After four consecutive years topping the list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, Bangkok’s Gaggan has finally been dethroned.
Odette in Singapore managed to wrestle the title from the iconic Indian-fusion restaurant, famed for its emoji-filled menu. Chef Julien Royer, who named the place after his maternal grandmother, steered Odette to first place from from ninth when it made its debut on the list in 2017. Its menu consists of multiple-course French fare that has included delights such as “seared foie gras, miso caramel, lemon quinoa and Japanese strawberries.”
Gaggan landed in second place, still retaining the title of Thailand’s best—a bittersweet end for a restaurant that is due to close in 2020 as chef-owner Gaggan Anand plans new ventures in Japan.
Tokyo kaiseki eatery Den; German restaurant Sühring, run by twin brothers in Bangkok; and French-inspired Florilège in Tokyo rounded out the top five of Asia’s Best. Den Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, who also won the chef’s choice award, said he had introduced Japanese truffles to his dishes over the past year, paired with soup and fish.
Surprise additions to the 50 Best list include Dewakan in Kuala Lumpur, which becomes the first-ever restaurant in Malaysia to win a spot, and Manila’s Toyo Eatery, helmed by chef Jordy Navarra, which is the first Philippine restaurant on the list since 2017. “In the past year we just changed the menu,” said Navarra. “One of the fun things that we’ve been playing around with is making our own banana ketchup—it’s super Filipino. I think it’s one part of what we are.”
Once again, Greater China sealed its place as Asia’s prime food destination, with 13 entries on the list, including nine in Hong Kong. Hot on its heels is Japan with 12 (with 10 from Tokyo), Thailand with eight entries and Singapore with seven.
French haute cuisine restaurant Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental—Hong Kong’s top-placed restaurant for the past five years—tumbled 14 places to No. 21, making Cantonese restaurant The Chairman the city’s highest-placed on the list, at No. 11. Amber has been closed for renovations since December 2018 and is due to reopen this spring with a revamped menu.
Chef and culinary director Richard Ekkebus has spent the downtime traversing the world with his team, finding new ingredients and learning new cooking techniques. “We’re still testing new ingredients and dishes so details of the new menu will be revealed closer to the opening. What guests can expect, though, is the same purity of flavors and classic techniques,” he said.
For the handful of restaurants that have consistently ranked among the top 50, innovation is key to staying relevant, their chefs say.
Tetsuya Wakuda, chef of Waku Ghin at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore which now ranks No. 40, said he experimented last year with a new ingredient—the muscle of a fresh pearl oyster. “It is meaty, boasts sweet and delicious flavors and has a unique texture, unlike abalone or scallops,” he said. It’s the star in the dish “poached pearl’s meat with confit of chicken and mushroom,” which has taken a place on the menu alongside house signatures such as “marinated botan shrimp with sea urchin and caviar.”
In Hong Kong, chef Hideaki Sato of Ta Vie, which came in at No. 50, said he liked to tweak the flavor of his dishes at the last minute to suit what diners are drinking. He’s been exploring ingredients such as Chinese yellow wine, roselle (a species of hibiscus), dried persimmon and lotus. In New Delhi, chef Manish Mehrotra said he experimented with sorrel leaves, amaranth seeds and fresh mangoes at Indian Accent, which at No. 17 is India’s best restaurant.
Since taking over gourmet Thai restaurant Nahm (No. 22) in Bangkok last year, chef Pim Techamuanvivit, one of four female chefs on this year’s list, said she had designed a new menu, “refocusing on amazing ingredients produced in Thailand.” Fellow Bangkok restaurateur, Chef Garima Arora, won the “Elit Vodka Asia’s best female chef” award for her modern Indian cuisine at Gaa, which debuted at No. 16.
And executive chef Chan Yan Tak at Hong Kong’s Lung King Heen, ranked No. 38, found unlikely inspiration for one of his latest creations: airplane food. On a flight to Singapore he peeled back the foil cover of his meal and found “long grains that are quite chewy.” He said: “I later learned that it is an Italian pasta called puntalette, so I tried to cook it in the Chinese way and this new twist to fried rice has become very popular at Lung King Heen.”
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is selected and voted on by a panel of 318 food writers, critics, chefs, restaurateurs and foodies across Asia. The awards are held and published each year since 2013 by William Reed Business Media.
Here’s the full list for 2019:
1 Odette – Singapore
2 Gaggan – Bangkok, Thailand
3 Den – Tokyo, Japan
4 Sühring – Bangkok, Thailand
5 Florilège – Tokyo, Japan
6 Ultraviolet – Shanghai, China
7 Mume – Taipei, Taiwan
8 Narisawa – Tokyo, Japan
9 Nihonryori Ryugin – Tokyo, Japan
10 Burnt Ends – Singapore
11 The Chairman – Hong Kong
12 Otto e Mezzo – Hong Kong
13 Mingles – Seoul, South Korea
14 La Cime – Osaka, Japan
15 Belon – Hong Kong
16 Gaa – Bangkok, Thailand
17 Indian Accent – New Delhi, India
18 Il Ristorante – Luca Fantin – Tokyo, Japan
19 Bo.Lan – Bangkok, Thailand
20 Le Du – Bangkok, Thailand
21 Amber – Hong Kong
22 Nahm – Bangkok, Thailand
23 Sazenka – Tokyo
24 La Maison de la Naure Goh – Fukuoka, Japan
25 Sushi Saito – Tokyo, Japan
26 L’Effervescence – Tokyo, Japan
27 Jade Dragon – Macau, China
28 Paste – Bangkok, Thailand
29 Fu He Hui – Shanghai, China
30 Raw – Taipei, Taiwan
31 Shoun RyuGin – Taipei, Taiwan
32 Jaan – Singapore
33 Les Amis – Singapore
34 Vea – Hong Kong
35 Ministry of Crab – Sri Lanka
36 Wing Lei Palace – Macau
37 Neighborhood – Hong Kong
38 Lung King Heen – Hong Kong
39 Nouri – Singapore
40 Waku Ghin – Singapore
41 Toc Toc – Seoul, South Korea
42 Locavore – Bali, Indonesia
43 Toyo Eatery – Manila, Philippines
44 Seventh Son – Hong Kong
45 Quintessence – Tokyo, Japan
46 Dewakan – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
47 Sugalabo – Tokyo, Japan
48 Sorn – Bangkok, Thailand
49 Corner House – Singapore
50 Ta Vie – Hong Kong