The kings of the kitchen

These are the 10 establishments that top this year's list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, the hugely hyped awards event that bills itself as ''an annual snapshot of the opinions and experiences of more than 800 international industry experts''.

So are these 10 restaurants and their chefs smarter, better and more creative than everyone else, or merely part of an ever-shifting, fashionable overview of restaurant trends at the pointy end of dining? Probably both. In setting out here what the world knows about these top 10, it's obvious they are genuinely redefining dining, at the highest possible level. Whether they're the 10 best or 10 of the best doesn't really matter.

Art work ... Mugaritz chef Andoni Aduriz hard at work.
Art work ... Mugaritz chef Andoni Aduriz hard at work. Photo: Reuters

Whatever side you come down on, there's no denying the list's power. Get your restaurant into the top 50, and you will be booked out for months. The day after Copenhagen's Noma restaurant was named No.1 for the second consecutive year in 2011, it was bombarded with 100,000 requests for a table. Make that 100,001, thanks.

1. Noma Copenhagen, Denmark

Chef: Rene Redzepi

What's all the fuss? Rene Redzepi and restaurateur Claus Meyer caused shock waves in 2003 when they opened Noma in a former whale-blubber warehouse with a menu sourced from purely Nordic ingredients. As Redzepi said, ''If the world is going to come to its senses, we are going to have to develop our own awareness and consciousness about terroir. The wheat we grow for the bread we bake, the beer that we brew, the animals that we breed.'' By concentrating on wild salmon, seaweed, birch sap, horse mussels and locally foraged, smoked, salted, pickled and dried foods, his influence has been profound. Diners at Noma eat musk ox tartare in their fingers, cut their food with reindeer-horn hunting knives, pick shellfish off hot rocks and pluck marinated snails from nasturtium flowers as if they themselves are foraging. Noma has been named the best restaurant in the world for the past three years, and Redzepi has become one of the world's most prominent culinary evangelists through his role in thought-provoking chef symposiums such as MAD Foodcamp and Raw Food.

How long for a booking: Three months in advance via online booking. Phone for reservations of eight to 15 people. noma.dk, +45 3296 3297.


2. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain

Chefs: Joan Roca and Jordi Roca

What's all the fuss? A typical meal can kick off with anchovy-wrapped olives, brought to the table hanging from a bonsai tree. Next might be Campari bonbons, deep-fried battered anchovy bones, veal tendons with sea anemone, steak tartare with mustard, and finally a rose souffle. The extraordinary thing about El Celler de Can Roca is it's a family restaurant, with Joan Roca as head chef, Jordi Roca as dessert chef and a third brother, Josep Roca, as maitre d' and head sommelier. One of Spain's most forward-thinking restaurants, El Celler opened in 1986, moving to its current modern, well-lit space with kitchen and laboratory in 2007. The brothers describe it as a free-style restaurant committed to the avant-garde but still faithful to the memory of different generations of the family's ancestors, and dedicated to feeding people. The youngest, Jordi, is known as a dessert magician, even creating a perfume, Cloud of Lemon, that smells of one of his desserts.

How long for a booking: Eleven months in advance for weekends; seven months for weekdays. cellercanroca.com, +34 972 222 157.

3. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

Chef: Andoni Luis Aduriz

Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca.
Jordi Roca of El Celler de Can Roca. Photo: Adam Weaver

What's all the fuss? Spain's most intellectually challenging chef studied human livers at a hospital for two years to perfect his cooking of foie gras. So it's a relief when the charred steak arrives, resembling a lump of red-hot coal. Or the potatoes turn up, powder-coated with black clay, looking for all the world like inedible stones. ''Few professional chefs have changed the course of culinary history,'' Heston Blumenthal says. ''Andoni is one of them.''

After working with two of Spain's greatest chefs, Ferran Adria and Martin Berasategui, Andoni opened Mugaritz in 1998. One of the most inventive minds in world gastronomy, Andoni's ''techno-emotional'' cuisine is designed to defy and challenge the diner's preconceptions. According to him, you come to Mugaritz to ''take a risk, to unleash all your senses and let them wander at will along unmarked paths full of stimuli, surprises and dangers''.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. 

