World's 50 best restaurants list: food isn't the only ingredient to judge

I've done my fair share of eating out over the years (I have the Body Mass Index to prove it) and I've been to only three of the restaurants on the list

 

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That you can have a terrible time in a really good restaurant, or a really good time in a terrible restaurant, is a truism that, of course, cannot be taken into consideration when a list of the world's best restaurants is being compiled. If there are to be objective criteria, they can only be applied to the food. But we know that the dining out experience is about much more than food. It's about mood, too. However, the fact that you had a blazing row with your partner over Heston's snail porridge, or that you arrived late, and in a temper, because of the Tube strike, is, I'm afraid, inadmissible evidence when it comes to judging culinary excellence.

The list of the top 50 restaurants in the world, as compiled by experts selected by Restaurant magazine, has been announced, and includes establishments as far apart - geographically as well as gastronomically - as China, Peru, Australia and Berkshire. The number one spot has been reclaimed by Noma in Copenhagen, the 45-seater restaurant where getting a table is about as straightforward as securing an audience with the Pope.

Reservations can only be made three months in advance, and on the sixth day of every month, the booking line opens. So, if you think you'll fancy a dish of live ants in September, get straight on the blower on May 6. An estimated 20,000 people will also be ringing, so be patient. (By the way, I had the live ants when Noma did a pop-up in London: lemony taste, not unpleasant, but I couldn't see what the fuss was about).

Anyway, I've done my fair share of eating out over the years (I have the Body Mass Index to prove it) and I've been to only three of the restaurants on the list. These are two of the three British entrants  - The Fat Duck, and Dinner, both engineered by Heston Blumenthal - and the only other one I could tick off is a relatively unheralded establishment in Portugal, which comes in at number 22 but is unquestionably the best restaurant I've ever visited.

Vila Joya is a family-run, unpretentious small hotel on the outskirts of Albufeira on the Algarve, but which has a kitchen that produces dishes of a quality and ingenuity that you wouldn't believe possible. There's no bacon and egg ice cream, or liquid nitrogen, or any other culinary fads or frivolities: here, they rely on local produce, and the original combination of flavours - for instance, salt cod with beetroot, or lobster with cauliflower purée. But the clue as to what makes Vila Joya special is in the name. This is an environment where there is joy, pleasure, and an unbuttoned enthusiasm for what they are creating.

My friend Ewan, an unashamed foodie who's been to many more restaurants on the list than I, picks l'Astrance in Paris (a fairly lowly 33) as his favourite. It's because, he says, it offers "great food with friendliness and personality". This goes back to my original point about food being only one ingredient in the dining experience. But the judges can't take all that into account, so I suppose this list, like any other such exercise, is best taken with a pitch of salt.

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