STORIES

A Familiar Face Tops Asia's Best Restaurant List

By David Jenison on January 7, 2019

For the fourth straight year, Gaggan topped Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list, which took place last night in Macau. Named after founder and head chef Gaggan Anand, the progressive Indian restaurant debuted on the inaugural 2013 list at No. 10 and climbed to the top spot two years later. The British trade magazine Restaurant compiles three Top 50 lists—World, Asia and Latin America—and it debuted the Asia list in 2013. That means Gaggan has held the No. 1 position for four years out of six. 

Bangkok-based Gaggan serves an extensive 25-course tasting with playfully named dishes like Lick It Up, Magic Mushrooms, Bong Connection, Who Killed the Goat, Yogurt Explosion, and Beauty and Beast listed on an all-emoji menu. Likewise, the cocktail menu has included an updated Old Fashioned made with bourbon, pepper and Cohiba served in a smoking pipe and a bhang thandai described as, "Without Indian cannabis but recreating the magic drink with almond liqueur, fresh pistachio, milk saffron, spices, pepper vodka and lots of green chilly." 

In a recent interview with PRØHBTD, chef Anand said, "It's not about creating a dish and trying to make it look good on a plate. My idea is to create something different. It's about progressiveness. It's about the 17-minute song. It is a state of mental art where you push things to the level that people have not observed [before]. [Traditional] success is definitely the awards and the people who come after they see our fame, but our biggest success is when you leave Gaggan and go back [home] with the memory of a lifetime."

Den, which mirrors Gaggan's balance of innovative cuisine and lighthearted fun, jumped nine restaurants to take the No. 2 spot. The Tokyo-based food shrine (dish image on right), which won the Art of Hospitality Award in 2017, defies culinary stereotypes with dishes like Den-tucky Fried Chicken served in a mock KFC take-out box. 

In 2017, Bangkok and Singapore tied for the most entries with nine a piece, followed by Tokyo with eight and Hong Kong with seven. This year, Hong Kong led the list with nine total entries, followed by Bangkok and Tokyo with eight each. In terms of positioning, though, Tokyo scored four restaurants and Bangkok had three in the Top 10, while Hong Kong only had one with the French restaurant Amber at No. 7. Singapore had seven entries this year led by another French restaurant, Odette.

In what may be an unfortunate reflection on the judges or on the world's appreciation for Asian talent, only half of the Top 10 restaurants (Gaggan, Den, Florilège, Narisawa and Nihonryori RyuGin) are actually helmed by Asian chefs, and chef Hiroyasu Kawate at Florilège in Tokyo serves French food. Likewise, the year's highest entry went to the French restaurant La Cime (No. 17) in Osaka, Japan. Ironically, French critics often criticize the 50 Best lists for not including enough French restaurants. 

Seoul and Taipei landed three restaurants each with Mingles (No. 11) and Raw (No. 15), respectively, leading the way. Raw also claims the highest ranking a Taiwanese restaurant ever reached on the list. The Taipei restaurant Mume (No. 18) and Hong Kong's The Chairman (No. 22) tied for the highest year-to-year climb, with each moving up 25 spots to their current positions. 

In what may be a negative reflection on the 50 Best judges, only half of the Top 10 restaurants (Gaggan, Den, Florilège, Narisawa and Nihonryori RyuGin) are actually helmed by Asian chefs, and chef Hiroyasu Kawate at Florilège in Tokyo serves French food. Likewise, the year's highest entry went to the French restaurant La Cime (No. 17) in Osaka, Japan. 

Singapore's Restaurant André, which officially closed on February 14, reached the No. 2 spot last year, and this year its Taiwan-born chef André Chiang earned the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for his work at the French-Asian hotspot. Bee Satongun scored the Best Female Chef award, while her Bangkok-based restaurant Paste (dish image on right) debuted on the list at No. 31. The only other female chef to make the list is "Bo" Songvisava of the Bangkok restaurant Bo. Lan (No. 37), which she runs with her Aussie husband Dylan Jones." 

Finally, the One To Watch honor went to Toyo Eatery in Manila, where Fat Duck-trained Filipino chef Jordy Navarra proudly showcases the country's culture and history though food. Gallery Vask of Manila made the list in 2017 at No. 35, but the Philippines did not have a Top 50 entry for 2018. 

Photo credit: Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna.

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