Melbourne restaurant Attica voted Australia's best

Quay is No. 48 on the list ... Chef Peter Gilmore.
Quay is No. 48 on the list ... Chef Peter Gilmore. Photo: Louise Kennerly

Melbourne’s Attica restaurant can lay claim to being Australia’s best after an annual poll of more than 900 industry experts shuttled the inner-suburban fine-diner to the world’s No. 21 spot.

Attica is the highest placed Australian restaurant on the list and was also awarded "highest new entrant" on the coveted ranking of the world's 50 best restaurants.

Attica, headed by chef Ben Shewry, leapfrogged Sydney’s Quay, headed by Peter Gilmore, when the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards were announced in London. Quay remained in the top 50 by a slim margin, slipping from 29th position in 2012 to No. 48.

The only other Australian restaurant in the world top 100 was Sydney’s Momofuku Seiobo, the brainchild of American chef David Chang, at position 89. 

Sydney’s Marque and Tetsuya’s, which ranked No. 61 and No. 76 last year respectively, fell out of the top 100.

There was also a significant change in the No. 1 spot. Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca in Girona (see story) - headed by brothers Joan, Jordi and Josep Roca - took the title of the world’s best restaurant away from Denmark’s Noma.

Sydney Good Food Guide 2013 co-editor Joanna Savill said the shift in the No. 1 and 2 placings was probably due to a general desire to see a bit of a shake-up on the list, with top-place holders never lasting more than 3-4 years. A food poisoning shock at Noma earlier this year would not have played a part in the restaurant's step down to the No. 2 position, as voting had closed before the incident in March.

The choice of the Roca brothers' El Celler de Can Roca is being viewed as a conservative move, despite their regular positioning in the top 10. They have been in the number two spot several times - previously as runner-up to their compatriot and Catalan neighbour, Ferran Adria's El Bulli.

Despite the slip to No. 2 Noma chef Rene Redzepi and his colleagues were enjoying drinks with their friends following the ceremony. He had earlier said he would have liked to hold onto the No. 1 ranking for at least another year, which would have seen Noma equal El Bulli’s four-year run at the top.

‘‘It’s OK. There are things that are nice to have and things that are nice to have and things you need to have,’’ said Redzepi. ‘‘This was something that was nice to have. And it gave us the chance to do great things. I would have liked another year. It would have been good for our region. We knew it would come sooner or later.’’

Meanwhile Jordi Roca from new No. 1 El Celler de Can Roca described the victory as a magic moment for his family and for Spain, saying that while the economic crisis had taken a toll on the country its gastronomic culture had remained strong. Roca added that the World’s 50 Best Restaurant awards were more controversial than the Michelin star rating system, but said they had a greater reach and more meaning for a general audience.



The World's 50 best: the list


In other significant shifts, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy jumped two spots to the No. 3 position, nudging out Spain’s Mugaritz which fell one spot to No. 4, and Alex Atala’s D.O.M. in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which fell two spots to sixth position.

Among the US contenders, New York City’s Eleven Madison Park climbed to No. 5, shrugging off criticism this year about its move to a degustation-only style menu by Vanity Fair food critic Corby Kummer. Kummer likened the 15-course dining experience at Eleven Madison Park to being taken hostage and force-fed.

British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s fortunes were mixed. His London concept diner Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, the highest new-entry restaurant in the top 50 list last year, moved up two spots to seventh this year, but his more established Fat Duck restaurant in Bray slipped 20 spots to position No. 33.

Australian success

For Attica, the good news came early when an invitation to attend the awards ceremony at London’s Guild Hall revealed that the restaurant had cracked the top 50 (up from 63rd position last year). But the ranking still seems a surprise to those responsible for the restaurant’s success.

Speaking at the ceremony in London, New Zealand-born Shewry was overwhelmed.

‘‘It’s hard to sum up,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s full on. My mum sent me a text saying 'It’s a big journey for a small boy from Awakino'," he added, with tears in his eyes.

‘‘But it’s been a long time coming, in a way. Because of our isolation [in Australia] it’s hard to get the judges here ... In some ways I thought it would never happen. But I have a huge feeling of gratitude.

‘‘It takes time to build a reputation. But we've always done the same thing. I’m very black and white. I’ve always done what I wanted to do: work with the best products, things that interest me, being honest, being generous ... And not giving a shit.''

Quay’s Peter Gilmore was philosophical about his restaurant’s slide in the rankings.

‘‘We’ve done really well to be here [in the world’s top 50] for the fifth year,’’ Gilmore said.

‘‘[We’re] very grateful to be part of it, in the same league as these other guys. And really excited that Ben's here. It's really good for Australia.’’

Mark Best, of Marque, also congratulated Shewry, hitting Twitter soon after the awards were announced on Tuesday: "Congrats bro! What a result, couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."

In other news for Australia, Newcastle-raised chef Brett Graham, head chef at London's Notting Hill restaurant The Ledbury, moved up one spot to rank as the world's 13th best. David Thompson's Bangkok restaurant Nahm leapt 18 positions to No. 32, just ahead of Blumenthal's The Fat Duck (at 33) and Sweden's remote Faviken restaurant (34). 

Regional success

The US and France tied as the most successful countries, each with six restaurants in the top 50. Europe remains by far the most awarded continent, with 29 restaurants in the top 50. Asia has seven, the US six, South America six and Australia two.

The domination of Spain’s El Bulli (2005-2008) and Noma (2009-2012) illustrate Europe’s supremacy. The reigns of chefs Ferran Adria and Rene Redzepi have been emblematic of global dining trends over the past decade, from the witty kitchen-meets-science lab approach of Adria to Redzepi's focus on paying homage to the environment, often sourcing unfamiliar - even unknown - wild ingredients within Scandinavia to create a strong and unique local voice.

Shewry is more in the Redzepi mould. His foraging style has garnered him an increasingly global profile over the past year and a place among the world’s ‘‘it’’ chefs.

Other awards at the World's 50 Best Restaurants 2013

Lifetime Achievement Award – Alain Ducasse

Best Female Chef - Nadia Santini

Chef’s Choice – Alinea, Chicago, US

One to Watch – The Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa

Sustainable Restaurant award - Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan

Highest New Entry – Attica, Melbourne (also best restaurant in Australasia)

Highest Climber – Astrid y Gastón, Limu, Peru

The S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards was organised and published by Restaurant Magazine and began in 2002. Each year over 900 restaurant industry experts, including food critics, chefs and restaurateurs determine the list of 100 top restaurants. The experts, who represent 26 global regions, each have seven votes and can only vote for restaurants they have visited in the past 18 months and which they have no commercial interest in.

The annual awards recognise 100 restaurants as the world’s best, despite the name indicating that only 50 restaurants are recognised.

Joanna Savill attended the World's 50 Best announcement as a guest of S. Pellegrino.

Clarification: A food poisoning shock at Noma earlier this year would not have played a part in the restaurant's ranking, as voting had closed before the incident in March. This has been amended in the text of the story.