LR
The Monocle
Restaurant Awards 2015

The restaurants that normally win awards are obsessed with foam and dry ice but a great restaurant needs none of that. The winners of The Monocle Restaurant Awards are the ones that we find ourselves coming back to for their dishes, great chefs, old-school staff, lively manners and perfect dining rooms. All food here is guaranteed craze-free.

2015 Winners

When was the last time you were satisfied with a list of the best restaurants from around the world? While most rundowns seem preoccupied with recongratulating a handful of lauded chefs at the same few restaurants, we’ve set out to venerate the places that have been consistently good for decades, as well as those that have the makings of becoming such stalwarts. Forget square plates, foams, emulsions and innovation for its own sake; our selection celebrates the art of hospitality done well with simple, honest food.

At its core our list suggests that the dining experiences we treasure and remember aren’t about pageantry or pretence. Instead we think the best ones centre on memorable meals and the dishes you find yourself coming back for time and again. Our editors and correspondents travel the globe on assignment and have developed a keen nose for joints where the maître d’ remembers your name. Judged by our editorial teams in London, New York, Toronto, Hong Kong, Zürich, Istanbul, Tokyo and Singapore, plus correspondents in cities from Bogotá to Beirut, we’ve put together some of the finer examples of dining we’ve found.

01

The winner for 2015

Beard

Tokyo

Beard is a reminder that Tokyo’s most pleasurable dining experiences can be found in small, unassuming restaurants. Opened in 2012 in Tokyo’s Meguro district, owner and chef Shin Harakawa’s restaurant is inviting, with wooden chairs and tables for a dozen diners, wildflowers and piles of cookbooks.

Harakawa, who chats with customers across a low counter as he cooks, describes his food as simple. But he has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Sens, France, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and is a master at inventing tasty ensembles from seasonal vegetables, fresh fish and meat sourced directly from farms and carefully vetted suppliers. On a midsummer evening, he might make marbled rockfish with bouillabaisse risotto or a salad of mozzarella, beetroot, fig and plum with almonds and mint leaves.

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02

Established favourite

The River Cafe

London

Started in 1987 as a canteen for her architect husband’s next-door studio, Ruth Rogers’ café is an ever-popular Thames-side restaurant in the southwest suburb of Hammersmith. Despite being self-taught, she won a Michelin star in 1997, which the River Café retains, so booking in advance is advised. Inside, the 120-cover space has a colourful and crisp interior – including an open oven with a bright pink cover – all designed by Ruth’s husband (and famed British architect) Richard Rogers. The menu changes daily depending on the produce available but whatever’s in stock, the pasta dishes are London’s most inventive. For pudding we’d suggest pitting your appetite against the signature Chocolate Nemesis, an indulgently rich dark-chocolate torte.

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03

Down-to-earth delight

Pa&Co

Stockholm

A classic on Stockholm’s restaurant scene, this small bistro has held on to its spot in the limelight ever since it opened about three decades ago. The dark-wood-and-chandelier decor and the menu are basically unchanged, as are many of the customers.You won’t find Michelin stars and the latest in gastronomy here; instead there are many famous faces, a joyful, intimate vibe and delicious Swedish husmanskost such as råraka, which is a fried potato rosti topped with Kalix Löjrom (delicious Swedish caviar), sour cream and finely diced red onion.

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04

View from the top

Le Pavillon

Pontresina, Switzerland

The Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina is home to Le Pavillon, a 1930s wooden restaurant on the hotel grounds. Its two levels are open in winter and summer with ample outdoor space for lounging and a bite to eat. A rich Bündner Gerstensuppe (Swiss barley soup) or a plate of air-dried meats and mountain cheeses make for a memorable snack. Fine de Claire oysters are served with a champagne mignonette and those wanting heartier fare would do well to choose the melted-cheese pasta dish pizzoccheri. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding EngadinValley.The restaurant interior is cosy and lined in aromatic pine; in winter outdoor seating is bedecked in furs and in summer a lawn beckons.The best is of course for saved for last: the nut torte and view from 1,800 metres up of the surrounding Alps and turquoise Bernina River below are sublime.

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05

Aussie-style Asian

Cho Cho San

Sydney

Cho Cho San is restaurateur Sam Christie and chef Jonathan Barthelmess’ second and best restaurant. Having opened The Apollo, their wildly successful Greek, across the street in 2012, the pair knows the neighbourhood and its tastes. Behind a giant brass screen lies designer George Livissianis’ elegant take on a Japanese drinking den. Dishes run from simple, moreish starters to steamed pork katsu buns that are soft to the touch, stuffed with crumbed pork and shredded cabbage and all held together with just the right amount of chilli sauce.

