Chef Kobus van der Merwe took the awards for restaurant of the year and off-map destination of the year at inaugural World Restaurants Awards in Paris
The awards, launched last year, were touted as a more diverse set-up than existing awards programmes, implementing a gender-balanced judging panel and inspection teams.
Creative director Joe Warwick – one of the people behind the original World’s 50 Best Restaurants listing – worked alongside Andrea Petrini, best known for his part in the global gastronomic community The Gelinaz, and in partnership with entertainment company IMG to bring the WRAs to life.
Petrini, the chair of the judging panel called the night a “real celebration of the restaurant in all its forms, from the humblest to the finest and funniest. From the visionary atmospherics of Jordan Kahn’s Vespertine to a heavenly shack on a paradise beach lost somewhere on the South African coast where our restaurant of the year is.”
Across the 18 categories – divided into big plates and small plates, winners represent 10 countries across four continents. Some categories, such as tattoo-free chef of the year, clinched by Alain Ducasse, are deliberately irreverent, while others, including Instagram account won by Alain Passard, recognise the importance of social media.
However, for many, the big plate categories were the ones that counted on the night.
Described by the judging panel as “super simple, rustic yet perfectly elegant” Wolfgat, found in a remote corner of South Africa, clinched the award both for Off-map destination and overall winner of the year.
“Wolfgat is a newcomer and a forager, working on locally sourced ingredients , with a small team of homies, almost half of them women,” says Petrini. “An off-map location it might be, but it is fully accessible to almost everyone because of its reasonable priced policy.”
This, he says, is probably the best example of what The World Restaurant Awards are really trying to do: “celebrate diversity and inclusiveness in all its forms.”
Other winners of the night included La Mère Brazier in Lyon, which was awarded Enduring Classic; Refugee Food Festival, awarded for the event of the year; and Inua in Tokyo, Japan, named arrival of the year.
Full list of winners:
Restaurant of the year: Wolfgat (Paternoster, South Africa)
Arrival of the year: Inua (Tokyo, Japan)
Atmosphere: Vespertine (Los Angeles, United States)
Collaboration of the year: Paradiso X Gortnanain (Cork, Ireland)
Enduring classic: La Mère Brazier (Lyon, France)
Ethical thinking: Refettorio (Food For Soul) (Various locations, Italy)
Event of the year: Refugee Food Festival (Paris, France, and worldwide)
Forward drinking: Mugaritz (San Sebastian, Spain)
House special: Lido 84 (Cacio e Pepe) (Lombardy, Italy)
No-reservation required: Mocot (São Paulo, Brazil)
Off-map destination: Wolfgat (Paternoster, South Africa)
Original thinking: Le Clerence (Paris, France)
Tattoo-free chef of the year: Alain Ducasse (Paris, France)
Tweezer-free kitchen: Bo.Lan (Bangkok, Thailand)
Trolley of the year: Ballymaloe House (Cork, Ireland)
Red-wine serving restaurant: Noble Rot (London, United Kingdom)
Instagram account: Alain Passard (Paris, France)
Long-form journalist: Lisa Abend (The Food Circus, Fool Magazine)
Pictured: Kobus van der Merwe by Dominique Charriau