The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – some personal experiences
Greedy Girl lives and loves to eat – and if that entails hopping on some form of transport to somewhere far flung, all the better. Hungrily, she watched the recent announcement of the San Pellegrino World’s top 50 restaurants (well, they actually name 100 establishments) and contemplated fond memories of the places she’s been. Over the next couple of months, she’ll be visiting more from the list and will happily update this blog entry. But here goes with some reflections on those restaurants she’s been to so far.
Eleven Madison Park, NYC
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were lucky enough to dine here twice during a 2011 month-long stay in Manhattan. This was before chef Daniel Humm changed his approach to the menu, recently highlighted (and not in a good way) by Vanity Fair critic Corby Kummer.
Apparently now, your only option is a 15-course degustation which Kummer held was tantamount to force-feeding. Greedy Girl wishes to demur. It sounds like heaven to her.
Eleven Madison Park is in downtown NYC, a stone’s throw from the famed Flatiron Building and opposite the delightful Madison Square Park – not to be confused, visitors, with Madison Square Garden, which is near Penn Station. Occupying the ground floor of a building on the east side of the park, the dining room is hugely impressive, with incredibly high ceilings and a light, tranquil environment.
On our first visit, we enjoyed making choices under four subheadings available for savoury dishes, with a few special dishes, such as a whole roast duck, also on offer. Combined with several amuse bouches, palate cleansers, pre-desserts and a very nice surprise at the end of our meal (more on that later) it was probably closer to 10 courses. The staff were incredibly knowledgeable, efficient, friendly and forthcoming with information. We ordered a particular bottle of champagne (Greedy Girl has racked her brains but can’t remember the label name) and were alarmed to see it resting on a sideboard after opening, with ne’er an ice bucket to be seen. Our delightful British sommelier Rob explained how the characteristics of the champagne would change as it came up towards room temperature. He was right and it was delicious.
The reality of fine dining in sought-after NYC establishments is that, if you can get a table, it’s usually well outside peak periods. While hip and trendy Manhattanites might barely raise an eyebrow at the thought of starting dinner at 10pm, the very thought hurts Greedy Girl’s digestion. To that end, here at Eleven Madison Park as well as the other major establishments we sampled in New York, we were required to be seated very early. That usually means, you’re required to be out reasonably early too.
Eleven Madison Park had an amazing way of dealing with that; at the end of our meal, we were ushered into the kitchen by the Maitre D who gave us a specially prepared peach granita – almost a final palate cleanser rather than another dessert. We were then directed to a small lounge area, where a bottle of cognac was offered, along with a dish of petits fours and urged to relax and ‘take our time’. That’s the way to turn over a table!
The French-inspired menu is, well, inspired! We’d barely settled into our first evening, getting through the amuse bouches when the final one – a signature beet and goats cheese lollipop – had us in raptures. We immediately asked the wait staff if we could book a table for a return visit – on that occasion, we availed ourselves of the degustation. More courses, albeit many of them being the same as our first foray, demonstrated an extraordinary level of skill and an amazing palate from Humm and his team. While the team serving us was different, we once again connected with sommelier Rob who recommended more wine choices, including a delightful bottle of red from, of all places, Walla Walla.
As Australians, we immediately assumed it was an aboriginal name and therefore a local drop! Greedy Girl mined the recesses of her memory to remember that Walla Walla is actually in Washington state – on Bugs Bunny cartoons, the travelling salesmen were always from a company based in ‘Walla Walla, Washington’, a nice bit of alliteration there, but I digress …
At the end of this triumph of the senses, we were again directed to the lounge for the complimentary digestif, petits fours and a little goodie bag to take home, bellies bursting. Would Greedy Girl be up for the challenge of 15 courses next time she’s in NYC? You betcha! She can’t wait. Be quick on the draw if you try to book through Open Table where reservations are available 28 days in advance.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
Dinner roared straight to number 9 in the 2012 list, despite only being open a relatively short while – and it’s no surprise to Greedy Girl after enjoying one of the greatest meals ever, that it’s continued to climb the ladder in 2013.
