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The Monocle
Restaurant Awards

Our third annual awards celebrate and elevate an endangered species: humble neighbourhood restaurants, smiley staff and decent service. Expect new entries from Hong Kong to Lisbon and London to Los Angeles, plus Paris, Perth, a new winner and a refreshed line-up in between.

This year's winners

Far from the hifalutin haute cuisine of other restaurant rundowns, Monocle’s third annual Restaurant Awards celebrate and elevate an endangered species: humble neighbourhood restaurants, smiley staff and simple service that often get lost in the fuss and froth of fine dining.

Here we offer a manifesto for memorable meals that forgoes the fanciness of Michelin Stars and the tedium of minuscule portions served over many courses.

Instead, our awards go to the hearty, the honest and the interesting restaurants at which our correspondents and editors have eaten over the past year.

The menus at the best haunts veer from comfort food to regional specialities but each restaurant has a simple philosophy: that good service and honest ingredients will win out against the bluff and food fads.

Expect new entries from Hong Kong to Lisbon and London to Los Angeles, plus Paris, Perth, a new winner and a refreshed line-up in between.

Read on for more information on our top 10 and pick up a copy of The Escapist for the full 50.

For the full Top 50 rundown, pick up a copy of The Escapist.

01

Bistro 100 Maneiras

Lisbon

Spread across two floors of an art deco mansion in busy Bairro Alto, the white-walled spot serves painterly plates with Portuguese, Yugoslavian, Italian and French influences. Sarajevo-born chef Ljubomir Stanisic opened the 80-cover spot in 2010, a year after launching an inventive multi-course tasting menu at this place’s fancier sister joint, Restaurante 100 Maneiras. Yet it’s the informal feel and ever-changing cast of interesting and eccentric locals that are the crucial ingredient here.

Kick off with a thirst-quenching cocktail and moreish potato-skin crisps dipped in herby yoghurt. Next choose between the grilled octopus with zesty lime risotto and the pork tenderloin with creamy beetroot polenta. The doors are open everyday until 02.00 and there is no fussy maître d’ chivvying customers in and out. For that reason, we’re always happy to linger.

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02

Cignale Enoteca

Tokyo

When Toshiji Tomori opened his counter restaurant (and last year’s winner) in Matsumizaka in 2015 it seemed to hit its stride in no time. Cignale became the city’s hot ticket as diners rushed to try Tomori’s modern version of Italian cooking made in an open kitchen with Japanese ingredients.

It’s difficult to define the cooking at Cignale: Tomori spent four years working in Piedmont and Tuscany – and he still makes everything from the pasta to the limoncello – but he has also been influenced by his stint at Californian food-to-table mecca Chez Panisse. Reservations are elusive but dinner at Cignale is always a culinary thrill.

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03

Okonomi

New York

Tucked away down a tree-lined Williamsburg side street, this 12-seater serves breakfasts or lunches of ichiju-sansai, a traditional Japanese set meal made up of fish, egg, side dishes and miso soup. At night the restaurant transforms and assumes another name: Yuji Ramen. The man behind the magic, Yuji Haraguchi, is a self-taught chef with a background in seafood merchandising.

There’s no menu here, just an invitation to choose from a daily selection of locally sourced fish. Expect sweet-miso tuna fillet served alongside seven-grain rice, a silky onsen tamago egg served in soy broth (stir it up and pour over your rice) and seasonal vegetables. The restaurant gets busy so be prompt with your arrival time. Then sit, eat and walk away wondering how such humble ingredients can make for such a satisfying feed.

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04

The River Café

London

Few superlatives do justice to the culinary feats and convivial air achieved at Ruth Roger’s riverside restaurant. It’s the little things that leave the largest impressions: the honesty of the hospitality and the chefs doing justice to the ingredients. Founded in 1987 by Rogers and her late business partner Rose Gray, the venture was originally a small café abutting Rogers’ husband’s architecture studio (yes, Richard, or Lord Rogers). In many ways it’s the fact that the River Café has kept its small, service-focused feel that helps it stay honest and fresh, despite fast approaching its fourth decade of service.

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05

Tipo 00

Melbourne

Tipo 00’s understated dining room is an oasis of Italian hospitality in Melbourne’s otherwise frantic cbd. Since opening in 2014 the restaurant has earned its stripes by plating up some of the best pasta in Australia (not easy given the size of its Italian diaspora). Among its tastiest dishes are pan-fried calf liver and rabbit tagliatelle.

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06

Tawlet

Beirut

Set up by Kamal Mouzawak, Tawlet (literally “table”) embodies the best of culinary culture in Lebanon: genuine hospitality, a relaxed atmosphere and stunning food. The menu changes daily depending on the cook’s hometown, with Syrian, Armenian and Palestinian dishes appearing alongside Lebanese classics and regional specialities.

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07

Burnt Ends

Singapore

The most important thing in this Australian-barbecue restaurant on the edge of Singapore’s hip Chinatown is the large wood-fired kiln, which yields the flank steaks and bone marrow that gave Burnt Ends its name. The steak, pulled-pork sanger and smoked quail eggs are perfectly paired with wine from small family-owned vineyards.

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08

Luca

London

Many a London restaurant follows a tried and true formula. Bar seating? Obviously. Snappy service? Certainly. Enticing drinks list? Negroni please. So what is it that makes one place stand out? The chef. Isaac McHale (of modern-British haunt The Clove Club) caused quite the stir when he declared that a simple Italian using British ingredients would be his next venture. His dab hand in the kitchen shines through on a stellar menu – the conchiglie (seashell pasta) with pork sausage a must – and his obsession with quality ingredients paired with impeccable technique make for an outstanding repast.

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09

Worst Wijncafé

Amsterdam

Since opening this joint in 2012, owner Kees Elfring has garnered a name for having the finest sausages in town. Favourites from his ever-changing roster include wild boar and lobster with fennel, while guest spots are often given to international purveyors such as the Spigaroli family, which has been curing Italian charcuterie since 1850.

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10

Tosca

San Francisco

Chef April Bloomfield and restaurateur Ken Friedman took over this century-old San Francisco institution to much fanfare in 2014, renovating the space and revamping a menu that now features Italian and Mediterranean specialities. The café’s original atmosphere has been maintained, with red-leather banquettes and the original nicotine-tinged murals gracing the walls. The off-menu beef, pork and guanciale (made from pig cheek) meatballs in a piquant tomato sauce are an absolute must-try, while the Spanish octopus, served with butter beans, tomato and parsley mayonnaise, is a delight of equal measure.

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