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The 2015 World's 50 Best awards ceremony in London.
The 2015 World's 50 Best awards ceremony in London.
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

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Five Charts That Demystify the 2015 World's 50 Best Restaurants List

During an awards ceremony in London on Monday, El Celler de Can Roca, a modernist Spanish den in Catalonia that books up 11 months in advance, unseated Noma, a modernist Nordic spot in Copenhagen that books up three months in advance, for the title of World's Best Restaurant. It is, without question, a development that has virtually zero consequence either for the larger gastronomic world or for the individual diner, unless you're the type who thinks Shakespeare in Love winning the Best Picture Oscar over Saving Private Ryan makes it a better movie. Both restaurants will continue to serve long tasting menus. Both will continue to fill every seat. And both Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula will continue to merit their reputations for pushing the culinary envelope and occasionally ripping it apart.

So the larger point is this: The 2015 World's 50 Best Restaurants list, with certain exceptions, is less a meditation on international dining trends than it is an example of how nearly 1,000 judges can assemble a document that claims to represent the globe's finest restaurants even though it largely overlooks Africa, the Middle East, Japan, China, and India. Oh, and women. As such, here are five charts that break down the good, the bad, and the expensive.


Europe's Importance Has Waned on the Overall List

For the past half decade, restaurants from Europe and the United Kingdom have made up over 60 percent of the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. This year, that number drops to 48 percent, mirroring our increasingly diverse gastronomic world. Sort of. Europe and the UK still have more than twice as many culinary establishments as any other region. Belgium, the Netherlands, an Portugal all dropped off the 2015 list, while both Denmark and France shed a restaurant each. And because the list is a zero-sum game (there are only 50 spots, so one restaurant's gain is another's loss), the relative decline of Europe makes room for up-and-coming venues from other countries. And that's a good thing.

South America Increases Its Presence, But Other Regions Remain Under-Represented

As Europe and the UK watch their representation decline on the 50 Best list, South America, with two new additions, has grown to represent more than 12 percent of the guide, its best performance ever. The new members are Rodolfo Guzman's Borago in Chile, and Maido, a Japanese-Peruvian raw fish joint in Lima. South America also has a healthy 20 percent of the top 10 list, with Central by Virgilio Martinez at the no. 4 spot, and Alex Atala's D.O.M. at no. 9.

Does this really reflect a growing global interest in Latin cooking from South of the equator? Probably. But is this rebalancing also a product of active tourist boards inviting judges into their countries? Recall that voting members of 50 Best are not required to pay for their meals. As the New York Times reported last week, "Many government tourism boards, like those of Sweden, Peru, Mexico, and Singapore, have begun or increased their sponsorship of gastro-tourism for those in the food industry since the advent of the list."

Related: The list doesn't showcase a single restaurant in the Middle East, which is unfortunate given the skyrocketing popularity of that region's diverse foodways in U.S., at venues like Taim, Zahav, and Bar Bolonat. The only African establishment on the list is a high-end South African spot; what about the rest of the continent? Restaurants in Japan, often just as heralded as their French counterparts by Michelin guide, largely get the shaft on the S.Pellegrino list, with just two entries (Narisawa, RyuGin). And then there's the even larger issue of a few, well, larger countries.

The Guide Has a Big China and India Problem

The World's 50 Best Restaurants, as I argued previously, is a curious name for a guide that almost entirely ignores India and mainland China, which collectively make up about 37 percent of the world's population. The good news is that this year's announcement saw the return of China to the list. The bad news is that it's just a single restaurant, which is slim pickings for a country of almost 1.4 billion people. And the awful news is that the sole venue representing the world's most populous nation is Ultraviolet, an experimental, psychedelic dinner theater run at an undisclosed Shanghai space by the French chef Paul Pairet (patrons are bussed to the venue from a central location). Could the judges really not find a single Chinese chef or restaurant in the entire PRC?

Oh, and then there's the indubitably sucktacular news: Dinner at Ultraviolet, an all-inclusive experience with beverages and the whole nine yards, starts at ¥4000 ($645), making it one of the most expensive places to eat on planet earth.

I'll invoke an analogy to convey the ridiculousness of this. Imagine that a vagabond troupe of jet-set gourmands flew to New York, and decided that the only U.S. restaurant worthy of inclusion in their international guide was Masa, the country's most expensive restaurant, a venue so exorbitant that a single meal for two can easily exceed one month's rent for a Brooklyn studio.You probably wouldn't think much of that guide, would you?

The Status of Female Chefs Has Not Improved on the World's 50 Best

Writing for the Village Voice, Tejal Rao made the disturbing observation in 2013 that only two chefs on the World's 50 Best list — Elena Arzak and Helena Rizzo — were women. One might've considered that an impetus for change. On the contrary, the number of women on the list remained the same in 2014. And alas in 2015, the World's 50 Best list didn't add a single new restaurant with a female head chef to its ranks, even in a world with names like Tatiana and Katia Levha of Le Servan in Paris, or Dominique Crenn, of the two Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, or Katianna Weiner, chef de cuisine at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood. Should so many respected male chefs accept the World's 50 Best honors with open arms when so many of their female colleagues, who lead some of the world's most celebrated culinary establishments, are passed over?

The World's 50 Best Restaurants Are Primarily Very Expensive Restaurants

That shouldn't be a surprise. Good things cost good money. What's unfortunate is that S.Pellegrino, which is more interested in promoting a select class of restaurants than providing consumers with useful information, doesn't list prices like Michelin does on its online guides. To rectify that omission we've created a sortable, interactive table that lets you view the tasting menus (five or more courses) at the World's 50 Best restaurants as ranked by price, starting with either the least or most expensive selections, depending on how you like to toggle. You'll notice the prices in dollars are a bit different from the numbers we published on Monday. That's because these figures below are reflective of the local tax, service charge, and/or tip.

Briefly: The average price of a tasting menu, after tax and tip, on the World's 50 Best list is $217 per person, with the median at just a buck higher. That's just a few dollars down from last year's average price of $224. Keep in mind that these aggregate figures use the 200 GBP tasting menu at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal; because that service is reserved for the chef's table, most diners will order a la carte and spend less. Note that, when tax and tip are factored in, five of the 15 most expensive tasting menus on the list are served at American restaurants (Alinea, Per Se, French Laundry, Eleven Madison Park, Stone Barns), which should give pause to those who argue that dinner is always more expensive outside the states.

Also note that at least 12 restaurants in the top 50 — including at Pujol in Mexico City (no. 16), Central in Lima (no. 4) and Borago in Santiago, Chile (no. 42) — offer tasting menus for $US105 or less. Many (but not all) of the restaurants below offer lower-priced options; this is simply a study of tasting menus. Accordingly, we omitted the tapas venue Tickets from the chart below. To calculate the exchange rates, we used 30-day averages for the month of May. Use the arrows on top of the chart to sort by price, rank, or country.

*The chart below was updated to reflect that Mexican restaurants include VAT in their published prices. It is not an additional cost, as was previously expressed. The chart was also updated to reflect that Maido does in fact serve tasting menus.

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