Lists, Stars & Hats

A Moveable Feast:  who is right and does it matter ?


Confused? Little wonder there is a plethora of opinions from endless sources about what makes the worlds best restaurants. Opinions and that’s all they are, but you have to start somewhere, and I guess industry experts and  chefs should have a pretty good idea but so do discerning consumers. The choice to eat at one particular establishment over another is influenced by a complex matrix of word of mouth; industry expert’s, chef’s and consumer rankings and personal bias. By its very nature it is a moveable feast, and can vary from one day to the next.

In contrast, the multitude of freely available Mr Brown’s opinion based internet sites are not discriminating. Populous’ reviews are often misleading and and should be considered with caution. I no longer give them the time of day, my life is always has a cup half full, a beautiful dining experience can easily be tainted. We have all experienced that difficult person or couple who ruin a great night out, Mr and Mrs Brown whinging about the chairs, whether arbitrarily a particular dish is to their liking and of course their portion of the bill, and their perception hadn’t entered your subconscious. Somehow it is human nature to be attracted to negative reviews, just ask food critic, Jay Rayner who  is bemused by the success of his ebook:

“I have been a restaurant critic for over a decade, written reviews of well over 700 establishments, and if there is one thing I have learnt it is that people like reviews of bad restaurants. No, scratch that. They adore them, feast upon them like starving vultures who have spotted fly-blown carrion out in the bush.” My Dining Hell: Twenty Ways to have a Lousy Night Out.

After all, its just someone else’s opinion, who is right and does it matter? From my point of view it does, but more importantly to the restauranteurs and chefs, their livelihood and reputation can be made, broken or changed forever by a less than favourable review. Every time I travel abroad, where I eat is of utmost importance to me, and the experience along the way is paramount. But first and final its about the food, yes the food, not the dam chairs.

Published lists by their very nature are biased and naturally favour the more populous areas. Inclusion of restaurants in remote locations has increased recently but to consider a list as a finality in itself is a nonsense. They often reflect experiences in the previous 12-18 months and cannot mirror the here and now. Recently published food critic and bloggers address this to some degree, but rely heavily on individual opinion. The restaurant world is so fluid, here one day gone the next and reinvention is the very nature of is this creative space.

The recent controversy created by the Oscars of the restaurant world, The World’s best 50 restaurants 2015, demonstrates how hard it is to please everyone and get it right! Dissent in the ranks!

Over time food devotees develops their own repertoire of references lists. I have attempted to compile a collection of what I have consider to be the most helpful. They serve as a starting point and will be fine tuned as lists and awards come and go.

Categories by place

When reviewing a list I always try and ascertain who has written it, independence and whether it reflects local expertise. Published articles on chef’s recommendations carry more weight than a list published by a business with vested interest.   There are a broad number of categories and sub categories related to location, industry expert, chef’s, and consumers opinion, subtypes, e.g. fine dining, street food etc or various awards such as one to watch, best new, chefs choice,  top female chef or lifetime recognition.

It is impossible to keep up with the next list, my twitter account is bombarded daily with the latest and greatest list for the best 10 somethings.

To name a few:

Global lists: e.g. The World’s 50 best Restaurants, Elite traveller’s best 100, Michelin stars

Continent lists: Africa, North Americas, South America, Asia, Australia together with Oceania, and Europe. Antarctica is currently not a dining destination,  heaven forbid one day one of our more creative chefs may consider a pop up restaurant in the big freeze.?  e.g. Best in North America, James Beard award, Top 50 Restaurants in Asia etc

Country by Country  lists: e.g. Australia, Europe, Great Britain, Thailand

Region by region lists: states and territories, country vs city etc e.g. best in California, best in country Victoria.

City by City : e.g.Best in Melbourne, Best in Bangkok etc

Categories by Opinion

Expert industry panel ranking and awards e.g. James Beard award

Chefs lists: “Where chefs eat”,

Food publication lists: The Age good food guide, Gourmet traveller best restuarants

Consumer ranking: Eater

Categories by Style of food

Fine dining, Casual, Cafe, Bars, Street food


Best female chef

Best pastry chef

Best young chef

Discerning: Having or showing good judgement:
“the brasserie attracts discerning customers”, ” If a cook does not get a discerning customer, all his efforts and culinary skills would be wasted.” Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Discerning people pick up on subtle traits and are good judges of quality – they’re the ones that can tell if your cupcakes are homemade from the finest ingredients or totally from a box mix.
Discerning is an adjective that comes from the Old French discerner, meaning to “distinguish (between), separate (by sifting).”  Vocabulary .com

Noma Japan, February 2015, where every morsel was savoured and umami from each dish, lingered so intensely that to take a bite of the next offering was almost sacrilege.  You knew you would have to say goodbye to a new best friend to make way for the next. Exploring the street food and food halls of Tokyo, provided the matrix to begin to understand what Rene Redezpi’s genius set out to achieve. At the end, I asked “What did you think about the food?'  “incredible”  Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy