March 26, 2019

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019

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After spending a day and a half in the office and trying desperately to catch up on sleep in between, I'm back in Macau.  Tonight was the awards ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2019, sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, which was held at Wynn Palace Cotai for the second year in a row. 

Once again the generous sponsor provided the attendees with accommodation, and I found myself back in a very spacious suite.  It's too bad that I would be staying here only for a few hours...

I was frantically busy finishing some work in my room and barely had time to clean up and get into my penguin outfit.  But I did have time to sweep the large range of toiletries provided by the resort... My friend Celene - who has been running her one-woman charity Giving Bread for the last 10 years - is looking for people to donate their spare hotel toiletries so that she can give them to the homeless.  With a little shampoo and soap, a little shave, combing or brushing, the homeless can emerge from public bathrooms with a little more dignity after grooming.  So... yeah, I cleaned out the whole stash.

As it was last year, the pre- and post-awards cocktail was by the pool.  We were so lucky that the weather cleared up just in time for tonight.

But I wasn't done with work, unfortunately... In the middle of catching up with friends, I had to get on a conference call with my board of directors - and this lasted for almost one whole hour.  I was standing in the hallway trying to discuss a serious issue, while waving at everyone who passed by and apologizing for not saying hello.

Eventually we began filing into the Grand Theatre for the main event, aaaaaand a few of us were party to a little drama even before the damn thing started... Honestly, the last 72 hours has seen soooo much drama that I hardly think the actual awards would be able to deliver more excitement!

Each year you've got restaurants moving up, and others falling or even dropping off the list.  This year there were 10 new entries, which meant that 10 restaurants fell off the list.  Among the big losers this year was Ta Vie 旅, one of my perennial favorites.  A drop of 34 places saw them all but fall off the top 50.

The Man in White T-shirt made the list again this year, as Neighborhood took the #37 spot.  Very, very happy for him.

Chef Tam only sliped a notch down the list despite having switched places since last year.  Wing Lei Palace became one of just two restaurants from Macau left on the list - the other being the restaurant he left last year.

Shoun RyuGin climbed 16 places to No. 31, and was the first of three restaurants from Taiwan announced tonight.  I have to say I was very impressed with Hieda-san's cuisine.

Next up from Taiwan was RAW, which slipped 15 places this year.  Happy that Alain's efforts continue to receive recognition.

Chef Bee continues to gain admirers, as Paste climbed a few places this year.  Really happy for her, and she was the first of the female chefs to be honored tonight.

L'Effervescence dropped a few places this year, but it doesn't affect the fond memories I have from dining there last year.

Sushi Saito continues to be the only sushiya on the list, and Saito-san still gives zero fucks about the award to bother to show up.

I am really looking forward to visiting Goh-san at La Maison de la Nature Goh later this year.

2019 is Garima Arora's year.  Not only was she named the elit Vodka Asia's Best Female Chef, her restaurant Gaa also won the Highest New Entry Award by coming in at No. 16.  I'm so happy for her to get the recognition she deserves.

Although Mingles slipped a couple of places this year, it's still at the front of the pack, and is now just one of two restaurants from Korea on the list and The Best Restaurant in Korea.

8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana became the recipient of the Art of Hospitality Award.  Time for a return visit...

After moving from No. 47 to No. 22 last year and jointly winning the Highest Climber Award, The Chairman made another strong move this year to No. 11.  It is now the highest-ranked restaurant on the list serving Chinese cuisine.  Very, very happy for Danny and his team.

Yamamoto-san was the recipient of American Express Icon Award.  He is most certainly deserving of this award, as Nihonryori RyuGin introduced a new perspective on Japanese cuisine to many people over the years. 

The restaurant has also been a training ground for many chefs who have gone on to launch their own restaurants, and these disciples - who include Sato-san from Ta Vie 旅 (No. 50), Luca Fantin of Il Ristorante Luca Fantin (No. 18), Kawata-san from Sazenka (No. 23), and of course Hieda-san from Shoun RyuGin (No. 31).  All of these chefs - who have all been honored for their achievements - rushed the stage waving RyuGin flags to celebrate with their master.  This was a very moving gesture by the RyuGin family, which now have 5 restaurants on the list.

One of tonight's biggest surprises has got to be Mume moving up to No. 7, and finally taking the title of the Best Restaurant in Taiwan.  Congrats to Richard and Long.  Of course, a certain someone sitting in front of me was happy beyond belief.

Florilège remains in the top 5 this year, but it was difficult for Kawate-san to hide his disappointment.  He was, of course, by no means alone tonight.

And... after 4 straight years at the top, Gaggan finally drops to No. 2 but remains the Best Restaurant in Thailand.  Together with Suhring and Gaa, the team now have 3 restaurants within the top 20.

Which means Odette is now The Best Restaurant in Asia,  sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.   I know this took many people by surprise, and I mentioned to Julien that Hello Kitty is really looking forward to visiting his restaurant.

I hung out with some friends and caught up on the big gossip and drama, then grabbed my friend Vladimir Kojic - who I don't see enough - along with Anders Husa and Carnivorr to share the bottles of bongwater I had brought along for Vladi and Gaggan. Unfortunately we made the mistake of going up to The Great One's suite instead of mine, as there were party-crashers I didn't care to be in the same room with. Of course they came empty-handed and expected to mooch off the hostess... and  helped themselves to my wine while they had the gall to wonder out loud why there wasn't enough alcohol for everyone, then didn't even pretend to offer to contribute.  But I guess some people just feel entitled.

What's worse was that one of those crashers took it upon himself to try to open my wine, then had the gall to tell me that my wine smelled bad.  Well... WHO THE FUCK ASKED YOU??!!  If you didn't like my wine which, by the way, was never meant for you and was never offered to you... why did you even drink it?!  Bring your own fucking wine next time and leave my bongwater alone!

In the end it was the ever-generous Gaggan who ordered up and paid for a bottle of Bourbon from room service, and another Academy Chair who brought a bottle of whisky from her own room.

2016 Anne et Jean-François Ganevat Cuvée Madelon - initially nose was pungent, not as clean, a hint of chalk, lot of dried herbs and forest.

Against my better judgement, I stuck around till about 2:30 a.m... all the while knowing I needed to catch the 7 a.m. ferry back to Hong Kong.  This was a very long day for me, but I was really happy to have caught up with friends from around the world.

P.S. Per tradition I will summarize a few points here:

Japan looks to be the big winner this year, with 12 restaurants on the list.  However I heard that the team was disappointed with the results, as all the ones in the top 10 last year either went down in rankings or was flat.

The Best Restaurant in Singapore is Odette, which doesn't serve Singaporean or Peranakan cuisine.

The Best Restaurant in Thailand is Gaggan, which doesn't serve Thai food.

The Best Restaurant in China is Ultraviolet, which doesn't even come close to serving Chinese food.

The Best Restaurant in Taiwan is Mume, which doesn't exactly serve Taiwanese or Chinese food but at least incorporates some local flavors.

There are four restaurants on the list helmed by female chefs, and they are all in Bangkok.  These are Gaa, Bo.Lan, Nahm, and Paste.  Three out of the four chefs have been recipients of the Asia's Best Female Chef award.

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