This is a culinary trip down memory lane, where Heston and his team, led by Ashley Palmer-Watts interpret some ancient British recipes in outstandingly modern ways. The triple-cooked chips are worth the price of admission alone. If you manage to book well enough in advance, it’s quite easy to get into as well. Try Open Table to book online. It’s quite a large restaurant, with a lovely aspect over Hyde Park, from the back of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge. There are two blog entries. From the 2013 visit, you can read it here. Or check out my original blog entry in 2012 here.
This has been on the San Pellegrino list for five years and, last year, the staff were stunned and delighted to reach the dizzy heights of 11. Now in the top 10, Steirereck is inventive cooking, using traditional Austrian ingredients and techniques. Chef Heinz Reitbauer oversees the team in the kitchen while his wife Birgit is front of house with a personable, friendly team. The restaurant is in a very pretty location in the middle of Vienna’s Stadtpark. Standout dishes on our visit were porcini mushrooms done three ways and Pogusch lamb with sumac, medlar and fennel – as well as the amazing bread trolley. If you’re looking to book, you can email the restaurant direct.
Per Se, NYC
Greedy Girl has been a fan of Thomas Keller for a long time, having hungered after the opportunity to go to the French Laundry, about an hour’s drive out of San Francisco. On our trip to NYC in 2011, when Per Se was in the top 10 in the world, we exhausted all other leads to try to get a table and finally rang to beg. It worked!
We were required to be in Per Se’s lavishly-appointed dining room in the Time Warner Centre on Columbus Circle at 5.30pm – it absolutely felt like the early-bird special but the way the evening unfolded was anything but. Four-and-a-half hours later we waddled out after an exceptional evening of food, wine, service and ambience. From the start, where a range of different coloured, different flavoured salts was provided with the bread and butter, to the signature oysters and pearls dish (among the starters) and everything that went on from there, this was a perfectly delightful experience.
Apparently the oysters and pearls is a dish Keller brought with him from the French Laundry although, these days, he leaves the running of this kitchen to trusted lieutenants. The nine course tasting menu currently stands at US$295 so it’s not for the faint of budget. It is, however, an incredibly enjoyable and relaxing evening. The ambience of the room is quite lovely and a nice change from the noisy, crowded style that seems to pervade fine dining. While Per Se bookings are available through Open Table, Greedy Girl recommends you ring.
The Ledbury, London
Australian chef Brett Graham continues to wow diners in London’s leafy Notting Hill. The Ledbury climbed one spot on the list this year with an eclectic menu showcasing a wide variety of ingredients and styles – everything from ceviche to roebuck. The dining room has large windows opening to the street (a corner block) and, as a result, feels very light and airy. The staff are excellent here, with personality, humour and information in equal measure. FBookings are available through Open Table.
Le Bernadin, NYC
Chef Eric Ripert is a bona-fide celebrity in Manhattan and Le Bernadin has a serious reputation for French cuisine. Again, being highly in demand, it’s not easy to get into. It was another very early start (5.30pm) and for a restaurant not a million miles from the theatre district it was a perfect fine-dining spot if you’re off to a show. When you’re not, at this time, you feel like you’re out on the street again in a flash, having consumed four (rich) courses and a few glasses of wine. Going into a restaurant for dinner when the sun is still shining is one thing – coming out while it’s still blaring is another.
While the food (three of the four courses Greedy Girl chose featured foie gras) is very tasty and expertly prepared, the rush is disconcerting. Greedy Girl hopes to be able to experience the cuisine at a more leisurely pace at some point. The standout dish remains the yellowfin tuna with foie gras. Sigh. It looked beautiful and the taste matched. Le Bernadin offers four courses (prix fixe) for dinner, separated into ‘almost raw’, ‘barely touched’ and ‘lightly cooked’ followed by a dessert. The dining room, when Greedy Girl visited, was almost a throwback to 70s chic with curved, upholstered chairs and lots of wood panelling. Bookings are available through Open Table.
