There’s always a little bit of hope for an upset. Yet despite vast movements in the lower ranks of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list that saw honorees zoom up or down in excess of 10 places, incumbent numero uno Gaggan retained its top spot at the 2016 awards ceremony on Monday in Bangkok.
In a way, that was unusual – in its short four-year history, the regional sublist of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants hasn’t seen a two-time winner. And the glory was sweeter yet for taking place on home turf, the awards ceremony having moved to the Thai capital this year from Singapore.
The restaurant’s chef, Gaggan Anand, is a lion of a man. Big and brash, gregarious – Mr Personality in the age of personalities. He was also, fittingly, the host of one of the evening’s after-parties and, as he would soon prove, a damn good one.
A great deal of new blood – Korea’s Mingles, Philippines’ Gallery Vask, Singapore’s Corner Room were all fresh debuts, alongside seven others – also made for a buoyant atmosphere at the official post-awards cocktail held at the House of Sathorn. Andre Chiang was celebrating his first double-win (for Restaurant Andre in Singapore and Raw in Taipei) and in particular, the bronze-spot honour, with inimitable poise. Lifetime Achievement Award winner David Thompson was mobbed at the photo backdrop, just as the servers were on the other side of the courtyard, dishing out curries to guests, cooked up by Thompson’s top-eight restaurant Nahm.
The official shindig ended early, in chef terms – before Cinderella had a chance to ditch her glass slipper, gangs of chefs, restaurateurs and journalists were hailing taxis to Soi Langsuan, the site of the number-one restaurant in Asia. Anand was already in the kitchen.
By his side? Chef-proprietor of the list’s number-two restaurant, Yoshihiro Narisawa, who had two years earlier seen his crown toppled by Anand (contrary to what Gordon Ramsay’s TV programmes would have you believe, most chefs tend to get along). Narisawa was pumping out naan as Anand alternately stirred curries and gave high fives to the crowds of congratulatory bodies. Arrivees to the party may have been surprised to find a sparse crowd on the restaurant’s main floor – the lion’s share had moved into the kitchen to snap selfies with the chefs and gain rare access to the restaurant’s back stage.
Eventually, the heat did get too much – and some got out of the kitchen. Thinking smart, number-four spotholder Richard Ekkebus of Hong Kong’s Amber adjourned to the chef’s table private dining room, with its large window into the kitchen, along with chef de cuisine Maxime Gilbert and Vogue Lounge’s Vincent Thierry (who, when he helmed Caprice in Hong Kong, took it to a top-20 place in the list before decamping to Bangkok).
“Ever had naan made by a Japanese chef?” Ekkebus joked.
Not missing a beat, a server plonked down another serving of naan on the table, along with a buffet of curries. “Here’s some from an Indian chef.” While the Hong Kong chef reunion continued, and Ekkebus proved mortal by hitting up the restaurant for free wifi (Denied: “I don’t suggest it. Everyone is already on wifi,” chuckled another staff member), more global visitors showed face. Group editor of the awards William Drew traded in his suit and tie for glasses of champagne; Spanish chef Joan Roca of World’s Best Restaurant El Celler de Can Roca made an appearance; Chef’s Choice award winner Paul Pairet’s signature newsboy cap was spotted bobbing through the crowd.
Outside, the Korean contingent, including La Yeon’s Kim Sung Il and Jungsik’s Jung Sik Yim made smoking look cool again. Yim divulged he’d just taken a meeting with Hong Kong tycoon Peter Lam, who is looking to extend his burgeoning restaurant empire with a Korean offering. “He has Bombana!” enthused the young chef, referring to the businessman’s investment in the well-respected Italian venue and number-17 restaurant 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo, pointing to the portly Italian chef through the crowd like a starstruck teenager.
Efforts to usher partygoers indoors proved futile. Best Female Chef honouree Margarita Fores had been navigating the evening in four-inch stilettos (a vestige of her former life in fashion, working at the house of Valentino). Seated at a table just outside the entrance to the restaurant with Gallery Vask’s Chele Gonzalez (the only restaurant honouree from the Philippines this year), she mused: “If we die – as chefs, this is like heaven!’
Here’s the full list of winners:
1. GAGGAN Bangkok, Thailand
2. NARISAWA Tokyo, Japan
3. RESTAURANT ANDRÉ Singapore
4. AMBER Hong Kong, China
5. NIHONRYORI RYUGIN Tokyo, Japan
6. WAKU GHIN Singapore
7. ULTRAVIOLET BY PAUL PAIRET Shanghai, China
8. NAHM Bangkok, Thailand
9. INDIAN ACCENT New Delhi, India
10. LUNG KING HEEN Hong Kong, China
11. HAJIME Osaka, Japan
12. LES AMIS Singapore
13. 8 1/2 OTTO E MEZZO BOMBANA Hong Kong, China
14. BURNT ENDS Singapore
15. MINGLES Seoul, South Korea
16. L’EFFERVESCENCE Tokyo, Japan
17. CORNER HOUSE Singapore
18. FU HE HUI Shanghai, China
19. ISSAYA SIAMESE CLUB Bangkok, Thailand
20. QUINTESSENCE Tokyo, Japan
21. SHINJI BY KANESAKA Singapore
22. JUNGSIK Seoul, South Korea
23. EAT ME Bangkok, Thailand
24. TAKAZAWA Tokyo, Japan
25. MINISTRY OF CRAB Colombo, Sri Lanka
26. SUSHI SAITO Tokyo, Japan
27. THE CHAIRMAN Hong Kong, China
28. MR AND MRS BUND Shanghai, China
29. JAAN Singapore
30. LE MOÛT Taichung, Taiwan
31= LA MAISON DE LA NATURE GOH Fukuoka, Japan
31= TIPPLING CLUB Singapore
33. TENKU RYUGIN Hong Kong, China
34. FOOK LAM MOON Hong Kong, China
35. ROBUCHON AU DÔME Macau, China
36. IGGY’S Singapore
37. DEN Tokyo, Japan
38. WILD ROCKET Singapore
39. GALLERY VASK Manila, Philippines
40. L’ATELIER DE JOËL ROBUCHON Hong Kong, China
41. BO INNOVATION Hong Kong, China
42. KIKUNOI Kyoto, Japan
43. CUISINE WAT DAMNAK Siem Reap, Cambodia
44. WASABI BY MORIMOTO Mumbai, India
45. BUKHARA New Delhi, India
46. RAW Taipei, Taiwan
47. NIHONBASHI Colombo, Sri Lanka
48. TA VIE Hong Kong, China
49. LOCAVORE Bali, Indonesia
50. LA YEON Seoul, South Korea