COMMENTARY, June 14 — Last Wednesday, the 2024 edition of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list was unveiled in a glitzy ceremony at the Wynn Las Vegas, with Disfrutar in Barcelona taking the top spot.

But to me watching, there was a sense of inevitability to the achievement, and in fact, to most of the rankings on the higher end of the list.

The restaurant — led by Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas, all of whom met while working at El Bulli — has been on a steady ascent since entering the top 10 in 2019.

That same year saw the creation of the Best of the Best category, which keeps former No.1 ranked restaurants from being voted on new editions of the list.

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Lychee pearl necklace, one of Disfrutar's 30 courses. — Picture courtesy of Disfrutar Bcn
Lychee pearl necklace, one of Disfrutar's 30 courses. — Picture courtesy of Disfrutar Bcn

In 2022, Disfrutar placed third behind Central and Geranium; in 2023, it was second only to Central. Now, in 2024, it has finally reached the pinnacle.

It’s difficult to ignore the role that the creation of the Best of the Best category may have played in this predictable rise.

That, and the list has taken a liking to a very specific type of restaurant. Words like “progressive”, “modern” and “hyper-seasonal” dominate the list, delivered in emulsions and gels galore across courses, the number of which can get ridiculous at times.

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Alchemist, at number 8, goes up to 50 courses. Is this really the pinnacle of the restaurant experience?

Steamed flower crab in aged Shaoxing wine is The Chairman's legendary signature dish. — Picture courtesy of The Chairman Group
Steamed flower crab in aged Shaoxing wine is The Chairman's legendary signature dish. — Picture courtesy of The Chairman Group

Addressing it is by no means a critique of the establishments and people who undoubtedly work tirelessly toward gaining this recognition — but it is time to properly interrogate what it means to be among “the world’s best restaurants”.

The website has an answer. It’s a carefully assembled word salad put together like microgreens and edible flowers on a plate, except it chooses to run away from producing a meaningful, definitive answer.

If money and time were no object, I’m sure that I’ll find a life-changing meal in the bohemian cooking at DiverXO or Gaggan, but I can only eat so much “cutting-edge, gastronomic theatre” before what should have been a meal turns into a lecture.

That’s not to say there’s no place for an edifying experience; sometimes, these restaurants can offer diners something truly gastronomically innovative and eye-opening — but is that all that matters when defining the best?

The organisation, in choosing the restaurants it does, sends a clear message: we value experimentation, theatrics and a truckload of tweezers above conventional good food and a good time.

Pumpkin season arrives at Don Julio. — Picture courtesy of Parilla Don Julio
Pumpkin season arrives at Don Julio. — Picture courtesy of Parilla Don Julio

There are, of course, rare exceptions to this that make the list.

The Chairman has long been Hong Kong’s top representative on the list, before being pipped by this year’s Highest New Entry winner, Wing.

It is described by the website as having “no theatrics, no PR tactics, no Instagram-focused plating” and being “a restaurant where the food comes first”.

Don Julio, which ranked at No. 10 on this year’s list, is a family-run neighbourhood parilla (steakhouse) serving only grass-fed Angus and Hereford beef and possessing an extensive wine list with over 14,000 Argentine labels.

Steak, wine and bread service. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty darn good to me. Almost like one of the best restaurants in the world.