One of my most valued possessions is a framed, souvenir handkerchief of the best Parisian restaurants in the 1950s. Several are still going, but I’ve only ever got to one, Chez Allard. It was still run by the family, we had the front room by the zinc bar to ourselves, and it was totally memorable. We had proper, Burgundian frog’s legs, as boasted on the cloth, and wondrous duck with turnips. It’s not just because the hanky was a gift from the late Marlis Thiersch, who had brought it back from Paris not long after the war, but also because I cannot hide my secret sin, rating restaurants. A Michelin red guide for 1931 might be useless in a practical sense, but not to me.
When the World’s Best 50 go on-line, I’m in there. With even more alacrity, I follow Opinionated About Dining, put together from diners who are both privileged and obsessive, getting to the latest and greatest, wherever they are. OAD veers towards the more classical and expensive, but I can at least read about them.
Today, I received the latest OAD ranking of 200 in Europe, and over the years I’ve accumulated meals at, not counting, seven on the list.
L’Arpège is no 3, and Noma no. 9. I would reverse those positions, but caught Noma in possibly more exciting, early days. Also based on one experience, Guy Savoy is right up there. Continuing to talk about Paris, two visits to the original Spring were among the most rewarding experiences of my restaurant life. We’ve also found excuses to go back to Grand Véfour and Septime, and, among those outside Paris, took in Bocuse … All recommended.
What would I add? – definitely some far-away, one-star places, such as La Petite Maison in Cucuron, Les Chênes Verts at Tourtour, and Le Maximilien in Zellenberg. That’s based on one experience each, one or more years ago.
Several Australian places compare well. We keep returning to Sydney’s Sixpenny, and not only because it’s nearby. I’ve had the chance to appreciate much Ben Shewry cooking – his Attica in Melbourne is ensconced in the world best list. Somewhere newer that hits such heights is Adelaide’s Orana.
At Orana, Jock Zonfrillo and team bring flawless cooking to indigenous foods. Will it appear in the World’s Best 50 for 2015, to be announced on 1 June? I would hope so, despite only one dinner there, and a couple of criticisms, especially their one glass of champagne for an extraordinary procession, half an hour or more, of little tastes – really well done, and then separate wines came with each dish. The sommelier did a memorable job blending fruit juices for our daughter to accompany each of our nine wines, but I prefer my wine early and to taper off.
Unusually for such a good restaurant, Tripadvisor immediately ranked it at no. 1 in Adelaide, and it remains on top, out of 1,378 restaurants, such is Orana’s fierce support.
Today’s lesson for fellow guidebook tragics is that these guides, however seemingly erratic or opionated, are inconsistently backed by the Tripadvisor crowd. Take the case of Noma, which returned last year to #1 in the world’s best, now rates #9 in Europe for OAD, but only #20 for just Copenhagen, according to Tripadvisor.
As to Arpège, which is #3 for the whole of Europe on OAD, and #24 in the world’s best, it is ranked #714 by Tripadvisor, and that’s just for Paris. That’s better than somewhere I must get to one day, Ambroisie, coming in at #35 for OAD, and lying down there at #2,992 for the popular vote.
Yet, as unreliable as Tripadvisor might be, any guide is better than no guide, so I haunt that one, too.