OWhen it comes to restaurant awards, there are few events that stir up the restaurant community quite like the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. As the title suggests, this is an annual list of 50 gourmet restaurants, voted on by more than 1,000 food professionals around the world.
The list, which has grown to dominate the global scene since its inception in 2002, was originally published by a UK trade publication, Restaurant. In the early years, it was a London-based event, where the global hospitality elite gathered to celebrate. Pre-social media, it was a rare opportunity for chefs to come together and share ideas.
That’s what makes it so special.
Over the years, the event has grown, with award ceremonies held in New York, Melbourne, the Basque Country, Singapore and Flanders. It’s big business for 50 Best now – the brand rolls out of the mouths of food lovers with as much ease as a “Michelin star”.
For the chefs and restaurateurs who make the list, the experience becomes almost mythical, a place in restaurant history. Never mind the publicity if this restaurant is in the late 50s in the single digits – the culinary equivalent of a secret handshake.
The voting system and final list still enjoys mixed reviews from those in the restaurant industry, going from “irrelevant, arbitrary and Eurocentric” to “essential culinary temperature control”.
Not to mention the media. This year, US food publications Bon Appétit and Grub Street called the list “disconnected” and “more ridiculous than ever.” The two still published the rankings.
Call it out of reach, call it fake, call it arbitrary and irrelevant. There is no doubt that the top 50 in the world are influential.
This is why Australia’s placement on this list has long been a sore point. The nation has rarely topped the top 50 with more than a single restaurant. The only place to consistently rank was Ben Shewry’s upscale Ripponlea restaurant, Attica, which disappeared from the list altogether in 2019. Elsewhere, Brae in Birregurra came in at 44 in 2017, and Quay enjoyed a place for two consecutive years in 2012 and 2013.
This year, as in 2019 and 2021, Australia has no restaurants in the top 50. In the long list, which ranges from 51 to 100, there is only one Australian restaurant – Melbourne’s Gimlet at number 84 This is Australia’s worst performance. in a decade.
Is it the tyranny of remoteness from Europe, where the majority of voters are based? The numbers certainly suggest so, with 40 of the 1,080 voters based in Australia and Oceania.
“It’s not a question that Australian restaurants aren’t able to compete on the world stage, they absolutely do,” says Peter Gilmore, executive chef at Bennelong and Quay. “We just don’t get enough international voters to have the presence our culinary community deserves at these awards.
“A London-based reviewer could much more easily discover a restaurant in Spain, France and Germany in the past 18 months than a restaurant in Perth or Sydney. Australia has the talent but lacks a lot of international votes.
And let’s not forget Covid-19.
Pat Nourse, 50 best academy president for Australia and Oceania, says this year has been particularly difficult for Australia as it has been very difficult for anyone to travel here during the voting period (the 18 months until at the beginning of 2022). “If you can’t travel to Australia to eat at our restaurants, you can’t vote for them,” he says. “It was not the same situation for much of Europe, the United States and other parts of the world.”
On the serious lack of Australian representation on the list, William Drew, chief content officer of 50 Best, agrees with Nourse. “Australia has undoubtedly suffered in terms of representation as a result of the pandemic,” he says.
“The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list is an annual snapshot of opinion and reflects the state of the world during the voting period. While we adjusted voting rules to mitigate the fact that fewer people had been able to travel, the length and severity of lockdowns in different countries also affected voting patterns.
There’s also this somewhat uncomfortable idea that we, as Australian restaurant-goers, may be overestimating our talents on the global stage. This thought is very quickly closed by Gilmore. “Australia’s best restaurants are comparable in every way to the restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. As a country, it is a great disgrace to our international culinary reputation that few people understand or are aware of how the voting system works.
Monica Brown, director and founder of chef and restaurant management agency Lotus International, says Australians don’t support themselves as completely as they should. Brown, who currently represents chefs Josh Niland and Tetsuya Wakuda, says it’s time for Australians to learn to be comfortable with being world leaders in food. Saying how great we are, not just thinking it.
“We have a population that loves and celebrates the country’s produce, we have a wonderful array of skilled young talent, and we have traditional restaurants and restaurateurs. There is an energy in Australia that I have never felt elsewhere. It’s time we shouted a little louder.
Maybe it’s just cultural. Grand and starchy European dining experiences are rare here. Australian restaurants are very much geared towards less formal and more fun. Maybe it’s time we just stopped caring what the rest of the world thinks.
“I think our restaurants, even our best or at least the best-loved/award-winning ones, are generally Australian-friendly,” says Dan Hunter, chef and restaurateur at multi-award-winning regional Victorian restaurant Brae.
“Maybe it’s not always in tune with what’s happening in the most visited parts of the world. I think that’s good – for a while now we’ve been looking inside rather than outside. We are just who we are – mixed and independent.