Why Canadian restaurants rarely make the world's 50 best list

The hugely influential World's 50 Best Restaurnts List for 2016 has been released. It's been years since a Canadian restaurant cracked the top 50, and that didn't change for this year's list.

Influential list makes stars of chefs and destinations of restaurants, but rarely features Canadians

Famed chef Massimo Bottura, whose Italian restaurant Osteria Francescana has been named the top in the world. Canadian establishments have rarely cracked the prestigious World's 50 Best Restaurants list. (CBC)

Once again, none of the 50 best places to eat in the world are in Canada — at least according to one ranking.

The hugely influential World's 50 Best Restaurants list for 2016 was released June 13. It's compiled every June by the U.K.-based industry magazine Restaurant.

This year, the top restaurant was Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. And the list featured restaurants from 23 countries, including restaurants in the U.S., Spain, Denmark, Peru and Japan in the top 10.

But no Canadian restaurant has cracked the top 50 since 2003 — and that didn't change for the 2016 list.

Restaurant has published the list since 2002, with the winners picked by a jury of about 1,000 critics and industry consultants from around the world. It's made global celebrities out of chefs, and travel destinations out of tiny boutique restaurants.

Take, for example, Noma in Copenhagen. While it dropped to number 5 on this year's list, it's been named the world's top restaurant four times — first in 2010, when it knocked five-time champion elBulli, a Spanish restaurant made famous by the list, out of the top spot. 

Rene Redzepi is the head chef of Noma in Copenhagen, which took the top spot on the list four times. This year's list includes restaurants from 23 countries, but none from Canada. (Yuya Shino/Reuters)
The Fat Duck in the U.K. topped the list in 2005, and owner Heston Blumenthal now inescapable on British TV.

And whether you've eaten at one of the top 50 restaurants or not, you've felt their influence. Noma's obsession with local, wild foraged foods from the Scandinavian woods and tundra has trickled throughout fine dining joints in cities around the world.

Before Noma, elBulli's tech-obsessed kitchen churned out unrecognizable foods, transformed into orbs of gelatin and dabs of foam. It, too, was a cuisine that was poorly imitated by chefs around the world.

Canada rarely in the top 50

Here in Canada, only two restaurants have made it onto the top 50 list — Toronto's Eigensinn Farm in 2002 and again in 2003, and Toronto's Susur, now closed, in 2002

In 2015, though, one was on the list of runners-up — the list of the 51st to 100th best restaurants in the world.

Joe Beef, a Montreal institution, sat at 81st place. But it didn't make the list at all this year.

Co-owner David McMillan said he takes it in stride.

Montreal chef David McMillan (left) is co-owner of Montreal's Joe Beef with Frederic Morin (right). It made the World's Top 50 Restaurants runners-up list in 2015. (The Canadian Press)
"Some chefs aspire and work hard to be on that list. It's not in the Joe Beef wheelhouse at all," he said.

"I find that list is very high end, right? Not to denigrate any of my peers that want to go after tasting menus, white tablecloths, crystal glasses, the elite and expensive meal. That's never been our thing."

Joe Beef is known for a loud bistro vibe, and a menu that focuses more on flavour and fun than breaking new ground. The restaurant serves stuff like lobster spaghetti, steak, and oysters — accessible food.

The top 50 is a different game. For example, Noma's world-leading dessert list includes "tree moss cooked in chocolate, served with egg liqueur."

To pursue a spot on the list, Joe Beef would have to change. And no one, particularly McMillan, wants that.
"This was a restaurant for me to work in. It was about what I wanted to eat... my idea of the wine list, my idea of appetizers, my idea of main courses, the music I want to play because I listen to it. I'm gonna work there, the music that I like will be playing inside that restaurant."

'Competition is very ferocious'

Entering the top 50 usually involves a technically ambitious menu. It also usually means introducing what the industry calls a tasting menu — a fixed price list of tiny elaborate dishes, often more than a dozen.

For that, clientele often travel from around the world, and will pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a meal. Reservations, of course, can take months or years to acquire. elBulli, for example, claims to receive a million reservation requests a year — and grants 8,000.

Canada has a relatively small high-end restaurant scene. And Joe Beef's McMillan is not surprised that restaurants here haven't cracked the top 50 in years.

"The competition is very ferocious for the top 50, and very ferocious up to the [top] 100," he said.

"You look at Benu, Corey Lee's restaurant in San Francisco. It's a three Michelin star restaurant. He's 98th on the list. Thomas Keller's restaurants are not even on the top 50 anymore. You're looking at institutions that are 96, 97 and 98 on that list."

Criticism of list

As you can imagine, a list that rewards such exclusivity has critics. That includes accusations of a gender bias — according to, 96 per cent of the chefs on last year's list were men.

And for a list that claims to be the last word on the world's best restaurants, it often leaves out entire continents. It also tends to value French cuisine over others.

Last year, a group opposed to the list called for reform in a petition called "Occupy Top 50."

The petition suggests a number of changes to the Top 50, including replacing the jury every year, basing the jury on geographic criteria, making the voting system more transparent, and "everything."


  • This story originally stated that no Canadian restaurant has ever made the top 50 list. In fact, Toronto's Eigensinn Farm made the list in 2002 and again in 2003, and Toronto's Susur was on the list in 2002.
    Jun 16, 2016 10:04 AM ET


Khalil Akhtar

Food Columnist

Khalil Akhtar is a syndicated food columnist for CBC Radio. He takes a weekly look at some of the surprising aspects of your daily diet. Khalil is based in Victoria, B.C.