How long for a booking: Five months in advance for weekends; two months for weekdays. mugaritz.com, +34 943 522 455.

4. D.O.M., Sao Paulo, Brazil

Chef: Alex Atala

Alinea serves a suspended dish.
Alinea serves a suspended dish. 

What's all the fuss? ''D.O.M.,'' Atala says, ''is what Brazil tastes like.'' An early career in the music industry as a DJ and a member of a punk band was supported by working in restaurant kitchens throughout Belgium, Italy and France, including Bernard Loiseau's highly esteemed La Cote d'Or. He returned to Brazil in 1994 determined to find his country's true culinary identity, and in 1999 he opened D.O.M. (meaning ''God, the best, and greatest''). Here, he combines the wild and little-known flavours of the Amazonian rainforest with modern Europe-based techniques, realised in artful dishes of codfish brandade in a black bean reduction, filhote (similar to catfish) in a manioc (cassava crust), palm heart fettucine, and brazil nut cheese. Atala once served raw Amazonian river worms to Ferran Adria of El Bulli, and dished out live, crawling ants to the audience of last year's inaugural MAD Foodcamp in Copenhagen. In other words, expect the unexpected.

How long for a booking: Three weeks via phone or email. domrestaurante.com.br, +55 11 3088 0761.

A lamb dish at Arzak.
A lamb dish at Arzak. 

5. Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy

Chef: Massimo Bottua

What's all the fuss? Massimo Bottura is every inch the intellectual Italian chef. His food is rooted to the traditions of his home town of Modena and the region of Emilia Romagna, the land of Parmigiano and balsamic vinegar, yet he is always looking to the future, straining at the leash, inspired by artists, musicians and ancient philosophers. Like the character Billy Hayes, locked up in a Turkish prison in the book Midnight Express, Bottura walks in the opposite direction to everyone else.

He opened Osteria Francescana in 1995, a small, unprepossessing restaurant of just 11 tables, which this year, not only made the top 10 for the third year running, but was also awarded three Michelin stars for the first time. This amazes him, because the Michelin guide has traditionally rewarded the French style of fine dining, not the auteurs, the iconoclasts, the intrepid individuals - or the Italians. Fellow three-star winner Alain Ducasse calls him ''the best Italian chef of the present and the future''.

How long for a booking: Two months in advance via website. Phone confirmation required with 48 hours' notice. osteriafrancescana.it, +39 059 210 118.

6. Per Se, New York

Chef: Thomas Keller

What's all the fuss? The chic, glamorous Per Se has made the top 10 of the World's 50 Best Restaurant list every year since 2005. Thomas Keller's unequivocal love and mastery of French cooking goes back to the early '80s, when he relocated to France to cook at some of the most acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurants, including Taillevent and Guy Savoy. He opened the French Laundry in Yountville, California, in 1994, which went on to be named No.1 in the World's 50 Best in 2003, and again in 2004 - the same year Keller opened Per Se in New York's Time Warner Centre.

Every day, Per Se creates a unique nine-course menu for $US295 ($285), and dinner can stretch four or five hours. The chef's aim is to ''excite your mind, satisfy your appetites and pique your curiosity''. His most exquisite dish is also his signature: a delicate, seaworthy combination of tapioca, oysters and caviar titled Oysters and Pearls.

How long for a booking: One month in advance via opentable.com or phone. Confirmation required with 72 hours' notice. perseny.com, +1 212 823 9335.

7. Alinea, Chicago, US

Chef: Grant Achatz

What's all the fuss? Some food comes suspended on high-wires, some is served on the table - without plates - and some arrives resting on pillows of lavender. A ravioli of parmesan and truffle emulsion is designed to be eaten while inhaling the aromas of smouldering tomato vines. In among the synaesthesia, you may well receive a perfectly executed replica of Supreme de pigeonneaux a la Saint Clair, a pillar of French classicism created by Auguste Escoffier in 1903, in all its retro glory. Like Massimo Bottura, Achatz delights in being contrary.

