BANGKOK - Bangkok is now the foodie city to watch, after it snagged top spots on this year's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list.
Australia-born chef David Thompson's Nahm took the No. 1 spot, knocking Narisawa in Tokyo to second place, while Indian restaurant Gaggan in the Thai capital came in third, up seven spots from last year.
On his win, chef Thompson says: "It's silly, isn't it? I think it's quite ridiculous. The list is just a snapshot of what people think. Whether it's from one to 50 or one to 100, the difference isn't that much. It's all about luck.
"All of the other chefs do the same arduous hard work, day in and out, and will continue to do so."
The list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards was announced on Monday at Capella Singapore hotel on Sentosa. It is an offshoot of the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, to be announced in April in London. Both are organised by publisher William Reed Business Media and sponsored by S. Pelligrino and Acqua Panna.
The two-year-old Asia list is created from The Diners Club World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy, with more than 900 industry experts in the restaurant scene from 26 regions worldwide. Each region has a panel of food critics, chefs and restaurateurs who cast seven votes each.
Thompson's Nahm debuted on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list in 2012 at No. 50 and jumped to No. 32 a year later. He will be opening Long Chim at Marina Bay Sands later this year.
Other Thai restaurants on the list include Sra Bua By Kiin Kiin (No. 21), Bo.lan (No. 28), Issaya Siamese Club (No. 31) and Eat Me (No. 37).
Mr Aun Koh, co-founder of the now-defunct Asian dining list The Miele Guide and one of the academy members, says: "Given the political climate in Bangkok now, having two top restaurants from Bangkok is fantastic. I hope this will bring back tourism to Bangkok, not only to dine at the restaurants on the list but to also be part of its growing food scene - with both fine-dining and street food."
Restaurateur Ignatius Chan of Iggy's, which is No. 12 this year, says: "The list can be very controversial. Though the title says 'best', it's more of what is relevant at the moment that makes the list diverse and exciting. The focus may be on Bangkok, but Hong Kong and Singapore are always popular because we are the gateway destinations."
The top 20 on the list is still dominated by restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore, with seven and five in the list respectively.
On both dining destinations, chef Matthew Abergel of Yardbird in Hong Kong, which went up one spot to 45 on the list, says: "Singapore's scene is more refined and reserved, not as much personality. Hong Kong's dirtier and grittier."
The only new Singapore entry is Tippling Club by chef Ryan Clift, which debuted at No. 23. Three Singapore restaurants that were on last year's list, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon Singapore, Osteria Mozza and Gunther's, did not feature this year.
Clift, who calls Thompson a "f***ing legend", says: "We're stoked to be No. 23 as a first-time entry. I feel that the guide had better credibility this year and was much more serious. There's an even spread of restaurants in the countries."
While Narisawa may not be No. 1 anymore, Japan still has a strong representation on the list, with three Tokyo restaurants making their debut: Sukiyabashi Jiro (No. 38), Sawada (No. 41) and L'Effervescence (No. 25).
On his Japanese counterparts, chef Shinobu Namae of L'Effervescence says: "We are all friends and share our knowledge, techniques and philosophy.
"Restaurants such as Narisawa and Nihonryori RyuGin are always trying to break the boundaries and become more diverse, while respecting old Japanese customs as well."
Other featured destinations in the top 50 include New Delhi, Bali, Sri Lanka and Bangalore. After last year's list was announced, there were rumblings about how Taiwan and South Korea were not represented. This year, Taiwan's Le Mout (No. 24) and South Korea's Jungsik (No. 20) made it to the list.
Korean executive chef Jungsik Yim, 36, also received the award for the S. Pelligrino Best Restaurant in Korea and Highest New Entry. He says: "I was sad that there was no Korean restaurant on the list last year. But now, people are going to watch us, and I want people to know we have good cuisine. Coming to the event is a big motivation and I'm so excited that I get to know who's leading their country."
Mr Koh says: "I was upset that Korea wasn't on the list last year and I'm glad that Jungsik is recognised this year. Also, I think Malaysia has been overlooked and I hope it makes it next year."
Mr William Drew, editor of Restaurant magazine, which puts out the list, says: "No one knows who is on the list until it's created. We can't put Korea and Taiwan in, just to be politically correct.
"The first year was like an experiment, people didn't necessarily understand the list. But now there's more momentum and excitement and the list will get more diverse."
For the full list of winners, go to www.theworlds50best.com/asia
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