The list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants grabs headlines every year and sparks a worldwide rush for bookings at the Number One, be it current front-runner Osteria Francescana, or four-time winner Noma. But since the awards were introduced in 2002, they’ve also been criticised for elitism, with detractors claiming they don’t represent the diversity of the dynamic global dining scene.
That looks set to change with the launch of the World Restaurant Awards, which were created by IMG, in partnership with Joe Warwick (Creative Director), working alongside Andrea Petrini (Chair of Judging panel). “We’re doing something different, it’s not like anything else that’s out there at the moment,” explains co-founder Joe Warwick. “We’re looking at a much wider range of restaurants than any other international awards. There are so many restaurants around the world, but we tend to end up talking about the same ones all the time. There’s an embarrassment of riches when you scratch beneath the surface.”
With its first winners due to be announced on 18th February in Paris, the World Restaurant Awards are divided into 18 categories: 12 ‘Big Plates’ and six ‘Small Plates’. Warwick describes the former as “the more serious awards”, including ‘Arrival of the Year’ for newcomers, ‘Original Thinking’ to celebrate culinary creativity and, the ultimate, ‘Restaurant of the Year’.
‘Small Plates’ are a movable feast; a selection that will change annually, featuring quirky and thought- provoking awards like ‘Tattoo-Free Chef’, ‘Instagram Account of the Year’ and ‘Tweezer-Free Kitchen’. “It’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time we’re trying to make a point about chefs that aren’t following fashion,” says Warwick. “We’re trying to be quite lateral with the categories. There are so many ways you can cut up the restaurant industry – and you can have fun and tell stories, which is what we’re trying to do.”
A quick glance at the Shortlist shows that diversity. Take the ‘House Special’ award for restaurants that specialise in one dish. It includes roast goose experts Yat Long in Hong Kong, where you can eat for £10, and Obana in Tokyo, a long-established grilled eel eatery. “The other award that’s democratic is ‘No Reservations Required’, for places where you can turn up on the night and eat,” says Warwick. “So, we’ve got some very affordable, fun, accessible places.”
Perhaps most importantly, the judging process for the World Restaurant Awards is transparent – something that’s key for Warwick, who previously worked on 50 Best. Judges are named, and the panel was the first to be gender-balanced (other awards have since followed suit). The judges nominate shortlists, then teams of inspectors visit every shortlisted restaurant to judge them – “which no other restaurant awards do,” claims Warwick.
The ultimate aim of the World Restaurant Awards is to persuade people that restaurants are culture. “In UK newspapers, restaurants will be in the lifestyle section; you go to France and they’re in the culture section – and the same in Italy,” says Warwick. “We’re keen to get restaurants considered as culture, in the same way that you’ve got awards for film, theatre and music.”
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