It’s a bold and dedicated chef or bartender who has chosen the past 18 months to launch a new venue. Confronting the perils of the pandemic head on – and united in their tenacity, creativity and conviction – 50 Best looks at those pivoting, pioneering and persevering individuals who have pushed on to create game-changing projects in the face of adversity
Flavo, Mexico City
What makes it great? A flexible caravan-style concept from a new school of tastemakers redefining the parameters of Latin American fine dining with a travelling restaurant
Flavo is a vibey, freewheeling Mexico City space pushing the gastronomic envelope. At its helm is a cool-as-they-come, international dream team comprising Chilean chef Ricardo Verdejo, who shaped his craft in a triptych of 50 Best kitchens – Santiago’s Boragó, 99 and New York’s Cosme – and Anna Condax, who worked at Paris’s Septime, among other great modern restaurants.
Ricardo Verdejo and Anna Codax
In early 2020, with plans to launch a new restaurant in the Condesa neighbourhood of Mexico City taking shape, the pair took a break to visit family before throwing themselves into full restaurant-making mode. As the pandemic swept westward, the mood changed and they found themselves stranded. But when the duo returned to Mexico, the fire was still burning.
While Flavo’s address may be transient (watch its socials for the most up-to-date info), the team are steadfast when it comes to its cornerstones: market-driven local produce and a concise, unstuffy-yet-surprising tasting menu held together by superlative, friendly service and a banging soundtrack. Eighty per cent of dishes are vegetable-focused and backed by dairy and proteins from Hacienda La Grande, a farm outside the city. Expect high-level cooking across the likes of roasted onion with black garlic confit and cheese consommé, Chione clams with almonds and fennel aioli and Verdejo’s signature dish that sees six or seven individually prepared mushrooms finished with orange peel oil. A funky collection of natural wines sourced exclusively from small producers complement it.
Three dishes from the Flavo menu
A buzzy atmosphere is a given wherever they pitch up, be that an open-air terrace, an old art gallery, a wine bar or within the Four Seasons hotel. A permanent La Juarez site is pegged to open this June, but don’t expect to see the back of their game-changing collaborations with the likes of Enrique Olvera, Bernardo Galindo et al.
Who is Omar Tate? As an activist, poet and chef-proponent of the preservation and historical unraveling of African American food culture, Tate’s exploratory, conversational approach to gastronomy is helping revolutionise Black American cuisine
With the concept of ‘lineage’ a key part of the ethos behind Tate’s culinary outlook, it seems apt that the circumstances of the pandemic sparked a new project in his hometown of Philly. Honeysuckle was an experiential, multi-course New York supper series he’d been running primarily out of a Wall Street penthouse since 2018 and it will be landing with permanent digs in Pennsylvania this year. He describes it as “a portal to Blackness”, launched to challenge the preconceptions of fine dining and lack of representation within the sort of kitchens he’d been working for a decade.
Dishes at the pop-up took the form of cultural edifices, paying homage to reference points gathered from jazz, political movements, centuries of literature, hip hop and personal history alike. Lauded by critics, when Covid hit, bookings (some $300 a pop) were cancelled across the board. A lack of permanent space meant no government aid, leaving Tate with zero projected income for the next six months.
Packing his bags, Tate looked to Philly and his family. What came next was a reimagining of Honeysuckle that brought thoughts of a longer-term idea catapulting into the present day. On 8th April 2020 he served the first Honeysuckle box from a pop-up running out of South Philly Barbacoa. With a menu pared back to the basics of his food philosophy, comforting dishes like pit-smoked lamb, barbecued goat, plays on pepperpot and chow-chow, fried chicken and heirloom grits maintain his complexity of flavour.
And development is now underway for a community space rooted in the city’s Mantua neighbourhood. Set to include a supper club, grocery provisions (supplied by Black producers), café and library, it follows the footsteps of his grandfather, who opened a community centre to feed children and promote the arts on his return from the Vietnam War. Watch this space and support its fundraising here.