Using sustainable ingredients that showcase Japan’s best produce created with considerable skill and French-honed techniques, this is an extraordinary experience. As you’d expect for Tokyo, the menu is dominated by fish – including a ‘walk on the wild side’ with a dish of Fugu, the potentially lethal Japanese puffer fish. It’s finger lickin’ good. The evening at Narisawa is a triumph for the senses. The dining room is almost austere with a decidedly understated approach to decor but there’s no doubt the spotlight is on the food which is unfailingly attractive and tasty. The real French feel comes from the desserts. You’ll love your evening here.
Greedy Girl has had the privilege of dining at Ben Shewry’s Attica twice – a clear benefit of this being the top-ranked restaurant in her hometown. Like most great chefs, the New Zealand-born Shewry has signature dishes. At Attica it’s a dish of ‘potato cooked in the earth it was grown’ – a sublimely soft yet rich and satisfying plate of food. Shewry espouses a foraging approach to cuisine, featuring lots of herbs and greens from his own (and the restaurant’s) garden and a fair number of his dishes are ‘deconstructed’ (read, lots of crumbs).
The first visit to Attica was an absolute revelation. On the second visit, a very cold night in Melbourne not long after a major eating frenzy in Europe last year, Greedy Girl had a bad case of food fatigue and couldn’t even bring herself to blog about the experience. Having said that, it’s an exciting new experience in food and worth a plane trip. Take note – the restaurant is in the southern suburbs of Melbourne, in a fairly nondescript shopping strip near a railway line. Don’t let that put you off! For bookings, just ring the restaurant, or email a request.
L’Atelier Saint Germain de Joel Robuchon
Joel Robuchon is one of Greedy Girl’s favourite chefs. Having been to Saint Germain twice and to the franchised version in Singapore once, the consistency and delight of his food is a marvel to behold. The nature of franchised dining means often the dishes themselves are identical. For more details on the very delightful meals enjoyed there, please check out the blog L’Atelier Saint Germain de Joel Robuchon – the original and the best here, in Hong Kong in July 2013 here or the Singapore restaurant (both equally as good), here. Joel Robuchon’s website in Paris has a booking interface – which can behave erratically on tablet devices so check on your laptop or desktop.
Greedy Girl had the pleasure of trying Daniel Boulud’s refined food in his very glamourous dining room for her birthday in 2011. Boulud has done extremely well in North America with a big stable of establishments throughout NYC, Palm Springs, Miami, Toronto and Montreal. He can also be found in London and in Singapore – see the blog DB Bistro Moderne. But Daniel is the epicentre and a refined experience it is too.
The dining room is lush, on several levels and tests positive to crystal – lots of it. Male diners are required to wear a jacket and it was an opportunity for Greedy Girl to dress up. Again, the booking was only available for a relatively early hour but such was the enjoyment, when we were required to give up the table, we headed into the bar area for another cocktail. Boulud’s cooking is inspired by his roots in one of France’s culinary heartlands, Lyon, with some interesting twists in terms of ingredients and a thoroughly modern presentation. Bookings are available online through Open Table.
Amber, Hong Kong
Amber is helmed by Richard Ekkebus, a Dutchman with an obvious flair and passion for French cuisine – with a few influences from his adopted home town thrown in. It’s an elegant space, kept dark and moody. Amber offers two tasting menus and a la carte. The premium tasting menu was in celebration of Tasmanian black truffles. Greedy Girl can’t forget her last truffle degustation at, appropriately enough La Truffe, which proved you can indeed have too much of a good thing. Despite being shown an extremely impressive-looking black truffle by the wait staff, we opted instead for the standard eight-course menu.
