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After being forced online by the pandemic last year, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants returned to the physical world this week with a glitzy awards ceremony in the Grand Ball Room of the The Kahala Hotel & Resort Yokohama on Thursday.

Hong Kong’s The Chairman took the top spot, beating out 2020 winner Odette (Singapore, No. 2) to be crowned The Best Restaurant in Asia.

The ceremony, which was attended by a scattering of Japanese chefs and guests, was a scaled-down version of festivities from years past, and centered on a video presentation ceremony that was streamed live on YouTube.

Nine restaurants from Japan made the 50 Best list. Tokyo’s Den, led by owner-chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, retained its No. 3 place to pick up The Best Restaurant in Japan award for a fourth year running. Other returnees to the list from Japan included La Cime (Osaka, No. 8), Sazenka (Tokyo, No. 12), Ode (Tokyo, No. 27), La Maison de la Nature Goh (Fukuoka, No. 30) and Nihonryori RyuGin (Tokyo, No. 35). Tokyo’s Florilege and Narisawa both maintained their places within the top 10, at No. 7 and No. 9, respectively.

Tokyo’s L’Effervescence returned to the list at No. 19 and also picked up the Highest Climber Award having climbed the rankings from No. 48 in 2020. Chef Shinobu Namae was one of the handful of guests at the ceremony able to collect his award in person.

No. 1: Danny Yip, of Hong Kong’s The Chairman took the top spot and was crowned The Best Restaurant in Asia | COURTESY OF ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS
No. 1: Danny Yip, of Hong Kong’s The Chairman took the top spot and was crowned The Best Restaurant in Asia | COURTESY OF ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS

Den’s Hasegawa, who also attended in person to claim The Best Restaurant in Japan award, told the crowd, “While this year has been very difficult, and we’ve had fewer people at the restaurant, I’d like to thank you for the support and the opportunity to do things differently.” He added that he was “excited to see Japanese chefs also being recognized outside of Japan,” referencing Hokkaido-born Ryogo Tahara, the chef at Taipei’s two-Michelin-starred Logy (No. 24).

Alongside the regular 50 Best list, two new lists were announced at the 2021 award ceremony.

This year saw the debut of the 51-100 list, which included a further nine restaurants from Japan, including the revered Sushi Saito (No. 57), which was stripped of its Michelin stars in 2019 for being inaccessible to the general public, and the introduction-only Sugalabo (No. 85). The 51-100 list also included more restaurants outside of Tokyo, including two contemporary Italian restaurants: Villa Aida (No. 64, Wakayama) and Cenci (No. 91, Kyoto).

Also announced was the Essence of Asia list, an unranked collection of 50 more casual restaurants across Asia, from Pakistan to Sri Lanka.

“At a time when restaurants need our support, this collection presents travelers and gourmets with an invaluable guide to some of Asia’s most authentic and diverse dining experiences,” said William Drew, director of content for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. “The range of establishments spans street vendors, time-honored institutions, philanthropic businesses and pioneering newcomers.”

Game changer: Seventy-six-year-old Bangkok chef Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta, of Michelin-starred street food restaurant Raan Jay Fai (No. 62), won the 2021 Icon Award. | COURTESY OF ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS
Game changer: Seventy-six-year-old Bangkok chef Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta, of Michelin-starred street food restaurant Raan Jay Fai (No. 62), won the 2021 Icon Award. | COURTESY OF ASIA’S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS

In an industry overwhelmingly dominated by men, it was exciting to see several female chefs pick up major awards at the event. Seventy-six-year-old Bangkok chef Supinya “Jay Fai” Junsuta, of Michelin-starred street food restaurant Raan Jay Fai (Bangkok, No. 62), won the 2021 Icon Award, which honors “culinary icons who have made an outstanding contribution to the restaurant industry.” The Asia’s Best Pastry Chef award went to Angela Lai, the patissier at Tairroir (Singapore), while DeAille Tam of Obscura (Shanghai) earned the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef.

Alas, COVID-19 was never far from center stage, having cast a long and devastating shadow over the hospitality industry in the past 12 months. Each of the winning chefs referenced the pandemic in their speeches, and the voting system for the awards was altered to reflect the inability of many restaurants to open fully, or for the judging panel to dine at nominated establishments.

However, despite the ongoing pandemic, the ceremony was overwhelmingly upbeat, a reminder that when the pandemic is over, there is a world of culinary innovation and brilliant cooking across the continent waiting for our return.

Read the full list at theworlds50best.com/asia/en/list/1-50.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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