As was rumoured, Copenhagen's Noma finally made it to the top of the global culinary tree yesterday with the announcement yesterday that it has been voted the world's best restaurant, as compiled by a number of chefs and food writers for Restaurant Magazine.
The head chef and owner is Rene Redzepi. It couldn't have happened to a nicer and more deserving man.
I have met Rene a few times, interviewed him for newspapers and on BBC radio, and been lucky enough to eat at Noma a couple of times. I have unbounded respect for what he has achieved at his understated, Modern Nordic-rustic dining room by the harbour in Copenhagen (I've also let him have walnuts from my garden, so can proudly boast to be an – occasional – Noma supplier). Rene stuck to his guns in sourcing his produce exclusively from the Nordic region, and taking a defiant stand against the hitherto global dominance of French cuisine in the rarefied field of 'fine dining'.
That wasn't easy in the early days when Danish food meant fried pork fat and herring and Copenhagen diners paying Noma-style prices expected sticky veal stock reductions, foie gras and all the fripperies of the Grande Tables of Paris, but he stuck at it and has slowly developed one of the most intellectually refined, principled and dazzling cuisines in the world.
He is a deserved successor to Ferran Adria (whose soon-to-close El Bulli drops a place to No2) and it's going to be fascinating to see how this modest and committed man adopts that mantle and exploits it (or not) to move his career and earnings forward in the next year or so.
In other words, is he going to sell out and launch a range of ready meals and product endorsements in the manner of Heston with Little Chef and Haagen Daz ice cream?
Somehow I doubt it, but I wouldn't blame him if he did. He has a beautiful young family and lives a far from lavish lifestyle. A man at the very top of a punishingly competitive and demanding profession, he deserves all the rewards that this new found glory can bring.
Now the 'but'. You could sense it coming, couldn't you?
I have no 'buts' about Noma's food being the world's best (assuming we agree that something as subjective as food can be judged like that), but if I had to come up with a criticism it would be that Noma is just not a match for the greatest restaurants in Tokyo, New York, Paris or London in terms of atmosphere, decor or its sense of drama. I am sure Rene would argue that the subdued, understated nature of his dining room focusses attention on the food, and that the food deserves your attention is beyond doubt. And who am I to argue with him? So I won't.
The next but is my perennial bleating about the list's perplexing blind spot regarding Japanese restaurants. In the last list they claimed that London's Nobu was the best Japanese restaurant in the world, which is like saying Cafe Rouge is the best French restaurant in the world. This time round, Nobu is nowhere to be seen, and at least the top Japanese restaurant is actually in Japan – Les Creations de Narisawa, in Aoyama.
Narisawa is a tremendous cook (I tried his soil soup once, and was stunned – in a good way) but his is a Japanese-French fusion restaurant which, again, is a little odd. Surely there is a place in the top ten for one of the great kaiseki restaurants of Kyoto or Tokyo. Or perhaps many of the San Pelligrino judges don't really 'get' the beauty, seasonality, flavours and techniques of Japanese haute cuisine. In which case, what business do they have judging an international restaurant ranking?
Anyhoo, I'm going to be eating at the No48 on the new list at the weekend – it's Ryugin and, I am pleased to say, serves wholly Japanese cuisine.
I'll let you know how it was next week.