50 BEST... PRESS TRIPS?
Polarised’ is a word that could just as easily be used for opinions in the food world. In the week that Friday spoke to Simon, the 2017 list of the world’s 50 best restaurants was announced, topped this year by New York’s Eleven Madison Park. The list has always been contentious but also celebrated – it’s the one that Copenhagen restaurant Noma topped for several years, bringing its chef, Rene Redzepi, global fame and putting Denmark on the foodie map. Chefs and the public follow its recommendations, but this year saw even more questions raised about how the list is compiled, and why there are so few female and minority chefs on there.
Simon calls it ‘one of the most specious things on the face of the planet’, and he should know – he was once on the panel of judges (‘I think I was only on once, probably I caused too much trouble – I was asking where to send my receipts to prove that I’ve been [to the restaurants he nominated] and I basically just had to fill in a form with what restaurants I like. That was it’)
‘I think it should be called 50 best press trips. That isn’t to say that some of the restaurants are not terrific – some of them are; some of them are awful. Mugaritz [this year’s number 9] was ghastly. [Asador] Etxebarri [this year’s number 6] was one of the best meals. There are some truly magnificent restaurants on there, but the notion of grading them is just a marketing exercise – and it’s a very silly one.’
It’s not all high-end dining, he hastens to add – ‘I have my $10 [Dh36.7) place that I go to and I have my $1,000 place that I go to, far less often. I can go to French Laundry and have a wonderful time and go to a $10 taco place and have a wonderful meal. And equally I can have a bad meal in both places. It’s finding the genuine, with real integrity, and it’s about remembering the customer is first.’