See the Full List of Winners at the First-Ever World Restaurant Awards

A newcomer is here to take on Michelin and World's 50 Best.

When Kobus van der Merwe ascended the stage to accept the Restaurant of the Year honor at the first-ever World Restaurant Awards, he—like a lot of people in attendance Monday night in Paris—was pretty surprised by the outcome. For some in the room, this was the first they were hearing of his place, Wolfgat. After all, it’s a tiny oceanside restaurant in South Africa that’s open just a few days a week and only does one seating a night.

If the ultimate winner seemed like a quirky and offbeat choice, it was very much fitting for the night. The World Restaurant Awards is self-consciously trying to be different than the austere Michelin, or the list-driven likes of World’s 50 Best, Opinionated About Dining, and La Liste. With one year now in the books, the challenge going forward will be getting people outside the industry to care.

The idea of the World Restaurant Awards begins on the premise that other ratings systems and awards are too narrow in scope. They really only reward expensive tasting menu restaurants run by male chefs. Not that they didn’t celebrate those too. There were the usual suspects, of course—Noma, Mugaritz, Blue Hill at Stone Barnes, and both Alain Passard and Alain Ducasse. But there was also Riley’s, a remote fish shack in the UK; Trishna, a restaurant specializing in soft shell crab from India; and Peter Luger’s, a century-old Brooklyn steakhouse that’s outstanding, but far from Eleven Madison Park.

“Awards are awards, but this one at least celebrates a larger range of restaurants,” one Irish chef told me before the show, as appetizers were passed  around and a giant spinning logo of the champagne sponsor twirled 18 feet above us. That was the general vibe of most everyone I spoke with. They were happy a restaurant awards show had come along and broadened its scope beyond expensive tasting menus. “We know the landscape pretty well and the diversity and breadth of restaurants aren’t getting their airtime,” says Justin Clarke, head of the culinary division at IMG. And by recognizing a wider range of restaurants, the logic follows, it will help incentivize more of those to be created.

While some of these restaurants honored last night take themselves deathly seriously, the awards attempted to strike a cheeky tone. There were categories you’d expect from an awards show about food, like Restaurant of the Year and Newcomer of the year. However, some awards felt more pitched as industry inside jokes, like Trolley of the Year, or Tattoo-Free Chef. Though, after Ducasse—one of the world’s greatest chefs—took the ink-free award, he seemed pretty pleased with it. Clutching his plate-shaped trophy, he told me, “Anything that supports our industry is something I support.”

Back in America the night made me think of the crisis going on with the Oscars. The Academy is in desperate pursuit of the audience running away from them each year. They’ve disastrously floated trial balloons of new awards—only to pretend it never happened—and then removed categories from the broadcast—including Best Editing and Best Cinematography—only to bring them back amid outcry. While no one is really convinced that the Academy members know what they’re doing, we all agree the organization is trying to become more mainstream again, even if the attempts are ham-fisted. People who really love the Oscars argue the ceremony shouldn’t be so obsessed with trying to snag casual viewers, and instead focus on giving movie buffs a satisfying show.

Which causes me to return to France. The World Restaurant Awards seemed very content to give the insiders a good show. But their stated ambitions are higher. “It needs to be consumer based in the same way you look at the Grammys or Oscars,” Joe Warwick, co-founder of the awards told me. “Where you see the best films for the Oscars and go, I want to see that. Same thing. I want people to look at our short lists [and] look at our long lists when they’re going traveling and say, ‘God I didn’t know about that place in the northeast of England. I didn’t know about that place in South Africa. I didn’t know about that place in Australia.'”

Before the new awards are able to do that, they’re going to have to transition from being so industry focused. In a food world so filled with lists and guides, the biggest challenge will be cutting through all that noise and establishing genuine authority—making people truly care what they deem to be the world’s restaurant of the year.

2019 World Restaurant Awards Nominees and Winners

Original Thinking
Enigma / Spain
Ikoyi / United Kingdom
Mugaritz / Spain
Noma / Denmark
Le Clarence / France (Winner)

Off-Map Destination
Mil / Peru
Bootshaus / Austria
Wolfgat / South Africa (Winner)
Tokuyamazushi /Japan
Riley’s Fish Shack / United Kingdom

No-Reservations Required
Clamato / France
Kiln / United Kingdom
Mocoto / Brazil (Winner)
Deli fu cious / Japan
Retrobottega / Italy

House Special
Gazela / Hot Dog / Portugal
Yat Lok / Roast Goose / Hong Kong
Obana / Unajyu / Japan
Trishna / Soft Shell Crab / India
Lido 84 / Cacio e Pepe (cooked in pig’s bladder) / Italy (Winner)

Forward Drinking
Cub / United Kingdom
Mugaritz / Spain (Winner)
Dersou / France
Amass / Denmark
Godenya / Hong Kong

Event of the Year
Refugee Food Festival / France (and worldwide) (Winner)
Parabere Forum / Sweden
Al Meni / Italy
Game at Lyle’s / United Kingdom
The Presidential Train

Ethical Thinking
Blue Hill at Stone Barns / United States
Food for Soul / Refettorios / Worldwide (Winner)
Noma / Denmark
Saint Peter / Australia
Silo / UK

Enduring Classic
Peter Luger’s / USA
Paul Bocuse / France
La Mère Brazier / France (Winner)
Hyotei / Japan
Elkano / Spain

Collaboration of the Year
Vespertine X This Will Destroy You
Mirazur X Huilerie Saint Michel
Cafe Paradiso X Gort na Nairn Farm (Winner)
Single Thread Farm X Bloodroot Blades
Frantzen X Jacob Marsing-Rossini

Atmosphere
Punk Royale / Denmark
Vespertine / United States (Winner)
Chambre Séparée / Belgium
Astoria Seafood / United States
Machneyuda / Israel

Arrival of the Year
DaGorini / Italy
Inua / Japan (Winner)
Virtus / France
Angler / United States
Kjolle / Peru

Tweezer-Free Kitchen of the Year
Bo.Lan / Thailand (Winner)
Racines / France
Black Axe Mangal / United Kingdom

Trolley of the Year
Ballymaloe House / Ireland (Winner)
Otto’s / United Kingdom
The Grill / United States

Tattoo-Free Chef of the Year
Clare Smyth
Alain Ducasse (Winner)
David Thompson

Instagram Account of the Year
@little_meg_siu_meg
@mattymatheson
@alain_passard (Winner)

Long-Form Journalism
Lisa Abend “The Food Circus” in Fool magazine (Winner)
Helen Rosner for “What Jonathan Gold meant for food writing” in The New Yorker
Jonathan Gold for his obituary of Anthony Bourdain in the Los Angeles Times: “Anthony Bourdain Opened the Working Class Kitchen to the World”

Red-Wine Serving Restaurant
Noble Rot / United Kingdom (Winner)
Roscioli / Italy
Le Baratin / France

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