You know what I never say to myself? Mmmmn, what I really fancy to eat tonight is an edible stone. Or crispy milk skin. Or some soil. This week – when the awards for the World's 50 Best Restaurants were announced – it's this kind of food that has been deemed most worthy of our attention. The winner of the No 1 slot (for a third year running) is Noma, the Danish paean to extraordinary, challenging dishes that look more like works of art than anything you'd put in your mouth. Coming up on the outside is Mugaritz, home of the stones (in actuality, potatoes made to look like stones. Go figure).
As the restaurant critic of sister paper The Independent on Sunday, I realise that being perplexed – and sometimes repulsed – by very fashionable food makes me very unfashionable. But while I applaud the ingenuity and technique on display at such places (and a visit to them is often more akin to theatre than restaurant), I quite like going out to eat when I'm hungry and leaving when I'm full, less than four hours later. Yes, to experience the full tasting menu at the world's uber-chef's establishments, you must invest a lot in time as well as money.
(What a numb bum you get from sitting on a hard chair for four hours while plates of food assembled with tweezers and a paintbrush are presented with the reverence usually reserved for the Dead Sea Scrolls.) That's not to say I wouldn't love the chance to experience Noma when it comes to London for a 10-day pop-up at Claridges hotel during the Olympics. But for the experience, not for the "delicious, let's bring Susie and Bill here next week".
Making a list of the world's "best" restaurants is terribly flawed.
I respect anybody's right to make a list, and realise it can make entertaining reading to pore over the rankings of Heston Blumenthal and his ilk, but when it comes to eating, best should equate to "One you want to go back to", surely? If we continue to fetishise just a few of the most outré establishments in the world, and let the less innovative but consistently pleasurable, moreish places wither and die, we're doing the restaurant trade a grave disservice. It deserves our support at the mid-range level, and that's where there's good eating to be done.
The best meal I've eaten in a long time was yesterday at an unashamedly traditional, cheap Italian where the pizza came in six varieties, rather than 60, and were the equal of anything I've eaten in Rome or Naples. But if it's crispy milk skin you're after, you'll have to read The Independent on Sunday to find out where...
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