by Aoife Moriarty
The fine dining scene is changing. Gone are the days of stuffy service, starched tablecloths and the mandatory hushed atmosphere. In their place, a more relaxed and casual approach with no real rules apart from this: exceptional quality and service.
There’s never been a more exciting time to launch our Elite Traveler Top 100 Restaurants 2015, which sees you, our readers, choosing your favorite dining establishments across the globe. This year, you voted in your droves for the best restaurants in a total of 63 different cities and towns, from San Francisco to São Paulo and Chicago to Shanghai.
Where Michelin was once the ultimate benchmark, word of mouth has begun to take precedence. The choices on our list reflect the diversity of the restaurants you are visiting and the level of choice available to the discerning traveler. In every major city, gastronomic outposts are specializing in everything from high end Brazilian street snacks to nouvelle cuisine and kaseiki cooking, catering to a truly global palette.
Topping our list for a fourth year in a row is Alinea, the ground-breaking Chicago restaurant of culinary wizard Grant Achatz. Its unique take on molecular gastronomy – balloons made of green apple taffy and desserts painted onto tablecloths – continues to impress you a decade on from its inception.
On receiving this year’s award, Achatz said: “I think a lot of the other ratings systems and guidebooks are taking note. Because, quite honestly, a lot of chefs tend to complain about the unfairness of certain systems. I think it’s really refreshing to have an evaluation based on people’s experience when you don’t even know that they’re in the restaurant. It’s really important for us to have that unbiased opinion come through.”
New York leads the way, with nine restaurants on the list and three – Le Bernardin, Eleven Madison Park and Per Se – in the top ten. The city has seen a culinary renaissance of late, embracing the switch to more casual dining. Evidence of this comes in the first time inclusion of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare and Daniel Humm’s NoMad Hotel restaurant, which offers a pared down version of the menu at his flagship venue, Eleven Madison.
The USA has the highest number of restaurants of any country on the countdown, accounting for almost a fifth of your choices, followed by the home of fine dining, France. The UK, Spain and Italy also make a strong showing in 2015 while Paris, London and Tokyo are the other highly rated cities behind NY.
But it’s not just the menus that are changing. So too is the way you are securing that all-important 8pm reservation. At Next, Achatz’s second culinary venture in Chicago, he and business partner Nick Kokonas have introduced an industry-changing booking system. Diners purchase ‘tickets’ for a meal rather than making a traditional reservation. The idea is set to be rolled out to over 450 high end restaurants this summer by Kokonas – including London’s Clove Club.
The restaurant landscape is undeniably changing, in more ways than one. “My philosophy is that every eleven to fifteen years, the culinary world flips upside down, “ says Achatz. “The young people go, ‘Well I don’t want to do what they did before.’ So the most obvious choice is to look at what’s happening, and run 180 degrees the opposite direction.” Who knows where the globe’s rising culinary stars will head to next. All that’s for certain is that you, our readers, will be ready to go there with them.