The World's 50 Best Restaurants – why is it so important?



So what are the awards and why are they so damned important?
Well, partly it's down to genius marketing on behalf of Restaurant Magazine - the UK title that came up with the first list back in 2002. They cleverly positioned the list as a way of finding out which restaurants chefs and critics rated on a worldwide scale (although the first list was fairly British-focused).

Chefs, as you'd imagine, are a deeply competitive lot, and it's no good knowing that you're one of four chefs in the UK with three Michelin stars when what you really want to know is who's the best of all – the real number one.

What difference can it make to a restaurant to feature on the list?
In 15 years the World’s 50 Best list has gone from being a relatively parochial magazine feature to a slick operation whose publication can turn relatively unknown restaurants into supernovas.

When Noma took over the No 1 slot from El Bulli, it received 100,000 phone calls in the days following its elevation to the top restaurant. That’s some boost – they had to build a completely new reservations system to cope.

How does voting work? Is it all very secret squirrel?
In terms of how it works, the voting panel is split into 26 regions. Each region’s panel is headed up by someone considered to be prominent when it comes to restaurant journalism. The chairperson is asked to bring together a panel of 40 people, each of whom can cast 10 votes on restaurants they’ve dined at over the past 18 months. We've been on the panel before and if you're on it you're asked to vote for a variety of restaurants both in your country and outside it. And there you have it – a group of over 1000 writers, chefs and restaurateurs whose opinion has become critical to chefs and restaurateurs the world over.

What’s the controversy? There’s always a controversy…
And the World’s 50 Best Restaurant List is no different. There’s been plenty of talk about jury members voting for restaurants they haven’t eaten at – there’s no requirement for them to show any proof that they’ve eaten there.

‘They should require a bill from each judge for every restaurant he votes for, and try to control the lobbies by annually changing all the members of every jury,' Ferran Adrià, owner of El Bulli, told The New York Times. 'That’s the way for the list to gain credibility.’ While Heston got in on the debate this year, suggesting it should be called World's 50 Favourite Restaurants (not quite so catchy).

There's also been concern that it's possible to skew the system by tourist boards throwing epic food press trips which in turn makes it easier for judges to vote for restaurants in those countries.

So while it's not a case of the Golden Globes and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association by any stretch, the World's 50 Best isn't the restaurant world's equivalent of the Academy either.

So should I care whose restaurant makes it on to the list?
Well, if you’re at all food-obsessed and let’s face it, if you weren’t you wouldn’t be reading this – you’ll care because it’s always good to know where chefs and critics eat  when they have to spend their own money. The winning restaurant will also have a profound effect on restaurant trends – the huge move towards foraged food was all down to Rene Redzepi and his woodland-frisking chefs at Noma. So yes, it's certainly newsworthy.