Stephen Jardine: Simply the best is a matter of taste

The World's 50 Best Restaurants list was published this week. Picture: TSPL
The World's 50 Best Restaurants list was published this week. Picture: TSPL
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WE ALL love a list. It’s hard to switch on the television without stumbling upon 100 Best Love Songs or 50 Worst Car Crashes.

These compilations are designed to fill the time between getting home from the pub and falling asleep on the sofa, but the publication this week of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants is a different matter.

Organised by Restaurant Magazine, the names are revealed like some great pronouncement from the culinary gods. The reality is less exciting.

The list is compiled by 900 members of the Diners Club World Restaurant Academy who, we are told, are gourmets – that description always conjures up the unpleasant image of Mr Creosote from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, just before he explodes.

The voting is organised into regional groupings. The chairman of the panel for Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and the Balkans is a man pictured using a straw to drink from a coconut. I say no more.

Apart from who chairs each region, the rest of the panel is a mystery. The voting criteria also gives little away. Each person votes for seven restaurants they have eaten in over the last 18 months. And that’s about it.

Somehow, out of that, the World’s Best Restaurants are decided.

I don’t have a problem with selection. Michelin sets the absolute standard for top-end restaurants and that choice is made according to clear criteria by real experts.

Likewise the upcoming Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards and the national Cateys decide their winners based on well-established guidelines.

But is Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca really the world’s best restaurant? And what moved it from runner-up to the top spot this year – a lighter mousse here, a fluffier foam there? We will never know.

At the moment, London is the hottest eating capital in the world with French and American chefs flocking to open restaurants. Yet Britain has just three restaurants in the top 50 – the same number that Spain has in the top 20. Scotland fares even worse with no representation at all. Given the quality of our chefs and the produce they have to work with, can that really be right?

I actually feel sorry for the restaurant that ends up on top of the list. Overnight, every table will be booked up by a slavering army of foodie fanatics who travel the world ticking off restaurants just as train spotters gather diesel locomotive numbers.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve been lucky enough to eat in Eleven Madison Park which is No. 5 on the top 50 list. It was lovely, but I’ve had much better meals in other places.

Despite the efforts of all concerned, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants comes across as dull, narcissistic and totally unbelievable.

Now a list of the world’s 50 worst restaurants… that would be interesting.