First drink: The PB+J Old Fashioned, with peanut butter and burnt butter and a base syrup extracted from banana skins
Opened this April, Re is pegged as a ‘regenerative drinking experience’ located in Sydney’s South Eveleigh precinct. It comes from Matt Whiley, owner of London-based Scout, which sits at No.51 in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2020. Here, Whiley, along with Sydney mixologist Maurice Terzini, takes the key Scout tenants – simplicity, seasonality and waste reduction – one step further, with everything from the glasses and tableware to fixtures and fittings crafted using reclaimed materials. It’s an all-encompassing push for sustainability aimed at setting out a radical pathway for the Aussie bar industry.
Inside Sydney's Re
Scandi minimalism is revealed in the interiors, which are a pared-back split-level industrial space with distressed walls and exposed ironwork, paired with muted colourways and plenty of natural material. The bar itself is cleverly made from recycled bottles crafted to look like terrazzo tiles.
Expect a tight list of favourites alongside beers and natural wines, plus a signature selection that riffs on classic flavours and takes its cue from surplus and salvaged ingredients found at the local market. Highballs and spritzes, for example, showcase Ketel One Botanicals muddled with plums and peaches destined for compost. Elsewhere, a rolling ‘Re-search’ menu centred on different themes will afford the team true creative license – they’re currently on ‘Intergalactic’. Running with the same mantra, Re is strong on the snack front, too, with inventive, tasty bites made from offcuts headed up by local hero chef, Alex Pritchard.
What to expect: Palate-tingling West African heritage dishes with fine-dining finesse
Earthy, clay-clad walls, abundant raw materials, handcrafted African ceramics and the evocative waft of mysterious spices characterise this fresh London launch. Landing on the West End’s Berners Street almost a year later than planned – during the small window of opportunity afforded between UK lockdowns in October 2020 – Akoko is the brainchild of British Nigerian Aji Akokomi, a first-time restaurateur whose modus operandi is to celebrate the stories and rewrite perceptions of African cuisine.
Akoko's palette-matching interior
Taking as its foundation the less familiar foodways of the western sub-Saharan region – a swathe encompassing 16 countries including Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria – it’s a forward-thinking concept driven by a roll call of family recipes, with spices and grains sourced direct from Africa ensuring dishes encapsulate the true essence of the region.
A look at the key dishes on Akoko's menu
Authentic flavours are refined into a 10-course tasting menu that runs the gamut from dry-aged beef egusi (a Nigerian soup) with melon seed stew and collard greens, to charcoal-grilled suya-spiced lamb belly and a Gambian take on grilled oysters. Not forgetting the regional mainstay: jollof rice, served with caramelised plantain, glazed carrot and Ivorian aubergine sauce – a hybrid that splices through borders. Pitch-perfect presentation, African-inspired cocktails and a wine list championing off-the-beaten-track regions from sommelier Honey Spencer of the Noma Mexico pop-up round things off.
Beyond, Cape Town
Who’s behind it? Primos of provenance Peter Tempelhoff, Ashley Moss and Jennifer Hugé of award-winning Cape Town restaurants FYN and Greenhouse
With coronavirus having already put paid to plans to launch another bricks-and-mortar dining room in the heart of Cape Town, Beyond opened with understandable trepidation at the end of 2020. It’s a tale of terroir, not least thanks to its setting amid the undulating vines of Constantia’s winelands – where some of the best-established wine estates in the New World have been joined by a wave of young culinary disruptors on the outskirts of the capital – but so too chef-patron Peter Tempelhoff’s enduring provenance-forward food philosophy.
The concise menu is nourished by a commitment to using local small producers and farmers from whom he sources heirloom, rare-breed and artisan ingredients. Eschewing a tasting-menu format, guests can expect a keenly priced à la carte in keeping with the mood and economic climate.
On the pass, head chef Julia de Toit excels in understated, modern country cooking with dishes like roasted springbok with coriander pesto and young broccoli showcasing both local and global inspiration. Pared-back interiors – all floor-to-ceiling glass, large wooden tables and hanging dried greenery plucked from the surrounding land – let the standout South African scenery do the talking.
