The Daily Meal previews our list of the 101 Best Restaurants in Asia for 2015.
The Daily Meal celebrates the most exemplary epicurean endeavors on the Asian continent
Much can happen in a region’s dining scene over the course of a year, and 2015 was no exception in Asia. Building on The Daily Meal’s 2013 and 2014 lists of 101 Best Restaurants in Asia, we now present our third annual list, which is brimming with newcomers, long-time favorites, and favorite oldies that are new to our list.
It is increasingly difficult to whittle the list of best restaurants in Asia down to 101. It would have been much easier to name 101 excellent restaurants in China alone, or in Japan, or Hong Kong, or Singapore — but we wanted to represent as wide a geographical area as possible, discovering lesser-known gems in unfamiliar corners of Asia as well as recognizing the best establishments in better-known places. We began with 520 nominees in 43 cities, in 15 countries plus Hong Kong and Macau. Then, we consulted our panel of experts (more about that later) to choose the very best of these.
Our list covers 13 countries in all, one more than last year — Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos (making its debut this year with Kualao in Vientiane), the Philippines (entering rhe list with a trio of restaurants, Bale Dutung in Angles City, Pampanga, and Purple Yam Malate and Rural Kitchen of Liliw Laguna in Manila), Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam — as well as Hong Kong and Macau (in case you're wondering, Malaysia and Myanmar didn’t make the cut this year).
This year’s list includes 40 new restaurants. China reclaimed the lead it held on our first list (it was edged out by Hong Kong last year) with the most restaurants: 24. Hong Kong and Japan tied for second place with 19 restaurants each.
Our final picks cover 29 cities — not just capitals like Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo, but smaller municipalities, too, including Chiang Mai (Thailand), Taichung (Taiwan), and Unawatuna (Sri Lanka). Hong Kong has more restaurants than any other city, with 20, followed by Beijing (17) and Tokyo (10).
Our ranking reflects the fact that larger cities like Beijing, Tokyo, and Hong Kong are seeing top-notch competition now from Hangzhou, Hanoi, Sapporo, and the like. While many of these restaurants didn't open in the past year, they are new to The Daily Meal’s list, a testament to their chefs’ skills and the ever-increasing competitiveness all over Asia that continues to spawn not just new venues from the big names, but also places that aren't backed by big dining-concept companies, ensconced in hotels, or run by celebrity chefs.
In choosing our 101 best, we called upon more than 50 experts who either live in Asia or spend time there frequently — restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and bloggers with wide restaurant-going experience. These experts were supplemented by The Daily Meal’s well-traveled editorial staff. We asked all the respondents to help nominate places, then evaluate the selection of 520 and vote for their favorites, country by country (meet The Daily Meal's panelists).
We further asked our panelists to vote by region in four categories:
To streamline the voting process, panelists could only vote once for each restaurant.
The Daily Meal and our panel of experts considered restaurants offering the cuisines of their own regions, of course, but also those that serve the food from other parts of Asia. We also included a number of the great restaurants offering classic French, authentic Italian, imaginative East-West fusion, and other cuisines of the world. We did not discriminate according to location; no town, island, or enclave went unconsidered (see the entire 101 Best Restaurants in Asia list).
The dining options in Asia today are seemingly endless, from street carts to night markets to cosmopolitan cafés to the domains of international celebrity chefs. This has by no means always been true. Sushi bars, for instance, barely existed before the 1920s, and really became ubiquitous around Japan — and then around the rest of Asia and the world — only after refrigerated shipping became common in the last third of the 20th century, allowing fresh, sushi-grade fish to be sold almost everywhere.
In most Asian countries, in fact, there isn't a long tradition of restaurants in the modern Western sense — which, among other things, helps explain why there are so many European or fusion places on our list.
Two other factors, though, have been the rise of the so-called Four Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — whose economies skyrocketed in the latter half of the last century, and the increasing Westernization (and accumulation of private wealth) in China, both of which helped create a customer base for restaurants offering sophisticated French or Italian as well as traditional Chinese dining. At the same time, provincial, often humble mom-and-pop places remain the norm in vast parts of Asia, and continue to provide some of the best food and most authentic flavors of their regions.At the same time, provincial, often humble mom-and-pop places remain the norm in vast parts of Asia, and continue to provide some of the best food and most authentic flavors of their regions.
Arguably the most dramatically changed culinary landscape is that of China. As the country opened up after 1989, chefs began to arrive from other countries, eager to serve the people in this vast new marketplace. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games only stimulated culinary creativity, and soon a who’s who of culinary luminaries, like Daniel Boulud and Joël Robuchon, were setting up shop in Beijing, Shanghai, and beyond. Today, it is possible to find not only great Chinese food in the country but also first-rate sushi and Thai and Vietnamese food, as well as representations of French, Italian, Spanish, and other European cuisines that are as good as anything anywhere in the world.
Any list like this one is bound to stir disagreements among discerning diners; even our own staff was divided on which restaurants should make the final cut.
After checking out The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in Asia, share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter using the hashtag #bestrestaurants — and let us know what places you think should have been included, or should have been left out.
If you have dined at any of these restaurants, pin your favorite photos on The Daily Meal’s Eating & Dining Pinterest board. Which restaurant made it to the top of the list? The answer might just surprise you.
101. Kingfisher (Unawatuna, Sri Lanka)
An ideal seaside destination, this simple, teak-filled, Indian Ocean-front restaurant serves sublime seafood like lobster, arrack-lime prawns, and tuna steak. Chef Duminda Roshan Matarage’s à la carte menu includes Thai curries and fresh seafood straight from the surrounding waters. Dine on the edge of the beach, with great views, great music, and great cocktails to enhance the experience. This season, the restaurant will open a new Lounge Beach Bar, enhancing the Kingfisher experience.
100. HVN (Colombo, Sri Lanka)
Located in Casa Colombo, a 12-suite hotel boutique in this island nation’s largest city, HVN is a retro-trendy restaurant. Tucked into a 200-year-old Moorish mansion replete with Italian and Indian mosaic floors, molded ceilings, and vintage charm, HVN was the former grand hall of the mansion and has been transformed into a posh restaurant with gold carved ceilings, an antique 18-foot fan, glass organza tables, and a fresco of the sage Rishis meditating in the clouds. The eclectic fusion menu features dishes seldom seen in these parts: Sri Lankan mild curry prawn bisque with cheese toast; shredded roast beef on Gotukola mango salad with tamarind dressing; arrack-flamed jumbo prawns with chile-lime pickle and garlic rice; and soft Godamba roti rolls filled with chile-salt caramel, cashews, and vanilla ice cream.
Lauren Mack, NYC Travel Editor at The Daily Meal, is a Freelance Travel and Food Writer. Lauren lived and worked in Beijing and Taipei for more than six years before returning to the Big Apple. Follow her on Twitter @lmack.