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The business of fine dining is booming, no matter what the casual chic or locovore movement purists may claim. In fact, you could argue that it has been enhanced by the philosophies of farm-to-table and casual dining, making fine dining more pertinent and accessible than a bewildering tome of French terms and complicated sauces. Here are our picks for the eleven best fine dining restaurants of 2016, taking diners with discerning appetites from San Francisco all the way across the globe to Sydney.
Note: Restaurants on this list have either opened, reopened, or made significant staff or menu changes between December 2014 and March 2016.
1. Restaurant Guy Savoy, Paris, France
When Guy Savoy moved from his original Right Bank location in Paris into magnificent quarters overlooking the Seine, he also created a pulse-racing selection of new dishes to complement his Michelin three-star classics. His playful spirit is on display from the provocative miniature hors d’oeuvres through the delightful desserts. None of the many temples to haute cuisine in Paris can compete. Savoy, one of the world’s best-loved chefs, is now also one of its most glamorous.
Guy Savoy is in the Monnaie de Paris (the Paris Mint), a grand neoclassical building just outside Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The intimate restaurant seats only 60; Savoy directs a brigade of 30 chefs in the kitchen. Signature dishes include Sea Bass from Head to Toe (a filet, rice cooked with sea-bass fumet and goose barnacles, and the grilled head) and a rhubarb dessert (a pink pod made with ribbons of rhubarb holding a sphere of rhubarb sorbet).
2. Gabriel Kreuther, New York City, USA
Nothing is left to chance at Gabriel Kreuther’s elegant, modern eatery in Midtown Manhattan. His attention to detail starts with comfortable cream-colored banquettes, tables spaced so there is room to breathe, and places set with sculptural Vera Purtscher flatware. The impressive menu, filled with surprising flavours, fulfils high expectations. Best bet: Let Kreuther orchestrate your multicourse dining experience and sommelier Emilie Perrier select pairings from the 42-page wine list.
The menu reflects Kreuther’s culinary journey, from his childhood in Alsace to his tenure at top New York restaurants such as Jean-Georges and the Modern. Signature dishes include foie gras terrine with black-truffle praline, cardamom-roasted Alaskan king crab, and a tableside-torched Crème Brûlée Frappé. No stone is left unpolished: Even the ice in the iced tea is made of iced tea.
3. The Table by Kevin Fehling, Hamburg, Germany
When Kevin Fehling moved from the provincial German village of Travemünde to the city of Hamburg, it took a mere three months for him to regain three Michelin stars. The Table is radically urban, designed around a single, long communal table. Guests sit and watch as the cooks – accompanied by Fehling’s lounge-music mixtapes – work silently, creating dishes filled with Japanese flavours and inspirations: nigiri of foie gras, shiso jelly masquerading as octopus, or a dashi macaron.
The restaurant is in Hamburg’s newly redeveloped HafenCity district on the Elbe River. There are only 20 seats at the snake-shaped table, each within a perfect view of the kitchen.
4. Disfrutar, Barcelona, Spain
What delights about Disfrutar is not just that its three chefs – all former chefs de cuisine at El Bulli – are keeping alive the imaginative style of that legendary restaurant, but that they make it so much fun. Yes, the culinary world has moved on, El Bulli closed 5 years ago, and molecular gastronomy is practically reviled in some local-loving, farm-to-table quarters. But the menu here combines wit and deliciousness in a way that makes it all seem new again.
Chefs Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, and Mateu Casañas developed the recipes and ran the kitchen at El Bulli in its last years. Located in a central part of Barcelona, Disfrutar is much more accessible than the remote El Bulli ever was. Standout dishes include crispy egg yolk with mushroom gel and chocolate-mousse “peppers."
5. Automata, Sydney, Australia
Chef Clayton Wells is cooking the kind of food that looks simple on the plate but is so deeply layered with flavour that you find yourself staring at a visually stunning plate of, say, red cabbage with green sauce and black garlic and wondering, How did he do that? Add a sensitive drinks menu heavy on natural wines and interesting sakes, and Automata is the kind of place that makes you want to be a regular, even if you do not live in Sydney.
One of three attention-getting restaurants in the Old Clare Hotel, in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. Automata’s aesthetic is industrial chic, but the service is warm and friendly. Wells previously cooked at Momofuku Seiōbo; this is his first solo venture.
6. Ninebark, Napa Valley, California, USA
Matthew Lightner, a veteran of the Michelin two-star Atera in New York City, has brought more star power to Napa Valley. At his new restaurant, in a century-old brick building in downtown Napa, Lightner is earning raves for surprising combinations such as charred broccoli arranged over green goddess dressing and covered with a thick snowfall of smoked cheddar. He uses carrots in pimiento spread and adds numbing Sichuan peppercorns to crab toast.
