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World’s best restaurants track the global economy, but not its billionaires

El Celler de Can Roca restaurant
AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
The brothers Roca, whose El Celler de Can Roca restaurant was just named the world’s finest.
By Adam Pasick
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Europe is stagnant, developing countries in Asia and Latin America are climbing fast, Japan is showing signs of growth, and signals are mixed in the United States. An overview of the world economy? It’s actually the latest ranking of the world’s best restaurants.

There were few surprises at the top of the list: El Celler de Can Roca, a Catalan restaurant that mixes traditional fare with avant grade surrealistic touches, overtook Denmark’s Noma for the #1 spot after spending several years at #2.

But there were some interesting trends in the rest of the list, especially among the major gainers and losers. Countries with 2012 GDP growth of greater than 3% did remarkably well, making big leaps up the rankings and adding new restaurants to the list:

  • Mexico (Pujol, #17, up 19; Biko, #31, up 7)
  • Thailand (Nahm, #32, up 18)
  • Peru (Astrid y Gaston, #14, up 21; Central, #50, new)
  • China (Mr & Mrs Bund, #43, new)
  • Australia (Attica, #21, new)

Meanwhile, the countries with 2012 GDP growth of 1% or less fared less well:

  • Spain’s five restaurants were mostly unchanged, other than El Celler de Can Roca, which climbed one spot to #1, and Quique Dacosta, which moved up 14 spots to #26.
  • France’s restaurants lost ground except for L’Aperge, which was flat at #16, and Septime, which was newly added at #49.
  • In the UK, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal and The Ledbury were flat, and Blumenthal’s erstwhile #1 The Fat Duck dropped 20 places to #33.

The United States (2012 GDP growth 2.2%) had six restaurants on the list—tied with France for the most—but four of them lost ground. Japan (also 2.2%) had two restaurants on the list (Narawisa,#20; Nihonryori RyuGin, #22), and each moved up seven slots.

Of course there were exceptions to the broader trends. Australia’s Quay dropped 19 spots to #48, despite 3.3% GDP growth in Oz, and Belgium’s Hof Van Cleve climbed 17 spots to #25. Italy’s two best restaurants (Osteria Francescana, #3; Le Calandre Rubano, #27) shrugged off a grim economy to edge up in the rankings, and it added two entrants to the list.

Ultimately the world’s best restaurants cater to a global elite who can afford to spend thousands of dollars for a meal. And many of the world’s best restaurants cater to tourists (especially the kind that can take a Gulfstream to dinner), which distorts the nation-by-nation trends a bit. But in the end, elite restaurants are a mark of a country’s ability to cater to the wealthy—and there are a growing number of businessmen in the developing world with big appetites and a taste for the finest things in life.

Another way to analyze the list of best restaurants is to compare it to the Forbes billionaires list.

‘Best Restaurants’ by Country

  • United States (6)
  • France (6)
  • Spain (5)
  • United Kingdom (3)
  • Germany (2)
  • Australia (2)
  • Peru (2)
  • Hong Kong (2)
  • Germany (2)
  • Denmark (2)
  • Brazil (2)
  • Japan (2)
  • Mexico (2)

Billionaires by Country

  • United States (442)
  • China (122)
  • Russia (110)
  • Germany (58)
  • India (55)
  • Brazil (46)
  • Turkey (43)
  • Hong Kong (39)
  • United Kingdom (37)
  • Canada (29)

“Best Restaurants” mainstays Spain, Italy, and France are also within shouting distance of the billionaires top 10. But chefs with big ambitions should have their eyes on countries with big spenders but few top-flight places to eat, like China (1 restaurant on the list), Russia (none), India (none), Turkey (none), and Canada (none).

In the meantime, take pity on the hungry billionaire gourmands who have to fly their private jets to Noma, El Celler de Can Roca, or 11 Madison Park just to get a decent meal.

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