This small, 64 seater restaurant has been dubbed ''the blueprint for the restaurant of the future''. Grant Achatz worked with Thomas Keller at the French Laundry for four years, before moving to Chicago as executive chef of the highly acclaimed Trio in 2001. Three years later he opened Alinea in Chicago's Lincoln Park. Dinner here is a roller-coaster ride of 12 or 24 courses that astound and amuse at every turn. Achatz once said he wanted diners to feel as if they were taking a journey, zigzagging between challenge and comfort.

How long for a booking: Reservations via phone or email, e-ticketing system to launch soon. Fully booked for July, reservations for August and September currently postponed. www.alinea -restaurant.com, +1 312 867 0110.

8. Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain

Chefs: Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak

What's all the fuss? San Sebastian's reputation as the ultimate foodie paradise can be traced back to the 1970s, when Juan Mari Arzak transformed his grandparents' modest village tavern into the birthplace of modern Basque cuisine. Arzak's radicalised spin on Spanish fine dining, employing new techniques and a lighter aesthetic, was an instant hit, and he became the first Spanish chef to be awarded three Michelin stars.

Today Juan Mari shares the kitchen spotlight with his talented daughter, Elena, who was named best female chef of 2012 by the World's 50 Best Restaurants. Dish after dish arrives in a warm, synchronised mesh of gears - foie gras with raspberries and caramelised figs, dusted eggs with mussels, monkfish with gooseberries, sole with head cheese. The restaurant's fully equipped laboratory has an ideas bank of more than 1600 different flavours and scents from all over the world. Many have already made their way into classic Arzak dishes; others await their turn.

How long for a booking: Three months in advance via website. Phone for reservations with less than 72 hours' notice. arzak.es. +34 943 278 465.

9. Dinner by Heston Blumental, London

Chef: Heston Blumenthal

What's all the fuss? Blumenthal is different. Not just because he poaches things in liquid nitrogen, serves up an iPod so you can listen to the sounds of sea while you eat seafood, and combines snails with porridge. Apart from one week's work experience at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, he is totally self-taught. In 1995, he bought a 450-year-old pub in the centre of the village of Bray and transformed it into the Fat Duck, which, 10 years later, was voted No.1 on the World's Top 50.

His first London restaurant, a luxe brasserie ensconced in the lavish Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, was the highest new entry in this year's top-50 list. The historically inspired British food includes two of my favourite dishes ever: the Meat Fruit (circa 1500), which looks like a single mandarin complete with leaves but is actually rich, light chicken liver parfait encased in tangy, fragrant mandarin gel, accompanied by toasted brioche; and a light-as-a-cloud-of-drunken-angels Tipsy Cake (circa 1810), served with Victoriana spit-roast pineapple.

How long for a booking: Ninety days in advance via website. Contact private dining team for bookings of more than six people. dinnerbyheston.com, +44 (0) 20 7201 3844.

10. Eleven Madison Park, New York

Chef: Daniel Humm

What's all the fuss? Daniel who? A Swiss-born chef, Daniel Humm is no global household name but he may as well be, judging by the lavish and adoring reviews of Eleven Madison Park. Visionary New York restaurateur Danny Meyer opened the opulently art deco restaurant in 1998. Last year, after winning its third Michelin star, he sold it to Humm and general manager Will Guidara.

What makes Eleven Madison different is its menu, which lists each dish only by its core ingredient. ''Foie gras'' might be foie gras terrine with rhubarb and sauternes gel; ''Lobster'' may come as butter-poached lobster with burnt leek; ''Duck'' could be dry-aged duck roasted with honey and lavender; and ''Chocolate'', a chocolate mousse with malt sorbet.

A top-of-the-range $US340 a person menu comprises 17 courses, 13 glasses of wine and a kettle of New York chowder that you pour into little teacups.

How long for a booking: Twenty-eight days in advance via opentable.com or phone. elevenmadisonpark.com, +1 212 889 0905.

Dessert magician Jordi Roca and Modena master Massimo Bottura will weave their magic at the World Chef Showcase on October 6-7. See cravesydney.com