Tough math question: Understanding the algorithm of the 50 Best Lists?

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2023 has been announced in Valencia, Spain. The list is not only confined to 50 venues, there is also a second list of 51-100. While the recently announced list covers the globe, there are also regional lists that are announced separately, namely 50 Best Asia, 50 Best LATAM (Latin America) and 50 Best MENA (Middle East and North Africa). However, when we compare the world list with the regional lists, a confusing picture emerges. What is the math of the 50 Best ranking?

When this year’s winners were announced, Instagram was overflowing with the same happy posts from the very same people. The 50 Best awards have an almost ossified group, they come together in four corners of the world, in different places every time, for the big event. The best restaurants in the world are asked from this community, among many are also the voters, supposedly all anonymous. As usual, our first check on the list from this part of the world was to see whether the list included any restaurants from Türkiye, or if there were any chefs from around the world representing Turkish cuisine.

This time there are no restaurants from Türkiye in the top 50, but in the second list of 51-100, chef Maksut Aşkar with Neolokal is positioned in the 63rd place, and Fatih Tutak with TURK in the 66th place. This year the best of the world comes from Lima, chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León of Central was the winner. Spain took a glorious second and third place with Disfrutar in Barcelona and DiverXo in Madrid. All these restaurants are undoubtedly groundbreaking, pioneering places, no question about that. But with a general peak at the list, it’s hard to understand what best means and what criteria are used to make these rankings. The difficultly of evaluating restaurants from around the world with the same standard criteria is obvious enough, sometimes we are appalled when a very highly reputed well-established venue falls behind, or not listed at all. The logic of the list gets even more complicated, when we compare the regional lists and the world list, in most cases there is a hard-to-comprehend positioning of places in the world list that do not match with regional lists.

When we look at the lists side by side, the confusing points are way too many. For example, Chef Ton’s restaurant Le Du in Bangkok, which ranked first in the Asia list, ranked 15th in the world ranking. Now we can call this normal, but right in front of Le Du, Odette from Singapore, which ranked sixth in the Asian ranking, came 14th, this time just ahead of the winner of Asia. Similarly, from Bangkok, Gaggan Anand which have long been occupying top places in the Asian list, this year the fifth, made a remarkable first entry at the 17th place, a long-awaited entry in the top 50. Having experienced Bangkok venues in the recent past, I have clear observations. For example, Sühring of twin Sühring brothers, which ranked 22nd in Asia, and Potong of Chef Pam, which ranked 35th, were only 72nd and 88th in the world ranking, despite their impeccable service and exquisite creative food, to my opinion, both deserve a place higher up. Oddities continue in Asia and World comparison. Sèzanne in Tokyo, which is also ranked second in Asia, is 37th this time, and even if we consider this as normal, other Tokyo venues Den and Florilège, which are behind Sèzanne in the Asian list, are ahead of Sèzanne in the world list.

Looking at the regional lists, strangeness continues. In recent years, as big capital has shifted to the Middle East countries, interest in the region has increased with many chefs opening up high-end venues, and eventually a separate list emerged. Orfali Bros, which ranked first in the 50 Best MENA list, could only rank 46th in the world list, but Trèsind Studio, which ranked second in the same MENA list, ranked 11th in the world list, that is, far ahead of Orfali. Both are whopping new entries from Dubai in the world ranking, but how come two restaurants which follow one another in one list fall thirty-five steps apart, and in the opposite order? When you look at it from this perspective, there are serious differences between the regional rankings and the world rankings, it’s hard to understand the mathematics of lists.

Latin America is surely the winner in the world list, Peruvian venues having an amazing place, four restaurants in Lima only. Central, which ranked first in the world list, also ranked first in the 50 Best LATAM, Latin America list, but the second ranked Don Julio in Buenos Aires and the third ranked Maido in Lima have very different positions in the world rankings. While Maido ranked sixth in the world list, Don Julio has fallen quite far behind in 19th place, falling behind the places that didn’t make the top three in LATAM.

In recent years the 50 Best list has been dominated by Scandinavian and Spanish restaurants, leaving many other European countries empty handed. Spain still has its stand occupying three of the top five places, seven in total in the top 50. Things are changing in Europe. Entries from Germany, Austria and Switzerland show that these regional groups work well. These countries had laid the foundations of fine dining, of course together with France, and it was simply sad not to see places from those countries which did not seem to care about PR activities, but rather focus on the finesse of their dishes and service. It is refreshing to see high-end classics like Steirereck (18th) from Vienna, Austria, Schloss Schauenstein (26th) from Fürstenau, Switzerland, and of course to see Restaurant Tim Raue (40th) and Nobelhart & Schmutzig (45th), both from Berlin. One big applause goes to Table by Bruno Verjus from Paris, France which is the highest new entry in 10th, while Atomix from New York City in eighth is the highest climber in the ladder. Some parts of Europe still go missing. The Balkans, for example, are completely absent as they have been for years and years, whereas in neighboring Greece, there are of course places of the caliber that deserve to be listed, but somehow, they never appear. There are many such countries that are completely overlooked; Australia seems to be off the map, and North America is not well-presented at all, Canada completely absent. So, I still have to congratulate Maksut Aşkar and Fatih Tutak for their places in the 51-100 list. At least they were able to exist in the list, the math or logic of which is getting more and more complicated to comprehend.

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