After four consecutive years as Asia’s best restaurant, 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 ninth in 2017 with multiple-course French fare that has included “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 run 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 50 Best Restaurants list. Den Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, who also won the chef’s choice award, said he introduced Japanese truffles to his dishes over the past year, paired with soup and fish.
Surprise additions included the first-ever Malaysian winner, Dewakan Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, and Manila’s Toyo Eatery, helmed by chef Jordy Navarra. “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.” The last time a Philippine restaurant made the list was in 2017.
French haute-cuisine restaurant Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental — Hong Kong’s top-placed restaurant for the past five years—fell 14 places to No. 21. Amber, at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 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 flavours and classic techniques,” he said.
For the handful of restaurants that have consistently ranked among the top 50, their chefs say innovation is key.
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 flavours 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 flavour 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 the handful of female chefs who featured in this year’s list—said she made a completely new menu, “refocusing on amazing ingredients produced in Thailand,” such as variants of fish sauce.
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 by William Reed Business Media, a U.K.-based media company.