Restaurant Andre, Singapore
Andre Chiang is a chef at the top of his game. Born in Taiwan and trained in France, it’s Singapore that has provided him with the opportunity to fully express himself. This is one of the more expensive menus you’ll experience but worth every penny. Andre espouses an approach to cooking he calls ‘Octaphilosophy’ which is eight courses each focusing on particular taste sensations – there’s also a host of amuse bouches and pre-desserts, so be prepared for a bursting belly. Bookings are available by calling or emailing.
This is one restaurant any visitor to Sydney should try to experience. The food here is excellent – chef Peter Gilmore is an inventive cook and has featured in locally-produced TV cooking contests setting gastronomic challenges – particularly his famed ‘snow egg’ dessert. One of the most memorable dishes Greedy Girl has experienced at Quay is the mud crab congee. Absolutely amazing. Quay is located upstairs on the end of the Overseas Passenger Terminal – so the view of the Harbour and the bridge is quite extraordinary. Be warned – quite often (summer in particular) the view is obstructed by rather large cruise ships docked at the terminal. When booking, ask for a table upstairs at the far end to maximise your outlook. There’s an online booking service on the Quay website.
And the others …
Greedy Girl’s faith in Iggy’s was restored after a visit to its new home at the Hilton Hotel in Singapore. While still at the Regent, it was a somewhat odd experience, particularly in terms of the textures of the food and the implements offered to eat each course with. Nonetheless, it was interesting food – although Greedy Girl didn’t consider it to be the best cuisine she had experienced in Singapore (at the time of visiting, it was the highest ranked restaurant in Singapore).
Waku Ghin, Singapore
This is Tetsuya Wakuda’s restaurant in Marina Bay Sands, which features several small teppanyaki-style rooms that seat around eight people on high chairs overlooking the central food prep area. Your own chef cooks most of the dishes in front of you, and if you’re lucky enough to be early and have the room largely to yourself, the chef is happy to chat and share tips. Generally though, the focus here is on exotic ingredients, much revered by Asian diners in particular such as abalone and sea urchin. The food was very good – it’s perhaps a little too ingredient-focused and subtle for Greedy Girl’s tastes. A nice touch is the main dining area where you are taken to for dessert, which offers a good view of the nightly light show outside Marina Bay Sands.
Les Amis, Singapore
This has been part of the fine dining scene in Singapore for a long time – and well deserved. In a side street alongside the Shaw Centre (on the corner of Scotts and Orchard Road), the Les Amis team has, in recent years, tried to branch out with a host of other restaurants in this development – some more successful than others. While some establishments have come and gone, Les Amis, with its small, formal dining room and well executed menu offers stability and excellence. It’s particularly good value at lunch where you can get a sense of the full tasting menu at a good price.
Momofuku Ssam Bar, NYC
The highest-ranked of David Chang’s restaurants, it’s also the easiest to get into. A casual neighbourhood bar (although quite glam as bars go), you find a spot on one of the high stools, order a boutique brew or glass of wine and feast on his signature bar buns – the pork belly one in particular is to die for. It’s a great spot to recover after a big night. Highly recommended. No bookings taken but a good turnover means you generally don’t need to wait long for a spot. If you’re heading there with a big group, be early – there are very few tables.
Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney
This is a new entry into the top 100 and takes the worldwide fine dining bragging rights in the Chang empire. You don’t need to go to NYC to taste Chang’s pork belly buns – they’re a feature of his tasting menu here, but it might be easier to get into the Ssam Bar than Seiobo. The blog gives hints on how to maximise your chances of a booking at this small, stylish eatery. The interface for all Momofuku bookings can be found here.
Bo Innovation, Hong Kong
There’s only one thing to be said about Alvin Leung Jr’s cuisine – Wow. An amazing fusion of Chinese and French food, this is exciting stuff. Leung, who also has a restaurant in London, is a self-taught chef and his food pushes technical boundaries and excites the tastebuds.