Despite its ongoing political troubles, Thailand pulled in a stellar showing at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurant Awards this year, with its restaurants edging out popular Japanese frontrunners for coveted top spots on the industry-selected restaurant rankings.
At a ceremony to unveil the list's second edition last night at the Capella Hotel, traditional Thai fine-dining restaurant Nahm and molecular Indian restaurant, Gaggan, clocked in at first and third spots respectively. While there were no new entrants but a slight reshuffling among the top 15 ranked restaurants, Japan's Narisawa and Nihonryori Ryugin, ranked first and second last year, most notably fell to second and fifth spots respectively.
"This award is not just for me and my team but also for all the restaurants in Thailand," says chef-owner Gaggan Anand of his climb from 10th position last year. "It proves that there is a place for fine dining in Thailand, it's not just about street food."
"It's going to be a great year for Thai cuisine," says William Drew, editor of Restaurant magazine by William Reed Media in the UK, which compiles both the World's 50 Best and the Asia's 50 Best Restaurant List. "We hope this year's results will shine the spotlight on restaurants outside of Bangkok as well, we know there are many good restaurants around the country."
Flying the flag for Singapore are Restaurant Andre (6), Waku Ghin (7), Iggy's (12), Les Amis (14), Shinji by Kanesaka (35), and Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck (40).
Tipped as the "One to Watch" last year, Jaan atop Singapore's Swissotel The Stamford climbed up five notches from 22nd to 17th position this year, while previously unlisted The Tippling Club made its maiden entry to the list in 23rd place.
"Happy to get on the list finally," said chef-owner Ryan Clift of The Tippling Club, which relocated from Dempsey to Tanjong Pagar Road last December. "These rankings are based on the past year when we're in an old spot, but now that we're in a new building, we expect to do even better next year."
Tenku Ryugin, the Hong Kong outpost of fifth-ranked Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo, was this year's restaurant to watch, while the awards also recognised Lanshu Chen of French restaurant Le Mout in Taiwan who was crowned Asia's Best Female chef of 2014 and Family Li Imperial Cuisine's owner and executive chef Ivan Li.
Chef Li who was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts to preserve China's food culture through the guarded recipes handed down by his great grandfather, who ran the imperial kitchens in Beijing's Forbidden City in the Qing dynasty.
In the overall tally, China clocked in as the country with most restaurants on the list with its 16 entries; followed by Japan and Singapore with 10 and eight restaurants respectively. Criticised for not being sufficiently inclusive last year, this year's rankings included new entries from previously unrepresented territories such as Taiwan's Le Mout and South Korea's Jungsik.
This Asian list is a spin-off from the annual World's 50 Best Restaurants, the 2014 edition of which will be announced in London in April. A Latin American version of the list was also inaugurated last September.All three lists are based on the same global poll of more than 900 restaurateurs, chefs, food critics and recognised foodies from 26 separate regions around the world, six of which are in Asia.
Besides last night's awards ceremony, the Asia's 50 Best Restaurant Awards this year incorporated a two-day forum and workshop component comprising panel discussions and cooking demonstrations.
On Sunday, visiting culinary heavyweights such as Bjorn Frantzen of two-Michelin starred Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm, Ben Shewry of Melbourne's Attica restaurant, Nahm's David Thompson and Singapore's Andre Chiang weighed in on topics such as foraging and sourcing for sustainable ingredients in Asia, keeping to authenticity in innovation, and the global rise of the celebrity chef.
Local culinary students and regional chefs who flew in for the event could also sign up for intimate cooking demonstrations conducted earlier yesterday by luminaries such as Spanish chefs Eneko Atxa of three Michelin-starred Azurmendi and newly opened Phuket restaurant Aziamendi, and Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, which topped the World's 50 Best list last year.
"The Asian list is a fantastic way to give Asian chefs and restaurant owners something to work towards, and also for the world to recognise the great work being done here," said Mr Roca. "We're fundamentally still the same since we were named the Best Restaurant last year - but yet everything has changed."
For the full list, go to http://www.theworlds50best.com/asia/en/
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