Britain suffered its worst performance in a global league table of gastronomy last night, out-cooked by American and Spanish chefs in a list of the world's best places to eat – which is headed up by a quirky restaurant in Denmark.
Despite talk of a revival of British food, only three UK restaurants – the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, and St John and Hibiscus in London – made it into the World's 50 Best Restaurants. The London celebrity haunts Nobu and Hakkasan, which ranked 34th and 36th respectively last year, have now been dropped from the list, while two other British restaurants slipped a total of 30 places.
The Fat Duck, run by Heston Blumenthal, moved from second to third place behind El Bulli in Spain, while Fergus Henderson's "nose-to-tail" offal specialist St John fell 29 places to 43rd. Claude Bosi's Hibiscus entered the list at number 48, but his arrival could not disguise a bad night for British restaurateurs.
Two years ago there were six UK establishments in the Top 50 and five years ago there were 14. By naming Noma in Copenhagen the World's Best Restaurant, the international panel of 800 chefs, journalists and other food experts also appointed a new global head chef: 32-year-old René Redzepi.
The judges also followed their penchant for supporting unconventional establishments. Situated on Copenhagen's dockside in an 18th-century warehouse, Noma specialises in seasonal, local ingredients, creating dishes such as radishes in edible soil which, the judges said, "acutely demonstrate nature on a plate". Chefs serve most of its meals, including one which has to be heaved to the table on slab of rock.
For the past four years, the top spot on the list has been claimed by Spaniard Ferran Adria's eccentric El Bulli, which was shut for six months of the year and is now permanently closed – and before that the Fat Duck, where dishes include snail porridge and bacon-and-egg ice cream.
To soften their fall from the table, Blumenthal took the Chefs' Choice award while Ferran Adria was given the newly created title of Chef of the Decade. The World's 50 Best Restaurants has been criticised for being arbitrary, but it is an indicator of standards at the top restaurants in the world, along with the Michelin guides. With a more international focus, the awards, inaugurated by the London-based Restaurant magazine and sponsored by San Pellegrino, have caught up with Michelin's lowly assessment of the UK.
More Asian, Australasian, South American and Japanese restaurants made it into the Top 50 this year. Last year, France and the US had the most restaurants in the list with eight each, followed by Italy with six and Spain five. At the 2010 awards at the Guildhall in the City of London last night, the US fared best with eight restaurants in the Top 50, followed by France (six), Italy (five) and Spain (five).
Spanish and American restaurants took seven of the placings in the Top 10: for Spain, El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz and Arzak, and for the US, Alinea, Daniel and Per Se.
The organisers said the amount of movement in this year's list showed it was "not a static account of established restaurants" but an up-to-date snapshot of the smartest talent in global dining. Paul Wootton, editor of Restaurant magazine, said the awards recognised a fresh breed of "young, dynamic chefs" who were bringing new ideas to the world of gastronomy.
He said: "René Redzepi's rise to the top shows that the academy members who vote are keen to recognise this new wave of talent rubbing alongside those with more established international fame. Whether Ferran Adria's considerable achievements at the top of the list are ever matched in future is another matter entirely."
* A 12-course tasting menu at Noma is one of 40 prizes on offer in a charity auction for the benefit of the award's partner, Action Against Hunger. Click HERE for the auction .Reuse content