If the thought of packing your bags to jet off to one of the best restaurants in the world in 2019 seems like a wonderful way to spend your travel budget, you’re in luck. It just so happens that wanderlust-prone foodies can now make their way around the world according to an expertly-curated list of eateries and events that have been deemed the best of the best at the inaugural World Restaurant Awards.
People travel for all sorts of reasons. Some travel to climb mountains, others to visit epic libraries, or to gaze in wonderment at the Northern Lights. There are those who yearn to visit iconic landmarks, shop for exotic keepsakes, explore ancient sites, and to learn more about themselves and the world. Then, of course, you get people who travel for the love of awe-inspiring food. These are our people – the ones who (like us!) plan their holidays around far-flung restaurant reservations and would quite happily couch-surf if it meant they could get in on some obscure culinary action.
To let your taste buds do the travelling here’s the list of restaurants that deserve a spot on you must-visit list in 2019:
Wolfgat (Paternoster, South Africa)
Winner: Restaurant of the Year + Off-Map Destination
Yes folks, that’s right – Wolfgat managed to scoop not one, but two places of honour in this year’s World Restaurant Awards. We’ve been aware of chef Kobus van der Merwe’s extraordinary genius for a while now over here at Eatsplorer HQ, so we cannot say we are in the least bit surprised that his low-key West Coast eatery has finally made it onto the international culinary map. We might be ever so slightly miffed about the fact that the restaurant in question is now booked out five months in advance, but we’re also proud as punch that this marvellously talented South African is finally getting the recognition he so rightly deserves.
So, what’s the big deal, you may ask. Well, the location on the windswept sands of Paternoster, overlooking the choppy West Coast ocean, for one thing. The small numbers of diners, the unfettered ambience and, most importantly, the sheer genius of the food.
Kobus is a foraging demigod if ever there was one. He is single-handedly shining the limelight on the incredible biodiversity of the Strandveld region by keeping his diners on their toes with a series of unprecedented dishes that go boldly where no menu has dared to go before. Think succulent leaves stuffed with fish and watermelon; tjokka flavoured with wild garlic masala and slangbessies; heerenboontjie pate with pickled crudités – the list goes on.
By combining the old-world approach of localised foraging with new-world techniques that enhance the remarkable qualities of wild ingredients, Kobus is turning our native fauna and flora into new and exciting dishes deeply rooted in a sense of place. It’s pure and utter magic (*insert loud and continuous applause*).
Paradiso X Gortnanain (Cork, Ireland)
Winner: Collaboration of the Year
Paradiso X Gortnanain is a wonderful example of what happens when restaurant owners work closely with their suppliers. Gortnanain Farm in County Cork is run by Ultan Walsh, a part-time bouzouki and mandolin-maker who also gets a great kick out of growing unusual vegetables. Chef Denis Cotter heads up Paradiso, a vegetarian restaurant in the same area. Since Walsh quit his life of academics to tend the land, he has become a preferred supplier to the eatery, which now has the ability to serve a responsive menu based on locally-grown produce rather than having to import ingredients from elsewhere. The restaurant also happens to be a favourite with Cork locals, so it’s a great spot to soak up some genuine Irish craic.
Refettorio (Italy & various locations)
Winner: Ethical Thinking
The story behind Refettorio (Food For Soul) is as heart-warming as it gets. Celebrated chef Massimo Bottura of the world-renowned Osteria Francescana in Modena, and his wife, Lara Gilmore, started the Food for Soul project in 2016. What began as one restaurant on the outskirts of Milan that served meals to the city’s homeless community made solely from surplus ingredients from major supermarkets, quickly took hold in Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris and further afield.
Today the group continues to source quality and in-date ingredients that are perfectly edible but would otherwise go to waste, which they rework into nutritious multi-course meals that are served to food-insecure individuals free of charge in neglected spaces that have been transformed into inclusive social hubs. You may not exactly be able to eat at one of these restaurants yourself, but you can contribute to this worthy cause, or even volunteer if that’s your cup of tea.
Lido 84 (Cacio e Pepe) (Lombardy, Italy)
Winner: House Special
Lido 84 (Cacio e Pepe) won the award for restaurants defined by one particular dish. So even though the eatery is incredibly sophisticated and has a killer view over Lake Garda, the award focussed solely on the virtues of its Cacio e Pepe ‘en Vessie’ – a gloriously rich pasta dish featuring cheese and pepper, served in a pig’s bladder that is sliced open tableside. It went up against the famous grilled eel from Oban and roast goose from Yak Lok, so you just know it’s going to knock your socks off.
