People often ask how they can book tables at the winners of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.
One answer is: with great difficulty.
Rene Redzepi, chef at the current title holder, Noma, posted on Twitter April 28, for example, that the dinner waiting list that night was 1,204 for about a dozen tables. On the day after he first triumphed in 2010, the Copenhagen restaurant received enough applications to be full for almost 15 years.
The previous winner, El Bulli, was no easier. The usual figure quoted for that establishment north of Barcelona, before it closed last year, was of more than two million inquiries for 8,000 places. Restaurateurs tend to prioritize journalists and chefs for tables, so the odds are even longer for civilians.
The best I can suggest is that people should become customers of a restaurant before it wins the title. I head the U.K. and Ireland panel for the awards and have no inside information on future winners. What I can do is point to a restaurant to watch, and that is Eleven Madison Park.
This New York establishment, founded by the restaurateur Danny Meyer in 1998, first entered the 50 Best chart at 50, in 2010. Last year, it jumped to 24 and this year it reached No. 10. Also this year, chef Daniel Humm, who co-owns Eleven Madison with general manager Will Guidara, was named Outstanding Chef in the U.S., the premier award from the James Beard Foundation.
(I’ve been friendly with Guidara since Meyer introduced us in 2008 and got to know Humm last year, so I’m not an impartial observer. On the other hand, I do know plenty of chefs.)
Eleven Madison Park was named James Beard’s Outstanding Restaurant in America last year, when it also was awarded three Michelin stars, jumping from a single star after Humm and Guidara reduced the number of tables and jettisoned the regular a la carte menu. Diners must now either go with a tasting menu or choose four courses from a grid of 16 main ingredients.
(The prices are lower than you might expect at this level. Lunch is $74 and the number of courses is closer to 10 when you include the canapes and other giveaways. Dinner is $125, while the tasting menus are $125 and $195, respectively.)
Humm, 36, is a classically trained chef who started as an apprentice at age 14 in his native Switzerland. He has a mastery of technique that makes for faultless dishes, an understanding of flavors that allows originality without requiring it, and an appreciation of beauty that speaks without words.
Yes, there are visual surprises: the parmesan-and-truffle savory cookies, served in a box like a sugary treat; the sturgeon hiding within a dome filled with sweet smoke. Indeed, the presentation of each dish is a match for anything I have seen. What makes Humm such a special chef is that he achieves all this without losing sight of the key ingredients.
The dishes are as clear and clean as an Alpine stream. Fortunately, that’s not what you have to drink with them. The wines are pretty good, too. The service is all you would expect in a restaurant in which Meyer had a hand. The owner of Gramercy Tavern -- who sold Eleven Madison to Humm and Guidara when they made it such a success -- is watching for a victory in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards two years from now.
“Eleven Madison Park remains on its upward trajectory and, since Daniel and Will are relentless in their pursuit of excellence, I have every confidence they’ll achieve the No. 1 ranking by 2014,” Meyer said via e-mail. “I’ve never seen them fall short of one goal -- and imagine they’ll reach this one as well.”
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards took place in London on April 30.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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