Brat X Climpson’s Arch, London
Hero dish: Whole turbot cooked over embers
This alfresco dining experience from chef Tomos Parry would not exist had it not been for the pandemic. Perhaps more surprising is that it didn’t exist before – Parry’s signature approach, loosely based around asador and wood-fired grill techniques of the Basque Country, is simpatico with this sort of setting.
Brat x Climpson's Arch
Faced with the temporary closure to the original Brat site – an award-winning first-floor dining room in London’s Shoreditch – due to Covid restrictions, and keen to continue supporting staff and small-scale suppliers alike, Parry looked to his old Hackney haunt, where he ran a culinary residency before launching Kitty Fisher’s. The team (which includes 15 new hires) set about chalking up blackboard menus, hanging festoon lights and booking DJs as they transformed the courtyard under the arches of Climpson’s trendy East London coffee roastery into a beacon to food cooked over fire in summer 2020.
The grill in action and the restaurant's namesake dish, a whole grilled turbot
In 2021, it’s ready for a busy summer season. Expect the primal scent of the smoking-hot grill charring dishes such as cedar-smoked rainbow trout, beef chops and soused mackerel. Solid sherry list to boot.
Dani at the Four Seasons, Madrid
We’re ordering: Scallop tartare with jamón ibérico emulsion and basil oil
When a project has been percolating for nearly seven years, what’s another few months? Stretching across seven landmark buildings and housing some 200 bedrooms close to Madrid’s Barrio de las Letras, the delayed launch of the grand Four Seasons hotel came to fruition last September. It brought with it a new dining destination in the form of Dani, which is a brasserie-style rooftop restaurant designed by Martin Brudnizki and pioneered on the gastronomic front by decorated Spanish chef Dani García.
Two dishes from the soon-to-open Dani
The food on offer branches out from contemporary Andalusian with tortilla and high-end takes on the likes of gazpacho and razor clam rice all the way to anchovies with a black truffle emulsion, an ode to the Bay of Biscay. Elsewhere, Isa, a trendy gastrobar led by award-winning bartender Sophie Larrouture is set to open soon, focusing on Asian-inspired tapas and exemplary craft cocktails.
Leah & Louise, Charlotte, North Carolina
In short: Creative modern southern juke joint celebrating the foodways of the Mississippi Delta
When James Beard-nominated chef Greg Collier and his wife Subrina set out the blueprint for Leah & Louise (their third restaurant, named after his late sister and grandmother), ‘Covid’ hadn’t yet been coined. The sizable Camp North End dining room – a fresh, open-plan warehouse-like setup filled with the sound of blues and bedecked in a mismatch of old-meets-new – was due to open on 20th March 2020. Three days prior, North Carolina closed the state’s restaurants and the small-plates menu Collier had conceived was put on hold. Instead, curbside pick ups and family-style food (including the new, now best-selling Bird is the Word chicken sandwich) saw them through to a relaunch last June.
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Joined by two up-and-coming Black female chefs in the kitchen, Collier’s innovative dishes channel all the flavour of the African diaspora sprawling Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. Leading the vignette-style menu today is an elevated selection from ‘Where I’m From’, including the likes of fried chicken skins, a cornmeal brioche roll with black garlic butter, bayou-style blackened catfish with rice grits, pickled field pea and candied pepper.
A note on interiors: A contemporary bistro vibe for the Instagram generation that sees raw-brick walls softened off with pantry-style furniture and layers of powdery pink and kale green
Flinging open its doors in Stockholm’s buzzy Norrmalm district last October, Jaqueline’s brings inspiration from Brooklyn to Tel Aviv and beyond to curate fun, modern cuisine in a vibrant atmosphere. A female-led team is the driving force behind this all-day neighbourhood diner, which draws upon the conviviality of sharing plates in an extensive menu revolving around the sort of unpretentious food you really want to eat.
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Part of the critically acclaimed Vassa Eggen family, who run a range of globally-inspired restaurants across the city, there’s little by way of New Nordic here, unless you count a touch of fermentation when it comes to the sides. Instead, orders might include shakshuka or lobster Benedict for brunch; fluffy ‘pinsa’ pizzas, hearty Middle Eastern salads or a top-notch Reuben sandwich for lunch; while dinners flit from latkes and beetroot hummus to fresh oysters, grills and lamb tagines.