Inua (Tokyo, Japan)
Winner: Arrival of the Year
Inua is a restaurant where cutting-edge Nordic techniques meet the very best Japanese produce and ingredients. Perched on the 9th floor of the Fujimi Building in the riverside neighbourhood of Iidabashi, it’s the brainchild of German-born chef Thomas Frebel, who honed his craft at Noma for ten years and spent three years leading René Redzepi’s research and development team. It was during the 2015 Noma pop-up in Japan that chef Frebel realised this was where he wanted to spend his life. Inua (the Inuit term for the life force in all living things) is the result of this dream.
Vespertine (Los Angeles, United States)
Winner: Atmosphere of the Year
Vespertine is the new 22-seat tasting menu restaurant from LA chef Jordan Kahn, who earned his stripes as a pastry chef at Michael Mina’s XIV, and then at the helm of the Red Medicine kitchen. Situated in Culver City’s Hayden Tract, the eatery is known for its ‘dinner experience in four acts’. The real drawing card is the building, a two-story structure, separated into four levels without any traditional walls, and the experience that awaits within. This is Kubrick with a dash of Lynch – a multi-sensory installation set to a tailormade soundtrack that draws you into the mind of chef Khan. It’s where you go when you want to step outside of time and see dining from a whole new perspective.
Mugaritz (San Sebastian, Spain)
Winner: Forward Drinking
Mugaritz is famed for its otherworldly wine cellar, which holds 1600+ wines and 90+ sakes. Andoni Luis Aduriz and his team of talented sommeliers, in turn, are renowned for accompanying the eatery’s 20-course tasting menus with a variety of top tier-, vintage- and short run wines. These pairings change from week to week, and even from service to service. At Mugaritz, the dishes you’ll end up eating don’t necessarily have their inspired origins in the kitchen – it quite possibly started out as a collaboration between the sommeliers and chefs who make up the restaurant’s research and development department.
La Mère Brazier (Lyon, France)
Winner: Enduring Classic
La Mère Brazier took the prize in the category for restaurants that have been around for more than 50 years. Currently under the stewardship of chef Mathieu Viannay who took over in 2008, La Mère Brazier was opened by the famous Eugénie Brazier in 1921 at the tender age of 26. Viannay took it upon himself to restore the eatery to its former glory and has preserved classic dishes like Poularde de Bresse demi-deuil (‘chicken in half mourning’), while adding beautifully-crafted new offerings of his own invention that celebrates the restaurant’s illustrious history rather than distracting from it – truly the best of both worlds.
Le Clarence (Paris, France)
Winner: Original Thinking
Le Clarence is where fine dining meets fun dining with a huge dose of unprecedented and unbridled experimentation. The Michelin-awarded restaurant is located in a superb 1884 mansion located close to the Champs-Elysée, i.e. it’s fancy to the core. But it’s also the playground and laboratory of chef Christophe Pelé, who is renowned for his envelope-pushing creativity and artistic expression. This is where you go if you want to be dazzled beyond measure, but would also like to show off some fancy eveningwear while doing so.
Refugee Food Festival (Paris, France & worldwide)
Winner: Event of the Year
The Refugee Food Festival started in Paris in 2016, when co-founder Louis Martin and his partner Marine Mandrila sought to accelerate the integration of refugee chefs in their city by bringing together 11 restaurants, eight refugee chefs and 1,000 guests. The event is now in its fourth year and has expanded to include 16 cities worldwide, including Cape Town and San Francisco. It is about more than just creating a platform for the talents of displaced chefs – it’s about calling attention to the plight of refugees everywhere and showing how a community can thrive when they bind together in inclusivity. Keep an eye out for related events in your country or countries you visit on your travels in 2019.
Mocotó (São Paulo, Brazil)
Winner: No Reservations Required
Mocotó took the award in the category for restaurants where you can just turn up and wait until a table becomes available, something that is not as common as it used to be. At this Brazilian restaurant, you can expect to share queue space with local labourers, visiting celebrities, businessmen, couples and families who all descend on the eatery to enjoy the same calf’s foot soup, secret-recipe pork rinds, oxtail with corn grits and roasted stuffed pork ribs that have been served here since 1973. What used to be a modest neighbourhood grocery store is now one of the most popular restaurants in São Paulo, and it’s easy to see why – it offers a true and authentic taste of place.
There you have it – the best restaurants and events in the world in 2019, according to the clever folks from the World Restaurant Awards. Feeling a little stir-crazy yet? We don’t blame you! It’s enough to make any normally-sane human throw all caution to the wind and hop on the next plane out of here.
However, if you need to keep things closer to home for the time being, there are plenty of fun and inspiring things to get up to right here in sunny South Africa. You can have secret sunset cocktail experiences in Cape Town, go on gourmet cycling tours in the Karoo, forage and feast in Elgin and more! Keep an eye on our social platforms and get in touch if you would like to learn more about our inspiring collection of Eatsplorer experiences.
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Writing Anna-Best Bester | Photographs Inua, Dezeen, Visi, New York Times, House and Leisure, Amanda Friedman, AFAR Media,