Food is an essential part of the human experience. It transcends linguistic, cultural and social barriers to bring together people from all walks of life. The act of eating is much, much more than simply refuelling your body for the day’s activities. Eating a bland paste that contained an optimal nutritional profile would theoretically keep you in peak physical condition – but you’d no doubt be miserable gulping down the same thing day after day.
The importance that we attach to eating has allowed culinary professionals to have successful careers. Crafting delicious plates of food is an endeavour that blends artistic creativity with the measured calculation of a science experiment, and the men and women who dedicate their lives to food take it very seriously. Virtually all of us – with the exception of those who can’t even boil water properly – can cook, but only a small percentage have the technical know-how and the creativity to create something like a beef wellington (roast beef coated in paté de foie gras and wrapped in puff pastry).
The relative rarity of a truly great meal is why people absolutely adore going out to eat. Sure, greasy spoon restaurants are amazing in their own right – who can deny the satisfaction of biting into a bacon cheeseburger in the late hours of the night? – but the real magic happens in fine dining. World class chefs open up world class restaurants that create bold and sublime dishes which burst with unique flavours and sensations. A truly great fine dining experience is just that, an experience unto itself, much more than a simple meal. There are thousands of amazing restaurants all across the world, and some that have yet to be truly discovered, which makes ranking them a very difficult task. Even so, culinary professionals have gotten together year over year and tried to make a ranking system and these are the results. These are the 10 greatest restaurants on Earth.
#10 The Ledbury – London, UK
Australian-born chef Brett Graham runs this nonchalant restaurant in West London that quietly serves up some of the best food in the world. Located at 127 Ledbury rd. The Ledbury has been open since 2005, when Graham started it with his business partner Nigel Platts-Martin. The restaurant focuses on serving up traditional French food with an English and Australian twist. Much of the menu is based on game meats and relatively underused vegetables and herbs. Although it’s attracted international attention, The Ledbury still maintains a very down-to-earth feel. Make sure to sample the loin of roe deer should you be in the area.
#9 Alinea – Chicago, USA
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Alinea. Chef Grant Achatz’s restaurant in Chicago, Illinois is as well-known for its theatrics as it is for the food it whips up. The building itself is separated into 4 sections, giving diners the feeling of a more private meal. The lighting is constantly shifting to alter the mood, and the food itself is part of the spectacle. Dishes are frequently plated at the table, and there are some menu choices that have been selected as much for their entertainment value as for their taste, such as the edible balloon made of dehydrated apple and the tabletop campfire made of charred parsnips. The innovative and eccentric tasting menu comprises 15 to 19 items, ensuring that diners who make the trek to Lincoln Park to sample Alinea’s wares are in for a memorable experience.
#8 Arzak – San Sebastián, Spain
Arzak is an institution in San Sebastián that was first opened in 1897 by head chef Juan Mari Arzak’s grandparents. The restaurant bears the family name, and has remained an important part of their familial makeup ever since – Juan Mari’s daughter Elena is second in command and the heir to the family restaurant. Juan Mari approaches traditional Basque foods with an inquisitive, scientific approach to the culinary arts. He uses modern techniques such as freeze-drying and dehydration to improve upon traditional dishes crafted using ingredients sourced from the local area. Be sure to order the squid with onion and lemon sauce, a basque favorite.
#7 D.O.M – Sáo Paolo, Brazil
Chef Alex Atala is a man on a mission to prove that haute cuisine isn’t just the realm of the Europeans. Slowly but surely, he’s spearheaded a movement to bring previously unknown South American ingredients and recipes to the forefront of fine dining. D.O.M’s menu is largely Brazilian and Amazonian, and all the dishes are cooked using ingredients native to the area. Atala has been known to go on jungle expeditions with botanists and other scientists deep into the Amazon, all in search of previously undiscovered or underutilized ingredients he can use for his menu. D.O.M is frequently cited as the best restaurant in South America, so if you’re ever in Sáo Paolo be sure to stop by.