The pickle plate, made with about a dozen fruits and vegetables, summarises the best of Napa produce. The restaurant features a bar on the first floor, the second-floor dining room, and a roof terrace overlooking the Napa River. Ninebark is named after an indigenous shrub.
7. Otium, Los Angeles, California, USA
The most exciting block in Los Angeles may be the stretch of Grand Avenue downtown where the Broad museum opened last fall, soon followed by Otium, its exquisitely appointed restaurant. Timothy Hollingsworth, a former chef at the French Laundry, commands the wood-fired stoves in the open kitchen, turning out beautiful dishes with big flavours: lightly cured amberjack with yuzu, smoked tangerine, and chicharrón; octopus with mole and peanuts; and even a foie gras funnel cake.
Although it is not mentioned on the menu, some of the beef is sourced from Brian Flannery, the famed Northern California purveyor. The short wine list delivered to the table is just the beginning: To see all of the approximately 300 selections, request the iPad wine list. An enormous Damien Hirst mural, Isolated Elements, covers the south facade of the restaurant.
8. Cala, San Francisco, California, USA
At her Mexico City restaurant Contramar, Gabriela Cámara developed a following among chefs around the world. When she decided to open a restaurant in San Francisco, she moved to that city and spent 2 years perfecting the concept. The interior feels like an urban oasis and the seafood menu features an array of chillies creating harmony in every combination, from trout tostadas smoky with chipotle to cool abalone spiked with serrano cream.
Signature dishes include mussels steamed in masa and a tamal de cazuela with uni and habanero-leek relish. The doyenne of Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy, helped Cámara perfect the menu. Tacos Cala, at the restaurant’s back entrance, is open weekdays for lunch and transforms into Tapas Cala on Friday and Saturday nights for snacks and cocktails.
9. Lago by Julian Serrano, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Julian Serrano, the Michelin-starred Spanish chef, ventured into fresh culinary territory when he opened his new restaurant at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Borrowing a Spanish format – tapas – he created a sophisticated Italian small-plates menu with dishes such as scallop crudo with blood orange, pistachio, and a bright citrus-anchovy olive oil, and velvety tomato-and-mint risotto with tripe and mushroom puree. The dining room overlooks the Bellagio fountains, a view complemented by cool, contemporary interiors by Studio Munge.
The inventive cocktail menu includes a tropical-fruit mojito topped with a pineapple cone stuffed with passion-fruit pearls and a gold-dusted mint crown. Every seat is within view of the dancing fountains, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and a patio. The facade’s multicolour abstract Italian-glass mosaic depicts an aerial map of Milan.
10. Labyrinth, Singapore
Chef-owner Han Li Guang at Labyrinth is proof that reams of books and piles of classes aren’t necessarily the only ingredients to create a culinary tour-de-force. The self-taught chef is maturing into a fine example of how modern techniques can elevate familiar recipes. Han calls his cuisine Neo-Sin, Singaporean dishes given a new spin.
His chilli crab is a great example of this: the sweet-and-spicy flavours of Singapore’s signature dish in ice cream form placed in a deep-fried soft shell crab accompanied with crab bisque foam and a ‘sandy beach’ made of crumbled man tou. A cheeky sign saying ‘Beware Crab!’ and a tiki-cocktail umbrella complete the teasing scene. His take on siew yoke fan (roast pork rice) places a tender slab of pork on risotto cooked in ramen broth. It’s a familiar journey in unfamiliar territory – the tasting menus are titled ‘discovery’ and ‘experience’ – which harkens to the name; a trip into the wonders that a labyrinth could bring.
11. Tri, Hong Kong
An unusual combination. Balinese food. In Hong Kong. And not with a view of the immense Hong Kong skyline, but the beach views of Repulse Bay in the quieter south of the island. Formed by leading tastemakers Le Comptoir and designed by Elora Hardy of Bali-based firm Ibuku, Tri skirts the edges between fine dining and casual elegance, a resort-like take that is as delicious as it is beautiful. The setting is fantastic: a naturalistic diorama of bamboo, wood and stone that looks straight out of Ubud, with lotus-shaped bamboo pods and a wall of Balinese batik tjaps (patterned copper stamps) in the private room.
In the kitchen, executive chef Conor Beach and Balinese chef de cuisine I Wayan Mustika strike a balance, using traditional recipes as a base to springboard in a more innovative direction. The sambal tempeh is a perfect introduction to the refined-rustic duality, fermented soybean sheets mixed with crispy cauliflower with fiery chilli. The bebek goreng (fried duck) is not bird-on-the-bone, but neat rectangles of tender meat ringed with dots of chilli mango sambal, pink grapefruit and coiled cucumbers. The iga sapi (beef short ribs) is wonderfully tender, with green chilli sambal for a kick, while dadar gulung (rolled pancakes) evoke the tropics with their filling of coconut and mango.