of art by the likes of Picasso, Miró and Chagall – it’s one of the most impressive collections I’ve seen outside a museum. Legend has it that, back in the day, these famous artists would use paintings as currency and the restaurant has held onto them. It’s an experience that truly transports you to another place in time.”
Amber, Hong Kong, China
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 24
Time spent with renowned French chefs Alain Passard and Pierre Gagnaire has given Dutch-born Richard Ekkebus the classical skills to develop a contemporary, produce-driven style of his own.
“As a young man, I travelled through India. In Jaisalmer, I met a French documentary maker shooting a film about the Rabari people who travel through the desert between Rajasthan and Pakistan. Each night, as we travelled with the Rabari, they would bake the most amazing bread, along with the best potato and vegetable curry I have ever had. Being surrounded by a thousand camels under the most incredible sky of stars must have impacted the overall experience and I would retake that trip in a heartbeat.”
Steirereck, Vienna, Austria
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 10
He grew up working in his parents’ restaurant and, after training in France and the UK, Heinz Reitbauer returned to his homeland to become a partner in the family business, where he puts a contemporary, creative spin on Austrian cuisine.
“The meals I still dream of are the ones I had at my grandmother’s house. She was a woman with a passion for cooking and she inspired me and made me decide to become a chef. Her kitchen was simple – just fresh herbs and vegetables from her garden but they were cooked with love. I could taste that in every spoonful. My grandmother died last year at the age of 101 and, until the end, she loved good food.”
Mirazur, Menton, France
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 4
His Italian and Argentine heritage, along with a location on the French Riviera, offers a wealth of inspiration for Mauro Colagreco. He shops at the local fish market and collects produce from his own farm to create dishes such as his signature oyster with tapioca, shallot cream and pear.
“I had an unforgettable experience at Le Calandre near Padua in Italy. The whole meal was delicious and for dessert we went to a different room, chef Max Alajmo’s ‘office’. They said we were there because we were being served a very personal dessert made in homage to Alajmo’s newborn and that the dish represented the pregnancy from beginning to end. The presentation was nine small portions, each with different ingredients, textures and tastes, moving from sweet to acid and bitter at the end to represent childbirth. It was the first and only time I’ve ever cried while eating a dish – maybe because my wife had recently given birth.”
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 41
This provocative French chef utilises technology – video, audio, scents, lighting – to enhance his unexpected dishes, served to just 10 people each night at a single table.
“A meal at Asador Etxebarri, close to Bilbao, Spain, was certainly one of the most impressive. Victor Arguinzoniz is an icon among chefs. He is an open-fire grill master, wrapping dishes in smoke, getting the best out of each product and seasoning to perfection with a simple condiment or counterpoint that lifts each bite. It’s a lesson about excellence in simplicity.”
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 36
British culinary history is the inspiration for the restaurant helmed by Ashley Palmer-Watts. He’s been working with Heston Blumenthal for almost 20 years, including when The Fat Duck was awarded its third Michelin star.
“I was 28 and in Sydney with Heston, cooking for the Starlight Foundation with Neil Perry, Guillaume Brahimi, Thomas Keller and Tetsuya Wakuda. After the event, at midnight, Tetsuya took us to his office. It had an incredible kitchen at one end and we sat around a traditional sushi counter as he started to prepare some food. He explained they weren’t his restaurant dishes but he wanted to show us the very best Australian produce. We were drinking magnums of Dom Pérignon, Salon and old bordeaux. I was a young chef, tasting the most amazing flavours and sitting next to Thomas Keller and the other great chefs while Tetsuya cooked. It was an experience I will remember forever.”
Brae, Birregurra, Australia
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 44
After working at Spain’s Mugaritz, Dan Hunter returned to Australia to transform the Royal Mail Hotel in regional Dunkeld into a gourmet destination. Now at Brae, 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, he continues to bring a love of foraging and native ingredients to the kitchen.
“I’ve been lucky to have had some really detailed personal dining and hospitality experiences in my life but some of the longest-lasting memories have come from quite simple and unexpected dishes. One that still stands out is a tom yum soup I ate in Thailand in a car park in Sukhothai in 1998, served to me by a woman using a single burner attached to the front of a bicycle. I couldn’t believe the depth, complexity and perfect balance of this thin, water-like soup and that it came from such a simple set-up. It’s still a reference for me today and a reminder that great cooking will always be about technique and understanding rather than gadgets.”
Central, Lima, Peru
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 5
Cooking food that you’d find elsewhere in the world is not Virgilio Martínez’s style. His exploration of traditional Peruvian ingredients has led to the creation of a distinctive, highly praised cuisine. His ambitious new project, Mil, a 40-seat restaurant above the Inca ruins of Moray in the Sacred Valley, near Cuzco, is due to open next month.
“Elkano in Spain’s Basque Country was memorable, not just one time but the three times I’ve been there. This is the place where cooks love to go when we are in love with fish. They serve the whole fish, cooked to perfection on a parrilla, with no fuss. The place has no special effects, no modernity – they cook traditionally and with emotion. There’s no fine dining and no tasting menu and you can watch chef Aitor Arregui, who used to be a football player, deboning your fish in the kitchen.”
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, USA
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 11
There’s no menu at Dan Barber’s Upstate New York restaurant. Instead, guests are presented with a series of morsels created using ingredients sourced from the paddocks and gardens at Stone Barns – diners are often taken on a farm tour – and some of its neighbouring properties.
“I still remember every bite that I had at Aponiente near Cádiz, Spain. How do you forget a meal that starts with phytoplankton bread? The chef, Ángel León, told me that he wanted the taste and aroma of the ocean to linger throughout the entire meal – and it did. Ángel’s food is humble – or maybe reverent is a better word. He breaks rules, not with wild juxtapositions but by looking to the sea to define his cuisine.”
Restaurant André, Singapore
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 14
Born in Taiwan and trained in France, André Chiang worked in some of the world’s top kitchens before refining his Octaphilosophy theory of cooking, based on the eight elements – unique, pure, texture, memory, salt, south, artisan, terroir – that inspire him.
“Two years ago, my wife, my sous-chef and I were having lunch at Eleven Madison Park in New York because I’m friends with Daniel [Humm] and [co-owner] Will [Guidara]. My wife mentioned we were messy because there were a lot of breadcrumbs on the table. ‘Why doesn’t anyone ever think to put a chicken on the table to eat the crumbs?’ she said. A few minutes later, the waiter brought out a wooden chicken, put it on the table and said it was to eat the crumbs. One of the courses they made for me was a pig’s ear salad because in a very old interview I’d said I would want to eat that as my last meal. It was very touching and every little detail required a lot of effort. It’s not about using the most expensive ingredients and crockery but about what guests will remember.”
Attica, Melbourne, Australia
World’s 50 Best Restaurants: No. 32
He was born in New Zealand but Ben Shewry’s style is embedded in Australia. He includes kangaroo, emu and wallaby on his menu and other native ingredients play a key role in the formation of his creative dishes.
“In 2011, I arrived in Copenhagen in the Danish winter on the back of a visit to France, where I spoke at a symposium. It was horrible: -10°C and blowing a gale. I’d been friends with René [Redzepi] for years and he’d visited me in 2006. I went to Noma with no expectations but the crew has a unique way of looking after people and I was touched by their generosity and hospitality. I was with a friend and neither of us had any money. They came up to us at the start and asked what we wanted and I said, ‘Give us everything you’ve got.’ Then I immediately thought, ‘What does that mean? I probably can’t even afford it.’ I was worried for the entire meal but the bill came out and René had handwritten ‘zero’ on it. It just about made me cry.”
Top image: Rasmus Kofoed