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L’Arpège named best restaurant in Europe

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Alain Passard's lauded restaurant comes top of the Opinionated About Dining list for the second year running while Italian Luigi Taglienti's Lume was named best new restaurant

Fine dining food blog Opinionated About Dining (OAD) has unveiled its list of 100 best restaurants in Europe for 2017 at an awards dinner in Paris. And the restaurant topping the list was Alain Passard’s L’Arpège ahead of Andreas Caminada, in Furstenau, Switzerland in second place and Sweden’s Faviken in third. The Best New Restaurant was won by Luigi Taglienti’s Lume in Milan.

L’Arpège topped the list, which has been published by fine dining expert Steve Plotnicki since 2012, for the second year in a row.

“The reason that it can win twice is that even in its thirty-first year of existence, Alain Passard’s cooking manages to be modern yet timeless,” says Plotnicki. “His eye for how to view an ingredient and how to figure out the best cooking method in order to capture its features is unparalleled. No wonder there are nine different restaurants on our 2017 list run by chefs who trained in his kitchen.”

Passard became famous outside of fine-dining circles for taking red meat off his menu in 2001 during the mad cow crisis despite being a master rotisseur. Following that his focus has been on elevating vegetables to a higher plane, creating dishes such as a “radishotto” a risotto made from radishes, and beetroot sushi. All the vegetables in his restaurant are grown in the restaurant’s two bio-dynamic gardens, which have different terroirs and micro-climates.

“He created an approach to cooking that was a variation on minimalism and deconstruction,” says Plotnicki, “using cooking methods that were then copied by other chefs.”

The award was made at the OAD dinner at Maison Blanche in Paris, where chefs including Rasmus Kofoed, Quique Dacosta, Atsushi Tanaka and Alexander Couillon prepared a meal dedicated to ‘La Cuisine de Grand-Mère’ for assembled reviewers, journalists and chefs. Kofoed, from Copenhagen’s three Michelin-starred Geranium even worked with his grandmother on the meal.

Progressive cooking

The New Restaurant award was picked up by Lume in Milan, an open kitchen restaurant in an old factory district, which features light as a key part of its design. Chef Luigi Taglienti had worked at Palazzo Trussardi and also in Paris before opening his own restaurant last year and winning a Michelin star within months.

“Given that in 2016 there were three restaurants from Italy who were nominated for the Best New Restaurant Award, followed by another three in 2017, it is fitting that this year’s winner – Lume – is based in Milan,” adds Plotnicki. “Luigi Taglienti has done a superb job of melding modern culinary technique with classical Milanese cooking, and this award is another significant piece of evidence that Italy is where some of the most progressive cooking in Europe is happening at the moment.”

He also had words for the highest new entry on the list, Cadiz restaurant Aponiente, which came in at number 36.

“Due to its location in the extreme Southwest of Spain, a part of the country that is off the typical destination diner’s itinerary, it took a little bit longer than usual for our reviewers to discover Aponiente,” says Plotnicki. “But once word got out about Ángel Leon’s restaurant, it quickly became one of the most important places to visit in Europe.”

Plotnicki, who began his working life by starting a rap record label and discovered hit rap group Run DMC, hoped everyone would walk his way when he started OAD after becoming frustrated that food was not talked about in an analytical fashion.

“It came from a realisation that people don’t know how to talk about food,” he says. “There was no set, academic way of talking about food like you would talk about cinema or literature.

“What makes a restaurant different is the chef’s technique and then the quality of ingredients. How they manipulate ingredients. How they apply heat to the ingredients. Otherwise it’s just shopping. Service comes into it but that just doesn’t interest me.

“Say you have a lamb shoulder. There’s lamb shoulder for 6 bucks a pound, there’s lamb shoulder for 12 bucks a pound and there’s lamb shoulder for 100 bucks a pound. What makes the difference? We should be able to know instantly and explain why easily.”

He admits that OAD’s list is far from in a field of its own when it comes to fine dining surveys but he believes that the website’s algorithm, which means that reviewers’ opinions gain more weight depending on their experience and a host of other factors, gives them the edge. He’s also sure that OAD is a faster moving site.

“Michelin and 100 Best Restaurants are fine so long as they give new information,” he says. “But how often do they do that? They’re talking about the same restaurants every year. I just don’t think it’s that exciting or interesting. They’re congested, for want of a better word. OAD finds more to talk about every year, I think.”

Jon Horsley