In a nutshell: Accessible second restaurant from Brazilian chef Alessandra Montagne, combining a zero-waste ethos, ingredients from the Île-de-France region and global technique
As the first wave of the pandemic hit and the City of Lights saw its trademark sparkle dimmed, self-made chef Alessandra Montagne saw a project three years in the making hit the rocks. Having already closed Tempero – her first Paris site – and without having yet launched Nosso, state aid wasn’t an option, so instead she plundered her savings and took a second job to finalise the purchase of kitchen kit and last of the building works herself.
The Nosso take on gazpacho and roast chicken with garlic and potatoes
Six months later than first planned, in September 2020, the lights flicked on and the space came to life with an established line up of staff from Tempero at the helm. Aptly, Nosso – found in the 13th arrondissement – translates from the Portuguese word for ‘our’ and a feeling of a united culinary spirit pervades the menu. Grounded by Montagne’s locavorian approach to cooking, which was shaped in part by her self-sufficient upbringing on a farm in Brazil’s rural Poté, the talented cosmopolitan team bring with them their own cultural know-how to inform the cuisine on offer.
Seasonality and sustainability are the bedrock, with nose-to-tail, organic and zero waste more than just buzz words here. The result is a cheering medley of ever changing, elegantly presented dishes that showcase pick-ups from the realms of fermenting, smoking and preserving. Emblematic plates include Montagne’s signature candied, barbecued pork belly, pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and French mainstay, tarte aux pommes (apple tart).
Sago House, Singapore
What’s the deal? Three bar industry veterans come together to create a watering hole built from upcycled and recycled materials with their own bare hands
Singapore has remained a city of progress in spite of the pandemic and, of the surprising number of quality new bars to emerge over the last year or so, Sago House stands out.
Jay Gray, Desiree Jane Silva and George Abishek
It’s led by three of the bar world’s key players: Jay Gray, Desiree Jane Silva and George Abishek, who had already been brewing Sago for close to a year when Covid hit. Taking things into their own hands – literally – and armed with mood boards, they set out to create the space using reused, recycled and unloved materials (along with a little hustle). You’ll find it on the top of a Sago Street shophouse, where out of hours they host regular events for the city’s hospitality workers.
A signature cocktail from Sago House
The fun, eclectic set up has six stalwart serves and runs a rotating weekly menu – see the playfully named Move Like Jaggery, a well-balanced blend of tequila, amaro, sherry and payasam – dictated by native, seasonal ingredients sourced at the local market. And it’s been well-received: the bar was recently announced as a new entry to Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021, coming in at No.49. Locked down once more, pre-mixed bottles are doing the online-order rounds.
Worth noting: This lauded new fine-diner includes a wine bar and bottle shop for informal drop-ins
To open a restaurant during a pandemic is one thing, but to open a restaurant that scoops a Michelin star having only been trading for 20 days is quite another. Enter Behind, a modern fish-focused kitchen table in London Fields.
The curving chef's counter at Behind
It’s overseen by ex-Jason Atherton development chef Andy Beynon, whose résumé also includes stints under British heavyweight cooks Michael Wignall, Claude Bosi and Phil Howard. Persevering through eight months of restrictions, Beynon opened his first solo venture in October of last year – nine days before the UK went into its second lockdown. Part design, part a stroke of luck, the industrial space complements the limitations of the new world of socially distanced dining perfectly – its immersive concept is centered around a spacious, curving dark-wood kitchen counter seating 18 diners for a single nightly sitting of eight courses (lunch is served Thursday to Saturday, too).
Mushroom 'tea and toast' and native lobster muffin
The aim? To plunge diners behind the scenes of the cooking process, from a showcase of raw ‘best of British’ ingredients, to the raft of finished plates – think native lobster muffin, guinea fowl with pumpkin, roasted hake with cockles and chocolate with salted pine and ricotta – delivered by the chefs themselves.
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