#6 Mugaritz – San Sebastián, Spain
San Sebastián is home to not just one, but two of the world’s top ten restaurants. Mugaritz is world renowned thanks to chef Andoni Luis Aduriz’s bold and cheeky take on the dining experience. Mugaritz has no written menu. The tasting menu of 20 or so dishes varies somewhat from season to season, and illusion plays a big part. Every detail is meticulously controlled, from the smell that emanates from the front of the restaurant to the nonchalant way the tables are prepared. Unique dishes such as ‘edible stones’ – really potatoes disguised as stones – and shredded ice with scarlet shrimp are designed to offer a taste and experience unique to the restaurant.
#5 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London, UK
Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal attached his own name to his restaurant, but don’t be fooled, this isn’t an exercise in narcissism. Dinner is focused on bringing traditional British dishes to live in a modern setting, using the latest in cooking techniques and the freshest ingredients possible. While the restaurant is in itself quite beautiful, the food is no-nonsense and to the point, eschewing quirky aesthetics for a simple presentation designed to put the flavour of each dish at the forefront. The standout dish is a buttered crab loaf based off a recipe Blumenthal discovered from 1714.
#4 Eleven Madison Park – New York City, USA
The leading restaurant in North America can be found in its biggest city – New York – and is run by head chef Daniel Humm, who began working there in 2006 and purchased it from its original owner in 2011. Although it’s located in the Credit Suisse building, the menu doesn’t simply cater to the relatively benign tastes of bankers. The menu is contemporary American, and the dishes are crafted with the intention of showcasing local ingredients native to the New York state area. Presentation plays a key role; one of the signature dishes is a carrot tartare that’s created using a meat grinder that’s brought to the table, which grinds up fresh carrots onto a plate with sides such as quail egg yolk and shaved fresh horseradish. If you’re ever in the NYC area, this is simply a must.
#3 Osteria Francescana – Modena, Italy
While Italian food may be beloved around the world – and deservedly so – it’s generally less open to evolution and more attached to tradition than most culinary cultures, which is exactly why Osteria Francescana is such a breath of fresh air. Chef Massimo Bottura’s menu is divided into 3 sections; traditional Italian fares, established modern Italian dishes, and then an innovative and eccentric take on Italian cuisine. The restaurant does all 3 kinds of food so, so right. Try the tortellini with parmesan sauce before moving on to the more adventurous ‘camouflage’ – thin layers of foie gras decorated artfully with spices designed to make it look like a military camouflage pattern.
#2 El Celler de Can Roca – Girona, Spain
Spanish cuisine has been soaring to new heights in recent years. The Spanish sphere of influence includes Catalonian cuisine – although if you ask a Catalan he may not agree with that assessment. El Celler de Can Roca is a family-run restaurant that’s owned by the Roca brothers – Joan Roca, Jordi Roca, and Josep Roca. The cuisine is traditional Catalan fare with a distinctly modern flavour, much of it derived from seafood such as king prawns and razor clams. The unpretentious atmosphere creates a laid back dining experience that is paradoxically both unremarkable and elegant. It is the supreme incarnation of Catalan cuisine.
#1 Noma – Copenhagen, Denmark
The undisputed best restaurant in the world isn’t found in London, New York, Milan, or Paris. No, you’ll have to take a short flight over to Denmark to discover the restaurant that is pushing the limits of culinary creativity further than they’ve ever been pushed before. Noma is a restaurant headed by chef René Redzepi that specializes in updating traditional scandinavian cuisine for modern palettes. Some of the dishes can be somewhat shocking for the unprepared – beef tartar with ants, winter potatoes cooked in fermented barley – but those who enter with an open mind never leave disappointed. Noma recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and in that time has brought Nordic cuisine to international attention and almost single-handedly opened up an entirely new world in haute cuisine.