Chef Tomer Tal’s George and John restaurant is the biggest winner among Israelis in San Pellegrino’s “Fifty Best” awards for North Africa and the Middle East. George and John reached sixth place in the list announced this evening (Sun) in Abu Dhabi. This is after last year she was ranked ninth.
This is the second time in a row that six excellent Israeli restaurants have made it to the list of the fifty best restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa, which is part of the regional lists of San Pellegrino’s list of the fifty best restaurants in the world – a ranking that is considered a leader and determinant in the field of food. Some argue that this is the most important ranking in the field today.
Last year, the Israeli restaurants that made it to the ranking included Chef Raz Rahab’s OCD, which at the time came in third and very respectable place, and with it George and John (which, as mentioned, leads the Israelis this time), Hasta, Animar, Pescado and Melgo and Melbar. Even this year, exactly the same restaurants, with the exception of Pescado, manage to return to the distinguished list. This time, for the first time, chef Yuval Ben Naria’s prestigious a restaurant is added to them.
The ceremony was attended by the chef Shiral Berger from the ambitious vegan restaurant Ofa, who already learned a week and a half ago about her winning the title of “someone to watch”, i.e. the most promising chef of the year. Berger and her twin sister Sharona, her partner, took the stage at the beginning of the evening to receive the award, and thus Israel became the first country to be presented at the ceremony.
The most intriguing and interesting award in my opinion (and also relevant for us) was awarded to Salam Dekak who won the best female chef award for her Palestinian food restaurant in Dubai “Beit Miriam”. Another exciting award was given to Anisa Hilo, the author of the Lebanese food books who won the culinary icon award.
The besta under the leadership of chef Ayalon Amir, who did not bother to come to the ceremony last year, fell from 14th place to 48th. Melgo and Melbar, the fish restaurant of chef Moti Titman, reached the 40th place again. Animar, the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food restaurant with a personal interpretation led by Chef Hillel Tavkoli was placed in 32nd place, a big drop in the ranking from 17th place last year. The new entrant to the list, restaurant a, reached the respectable 24th place. OCD unexpectedly slipped from third place to 14th. Perhaps as compensation, the restaurant won one of the special awards: the sustainability award.
As in the previous year, quite a few Japanese restaurants stood out this time, as well as Italian and other cuisines that obviously have nothing to do with the ranked area. Few restaurants on the list present the authentic cuisine of their country, although perhaps a little more than last year.
The first three places were divided as follows: the third place was won by the Fusions by Tala restaurant from Bahrain, which presents, as its name suggests, a modern interpretation of Arab food and received the award from the hands of the legendary chef Massimo Bottura. The two big winners are from Dubai – the second place went to the Indian restaurant Trasind Studio, and the first place went to Orfali Bruce Bistro – a modern and creative gourmet restaurant.
Just like last year, this is a respectable, safe and somewhat conservative list. The conservatism here is not necessarily in the choices themselves, but as strange as it may sound, in a choice entirely based on the purity of restaurants that correspond with the general line of San Pellegrino – modern, creative, expensive and prestigious that do not deviate from the rules of the ceremony and pay attention to design and a young spirit no less than to the excellent food. The only and somewhat surprising exception is of course the Basta restaurant which is (very) careful about the food, but much less about the surrounding ceremony.
Sad to see Pescado Ashdod off the list. Pescado was the only restaurant on the list outside of Tel Aviv and no less significant and important: a kosher restaurant. The current screw-ups are about the purity of the hard core of fashionable Tel Aviv restaurants to the upper millennium. As in the previous year, no trace of regional, Arab, local cooking, with the possible exception of the basta that has been sneaking into our neighbors’ kitchens for years. Our magnificent Arabic cuisine is no longer represented. That is left in San Pellegrino to the Arab countries.
On the sidelines, let’s recall that after we celebrated here together with the food industry about Israel’s possible entry into the list of Michelin stars, we were informed at the end of the week that the new Minister of Tourism, Haim Katz, announced that he is reconsidering his predecessor’s decision to sign a contract with the famous French guide and pay a sum of one and a half million euros that will enable the distribution Stars for three local restaurants. Katz explained that he wanted to reconsider, in “consultation with the professionals”, the economic viability of the contract. Various estimates attribute this to the desire not to upset the coalition partners with non-kosher restaurants that receive such exposure and/or a reluctance to exalt the Tel Aviv cuisine, which is for some reason identified with the opposite camp.
The repeated success of the local cuisine in the Fifty Best ranking and the testimonies of the ranked restaurants about the usefulness of these rankings should perhaps convince the Honorable Minister to reconsider the renewed weighing.