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06

Dumpling den

Din Tai Fung

Taipei

It’s not easy to expand a small restaurant into a global group that maintains high standards and just-so service but Yang Bingyi, the man behind Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung brand, has. Specialising in xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings), Din Tai Fung now operates restaurants across Asia, Australia and the US but the original shop on Taipei’s Xinyi Road is still the best. The staff work with military precision; different and highly attentive teams undertake the arrangement of seating, serving and clearing. And look through the window into the kitchen where you’ll see an equally disciplined team assembling dumplings filled with pork, truffle or crab. Once the bamboo steamers filled with xiaolongbao arrive at your table, be sure you know how to eat them correctly by placing one in your spoon, breaking the skin to allow the soup to escape and garnishing with soy and vinegar-soaked ginger slices.

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07

Inclusive institution

Zum Schwarzen Kameel

Vienna

Surviving four centuries is almost unheard of in the restaurant industry; affable owner Peter Friese has been here since 1977 as well. Kameel (as locals affectionately refer to it; the full name roughly translates as “the black camel”) is famous for its storefront wine bar. Patrons chat and choose from more than 800 wines as they snack on tiny crustless sandwiches that Friese’s mother first started making half a century ago. In the back room dining is more formal: here, Austrian classics are served in an art nouveau setting; diners are surrounded by ornate tiled walls and woodwork. Zum Schwarzen Kameel turns 400 in 2018; its name now extends to a patisserie and deli up the street. Last year the Golden Quarter – Vienna’s new upscale shopping district – opened steps away. Nonetheless, Kameel “is one of the most egalitarian places in Vienna; a president can sit next to a labourer,” says Friese.

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08

Host with the most

Tawlet

Beirut

Beirut is a city where food is central to almost everything, from family to business. Kamal Mouzawak is without doubt an extraordinary man who has used food to bring people together in an even bigger way: across the country’s sectarian lines. He founded the city’s first farmers’ market, Souk el Tayeb, mixing everyone together from Druze to Sunni. Then he launched Tawlet, where every day different cooks bring produce to life in dishes that introduce you to local specialities that you’d be hard pressed to find in any other restaurant. The results are extraordinary.

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09

Perfectly formed

Maru Aoyama

Tokyo

Owned and run by kaiseki-trained chef Keiji Mori, this small restaurant has the perfect combination of good food – Kyoto cooking without the formality – friendly service and an inviting interior with a long wooden counter and piles of earthy Japanese crockery.

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10

Artistic impression

Kronenhalle

Zürich

Where else can diners enjoy German-Swiss classics such as minced veal and liver-dumpling consommé in the company of some of the world’s greatest 20th-century artists? Picasso, Cézanne and Klee are all for show on the wood-panelled walls of the elegant neighbourhood joint that Hulda and Gottlieb Zumsteg opened in 1924. Their paintings are part of the extensive collection that Hulda’s son Gustav – a close friend of regulars Chagall and Miró – spent his life amassing. The unique ambience and exquisite service make a lasting impression.

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11

Cosy cuisine

Ett Hem

Stockholm

A dinner at Ett Hem, a boutique hotel and restaurant, feels like a family meal. The hotel is housed in a former private home and every night the chefs offer a house menu that the guests gather to eat in the cosy kitchen, the lush orangery or the beautiful dining room. The food is clean and unpretentious, served on large shared plates. The chefs double as waiters, stopping to chat with guests as they present the dishes. “We have no written menus, and the guests don’t ask for them, either,” says owner Jeanette Mix. “In the evening we simply serve that day’s dinner.”

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12

Informal and inviting

Sea Horse

Helsinki

This has been a destination for the Finnish capital’s most discerning diners since the 1930s. You’ll find classics including creamy salmon soup, meatballs and herring served in an authentic setting. Sea Horse has a bohemian reputation but it’s not just for the artistically inclined; its friendly atmosphere seduces visitors from all walks of life. Locals playfully call the place Sikala, meaning pigsty; it’s a nickname earned in decades past when the restaurant was less formal. The menu has echoes of this era: vodka schnapps is among the starters.

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13

Thai trattoria

Appia

Bangkok

Some restaurants aim to please by catering to what’s expected. Roman trattoria Appia succeeds by bringing simple regional Italian cuisine to a Bangkok culinary landscape that has previously been dominated by haute-cuisine clichés and cream-laden carbonara sauces. Brought to life by former Aman Resorts executive chef Paolo Vitaletti, the menu at Appia gives jaded Bangkok diners a slice of his life as the son of a butcher in Rome’s Testaccio district. Soft beef tripe stewed in tomato sauce, a rich and tender oxtail stew, porchetta stuffed with liver, rosemary and fennel pollen are served alongside an ever-rotating roster of specials. The wine list focuses on the Mediterranean and pastas made freshly every day. With Jarrett Wrisley of Soul Food Mahanakorn working front of house, Appia manages to balance its meaty, rustic offerings with a relaxed and extremely welcoming ambience.

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14

Kiwi cuisine

Ortolana

Auckland

A bistro, situated in the city’s waterfront district of Britomart, that is an outpost of culinary firm Hip Group. Seasonal dishes pack a punch, with many ingredients coming fresh from the group’s own farm in Kumeu, 25km outside the city. Try the crayfish ravioli with preserved lemon and herbs.

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