Restaurant Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants – Get Out More

Every year, Restaurant magazine makes some noise with their Top Restaurants list. The 2007 list was recently announced and it’s full of puzzling entries. The magazine bills itself as “for the quality end of the restaurant business” but any list containing references to Nobu London conflicts with that stated purpose. Alas, Restaurant magazine is a business and controversy helps attract viewers.

It’s everyone’s favorite past-time no matter the hobby – car people argue about what make, model, and modifications will triumph the next; food people argue what restaurant/chef can win a theoretical Iron Chef battle, pitting dish against dish. I consistently make comparisons in my own blog, and I’ve eaten at a fair number of the ranked restaurants, so I’ll offer some quick comments.

The Restaurant magazine list can be found here.

According to their rules, a selected voter picks 5 restaurants with no more than 2 from their own region. If I were a voter, my picks would be:

  1. Michel Bras
  2. L’Arpege
  3. Manresa
  4. Urasawa
  5. Pierre Gagnaire

With this group vying for a spot if I had 10 choices:

  1. Keyah Grande (yes, the chefs have moved on, but this meal was in 2006.)
  2. Can Roca
  3. Fat Duck
  4. Mugaritz
  5. Regis Marcon

Here are my gripes with the Restaurant magazine list:

1. Where’s Manresa?
It made #38 on the 2005 list, fell off the 2006 list, and it doesn’t re-appear for 2007. If you read my many reviews, you’ll see the restaurant is only getting better. It has made gigantic strides in the last 2 years and a meal there should easily make it into this list’s top 15.

2. French Laundry / Per Se as American’s top restaurants
A lunch or dinner at The French Laundry is a highly recommended experience but the restaurant continues to be mythologized. I’d rank Manresa, Urasawa, Providence, Keyah Grande, Jean Georges, Alinea, and Le Bernardin as better American meals. Per Se, on the other hand, doesn’t belong on this list if my single meal is representative of the restaurant.

3. The Top 3
Is not a bad itinerary for those fanatical about food. They could go in any order and one couldn’t complain. Pierre Gagnaire has the most demonstrated potential but his spontaneous cooking style can hamper a meal quickly. The Fat Duck is consistent but then it rarely changes its tasting menu. My El Bulli meal was very good but it seemed that its contemporaries had caught up with it.

4. The Outliers
Nobu London is not a top-tier restaurant; it’s an assembly line in the Nobu factory. Chez Panisse at #40 might be accurate but not when you consider the lack of American restaurants ahead of it. L’Arpege, just 3 spots behind at #43, can better cook a similar cuisine with, believe it or not, much better vegetables. Peter Luger at #69 is just odd; it can be a great steak, but that’s all it is. Zuni at #98 is equally odd; it’s a fine bistro but there are at least 5 better restaurants in San Francisco alone.

5. Some Obvious Omissions
Where’s Providence? I had one meal but it should easily make this list considering the company. Urasawa is a world-class restaurant that should easily make the top 15. I had one lunch at Ledoyen recently but it was first class; however, it’s not en vouge with many eating circles. My Eigensinn Farm meal was a miss but I’m sure it belongs on the list.

6. Glad to See Some Omissions
Cordeillan Bages has way too much hype. Pic recently received three Michelin stars; it’s good to see that disaster way back at #70. Cyrus here in the Bay Area is way over-hyped too – good to see they didn’t make it. Moto was a train wreck.

7. Do the Reviewers Really Get Out?
How wide does the review committee cast their net? Do they make it out to the heartland? Keyah Grande would have easily made the list if they ventured into the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t a fan of Blackberry Farm but I could see the restaurant making a list like this. What about McGrady’s in Charleston? This Acqueous meal looks astounding.

It is what it is – a list made by consensus using people of very different gastronomic backgrounds and preferences. It’s a pastiche that many people will probably best use to identify possibilities on an upcoming trip. It’s a conversation piece that gives foodies something to talk about over dinner. Based on my experience, don’t take it anywhere near gospel.

  • Paul

    These votes are always very subjective, you mentiondNobu as nothing more than a production line, and i agree with you because the food in there is average at best and is not a patch on the Japanese food you can get at Sushi-Hiro and it’s half the price, the only reason i can think that is on that list is because it is very fashionable anf is frequented by the in vouge glitterati eg Kate Moss, Siena Miller, Niomi Campbell, Jude Law etc etc and the rest of there coke head friends, and as for the Top 50 Restaurants In The World List i can think of three restuants off the top of my head that are IMO as good as the Fat Duck and there are Hibiscus, Le Chapignon Souvage and Micheal Caines at The Gidleigh Park Hotel, and yet while the Fat Duck remaines at the nimber 2 spot for the second year running those previous three resturants are not even in the top 50, and if it was not so sad it would be laughable

  • ulterior epicure

    I haven’t been to nearly as many as you have, but I would have to agree with your first question and certainly agree with your observations in point #2. Certainly, I think most people would agree that this list, published by a British (I believe) group is highly Euro-centric.