Asia Pacific

Asia's 50 best restaurants: Innovation, tradition and camaraderie

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The list is out! Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna announced the top 2014 winners last night at an awards ceremony at Capella Hotel, Singapore

 Nahm in Bangkok secured the number one spot and the honour of being the S. Pellegrino Asia’s Best Restaurant. It was also named the S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Thailand. Nahm’s Australian-born chef David Thompson celebrates Thai cuisine with his vast knowledge of centuries old recipes of former Thai matriarchs. Rising up two spots from last year’s #3 position, Thompson was shocked to gain the top honour.

This scholar of Thai cuisine admits, “It was honestly was unexpected. I actually thought that I was going to go down.”

While the Nahm chef appreciates the honour, he is quick to point out, “Looking the rise and decrease does not represent the ongoing commitment that I and all the other cooks, and all the restaurateurs involved in these awards from 1 to 50 and beyond. They do it day in and day out. It just happens to be the caprice of the judges who happen to vote for a silly restaurant called Nahm.”

Narisawa of Tokyo took the second spot, as well as the Best Restaurant in Japan spot, going down one spot from last year’s #1. Gaggan, a progressive Indian restaurant in Bangkok rose up to the third spot from last year’s number 10 ranking.

China leads Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 with 16 establishments, with Japan and Singapore each landing ten and eight restaurants respectively. Thailand and India both have six restaurants each in the list. Korea’s first entry to the list is Jungsik securing the 20th spot, as well as the S Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Korea and the Highest New Entry. Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Taiwan each have one restaurant each in the list.

William Drew, group editor of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants noticed a difference from last year’s inaugural awards, “There is a different feel because it is the second year. More people now know I about it. More people are getting excited about it beforehand, so it creates more of an atmosphere of celebration.” But more importantly, he is pleased with the progression of the awards.

Drew says, “We are very happy with the diversity of the list. Sure, they can be more regional and with more styles represented in the future I hope. But we made some progress in representing more countries and more cuisines. We had ten new entries, that’s quite a significant amount and we think that’s exciting!”

Special Awards were given to honour six individuals: Lanshu Chen of Le Moût, Taiwan as Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef; Ivan Li of Family Li Imperial Cuisine, China as The Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award; Fook Lam Moon, restaurant rose up 29 spots to the 19th rank, Tenku RyuGin Hong Kong as One to Watch, sponsored by Peroni Nastro Azzurro, a new entry in the 50th spot. Janice Wong won Asia’s Best Pastry, sponsored by Cacao Barry for the second year.

Wong says she was caught by surprise by her second win. “It is unexpected, absolutely insane, and it is really awesome!” She admits it is sweeter than the first, as it motivates her and her team even more, “It keeps us going and pushing the boundaries even further. We’re going to continue making more sweeter delights.” Wong will be launching a new line of sweets in Chicago this year, plus expanding her booming market for unique Edible Art events.

Wong says last year’s Award brought her much international exposure, “There was a lot of international media and a lot international guests.” Chef Andre, of Restaurant André says, “Being in the Asia’s 50 Best List gives us much visibility.”  But what surprised the humble chef receiving this year’s honor of Chef’s Choice Award, where fellow chefs chose his restaurant as the Best.

For Lifetime Achievement Awardee Ivan Li, Family Li Imperial Cuisine continues his great-grandfather Li Shunqing’s recipes and cooking methods. Overseeing the Imperial kitchen during the Qing Dynasty, Li Shunqing recorded the Empress Cixi’s favourite dishes, the imperial menu and ingredients and culinary skills to create them. Ivan Li continues this imperial tradition in the restaurants in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Melbourne, Tokyo and Taipei.

While both surprised and honored, Li hopes to inspire, “ Maybe this award will encourage more people to respect the traditions, to keep their culinary heritage.”

A new feature to this year’s awards is the two-day Forum and Workshops leading up to the awards night. The day-long forum entitled The Future of Food: Back to our Roots featured presenters from the World’s Best Restaurant list including Spain’s Joan Roca of El Cellar De Can Roca (No. 1 World’s Best Restaurant 2013), Japan’s Yohihiro Narisawa of Narisawa (No. 1 Asia’s Best Restaurant 2013), Sweden’s Björn Frantzén and Australia’s Ben Shewry of Attica. The chefs shared experiences tackling sustainability, authenticity, innovation, and challenges of sourcing of ingredients. The exchange of ideas proved to be beneficial to the audience as well as to the chefs present.

David Thompson was the chair and co-curator for the Future of Food forum and workshops. Minutes after Nahm won the top award for this year’s Asia’s Best Restaurant, I probed if this honor will change anything.  Thompson candidly answered, “Well, I know I will get more complaints because people will expect more and more and more. Hopefully, we will continue to improve.” But Thompson pauses for a moment and then shares, “I will have to say after attending and participating in the forum, one thing I’m going to have to do is consider a sustainable approach to our purchasing practices. As I was summarizing the discussion yesterday, I said, ‘We need to change things.’ I sincerely meant myself.”

More than just a list of rankings restaurateurs and diners refer to, Asia’s 50 Best has become an opportunity for chefs to gather. William Drew says, “Across the world, there is a feeling now that chefs like to collaborate and talk to each other. Maybe ten or twenty years ago, they would keep their recipes very secret. One of the things The World’s Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants tries to do is create a sense of community. We also strive to have a good party, because these guys come from different parts of the world. They get together, want to have a good time, and celebrate their success.”

The top ten winners in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants:

  1. Nahm, Bangkok
  2. Narisawa, Tokyo
  3. Gaggan, Bangkok
  4. Amber, Hong Kong
  5. Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo
  6. Restaurant Andre, Singapore
  7. Waku Ghin, Singapore
  8. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai
  9. Lung King Heen, Hong Kong
  10. 8 1/2 Otto E Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong

The full list can be found here.

Maida Pineda