It has been four years since William Drew was last in Singapore, and the 50 Best Restaurants director of content is delighted to be coming back.
Drew will be in town later this month to revisit the country’s dining scene and announce the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 winners on 28 March, and mark the highly anticipated list’s ten-year anniversary since it debuted in Singapore.
“We’ve not been able to do one big event that brought all of the Asian gastronomic community together in the last few years,” he said. “So when we had the opportunity to go back to our home in Asia, that all made sense for us. It just seems fitting: completing the circle of starting out here in 2013, and returning in 2023.”
From the beginning, the results of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants have always been unveiled at a live ceremony. Singapore has hosted the event three times before. It has also taken place in Bangkok and Macau. However, covid forced the ceremony to go online from 2020 to 2022. While the pandemic has hit the restaurant industry hard, Drew believes it made employers prioritise their staff.
“One of the interesting byproducts was this element of human sustainability,” he said. “We actually have to look after people, whether that be within the team or outside the team. It was a rising force in the world of food, quite rightly, but I think it was accelerated by the pandemic. We can’t police the industry, but what we do is accentuate the positives and highlight great operators and great initiatives.”
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants is determined by 318 experts around the world, who consists of a tripartite of chefs and restauranteurs, food critics, and what Drew calls “well-travelled gourmets.” Each member is given ten anonymous votes for their best restaurant experiences over the past 18 months, and a certain number of votes have to be for establishments outside their home country.
Drew said 50 Best does not tell the voters what restaurants to visit, but over the years, the awards have been marked by controversy. While the experts are undisclosed, restaurants can market themselves extensively to potential members like food journalists. The jurors are also not required to pay for their meal.
“We also have strict guidelines to ensure the anonymity of our voters,” Drew said. “So even if restaurants wanted to sway them with extra hospitality, they would still need to know who the voters are to begin with. Most importantly, we trust the experts to be independent. Their votes are secure and confidential. And it’s all adjudicated by Deloitte to ensure that it’s all aboveboard.”
Critics have also complained that the lists do not do enough to promote gender and culinary diversity. In response, 50 Best has gradually expanded coverage to include more restaurants on their 51-100 list, and give out special awards including Asia’s Best Female Chef. Drew hopes this will broaden the spotlight on more chefs and restaurants.
“This is not a fine dining list. This is a list of great restaurants,” he said. “In the past, we might have been criticised for being too small. So it can only be a positive thing to recognise talent, recognise great initiatives, and promotes a great diversity of restaurants. And through that you promote the whole restaurant sector. It’s a kind of rising tide and raises the profile of food drink across the continent as a whole.”
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 will be announced on 28 March during a ceremony in Singapore. It will also be live-streamed on Facebook and Youtube.
(Hero and feature images credits: Den; Odette)