Food Awards 2016: the winners

We unveil Beijing's best restaurants of 2016

20160307011931872We pull no punches when it comes to eating in Beijing. Discover the very best of Beijing's dining scene with the winning restaurants, chefs and cafés from the Time Out Food Awards 2016.

Click through our list of winners below to find the best international fine dining restaurant, top Chinese casual dining, best café, brunch, lunch set and more. Don't miss out on the biggest awards, chef of the year and restaurant of the year, chosen by Time Out's expert panel of judges. Every category has also has readers' choice award, each voted for by countless of Time Out Beijing's readers.

Here are the best restaurants of 2016.

Winner Transit

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In a city full of delicacy-peddling, expense account-padding Cantonese joints, a high-end modern Sichuanese eatery is bound to make waves. The commitment of head chef Huang Chao’s kitchen to buck the trend in Chinese fine dining of subtle, dare we say imperceptible, coastal flavours is just the tip of the chilli at Transit. 


For a chef hailing from a region famous for its use of mouth-numbing peppercorns, Transit’s unique take on chuancai is anything but monochromatic. Huang’s love of spice and numbing is only rivalled by his delicate and restrained hand – tender dandan noodles are kissed with a smouldering heat from house-made chilli oil and cut with a squeeze of fresh lime, while koushuiji poached chicken warms and cools simultaneously with its delightfully contrasting sensory information. Transit does the capital proud with its unparalleled Sichuanese fare. It’s an institution and a spicy-ass feather in Beijing’s cap. 


ORDER THIS Dry-fried Angus tenderloin toasted with chillies (128RMB).


INSIDER TIP Prepare yourself for the heat with a happy hour buy-one-get-one drink at the swanky Cicada Ultra Lounge next door.


Merit Xin Rongji (Guomao)

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Having just laid into the high-end Canto that, barring a few notable exceptions, dominates Beijing’s Chinese fine dining scene, let’s switch gears. The Xin Rongji of 2016 is by no means a Maotai-soaked Party cadre’s gilded ballroom. The menu may still sport haggard English translations and even arcane Chinese labels, but the kitchen turns out Cantonese classics that defy every cliché the management seems intent on reinforcing. 


Braised croaker in brown sauce, steamed river shrimp and a stone pot fried rice with Yunnan truffles and dried scallops – undercurrents of flavour seize and ripple across the palate over a meal at Xin Rongji, a study in the art of subtlety. 


ORDER THIS The Lobster noodle soup (48RMB) shouldn’t be missed.


INSIDER TIP Ask for the half-portion menu to stretch your cash across the epic tome of a menu.


Readers’ Choice Da Dong (Gongti)


Winner Zhen Ai Zhongguo

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‘Real Love China’ serves up elevated staples from the heartland. What normally passes for street fare has been dressed to the nines. Diminutive roujiamo, freshly toasted atop traditional cast-iron skillets, arrive with their own side dish of freshly sliced green chillies, while a massive hatbox-looking vessel dramatically reveals a whole twice-fried chicken, which yields chunks of white meat dripping with salty goodness. 


ORDER THIS Hand-pulled noodles containing one single tangle of delicious noodle (qiugongmian, 38RMB).


Merit Dali Courtyard


In a market crowded with Yunnanese set-menu joints, Dali Courtyard continues to lure us back with its charming hutong courtyard setting and laid-back air. Sit down and you’re instantly at home; whether it’s date night or you decided to bring along 30 friends, this tiny, two-man kitchen team astounds with its ability to churn out killer plates of fried prawns with lime leaves, spicy tofu skins and salty, pan-fried Yunnan cheese. 


ORDER THIS It’s a chef’s set affair at Dali Courtyard, with not an a la carte menu in sight, but request the open-faced roasted river fish with spicy vinegar dressing when you make your reservation.

 

Readers’ Choice Din Tai Fung

Winner Ling Er Jiu

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We call this place ‘Crack Noodles’ at Time Out Towers, thanks to the addictive quality of the dishes. Ling Er Jiu’s you’po chemian and roujiamo have been known to rack up queues well into the wee hours of the morning. With chewy ribbons of hand-pulled belt noodles bathed in fire engine-red chilli oil, these massive bowls of noodles, braised pork and diced veggies satisfy our need for cheap carbs on the reg.


INSIDER TIP Avoid peak meal times unless you like waiting in line.


Merit Nice Rice

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For fiery Hunnanese dishes that make no compromises it has to be Nice Rice. This stylish hutong restaurant proves that low country fare doesn’t mean settling for some dingy hole-in-the-wall (not that there’s anything wrong with that). From stinky mandarin fish to dry-fried cauliflower, every dish at Nice Rice makes us spit fire and vitriol – then crawl back for more. 


DRINK THIS House-infused herbal rice wine – good for that stomach you just destroyed with spice (15RMB).


Readers’ Choice Tiger Mama

Winner Okra

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Max Levy’s temple to modern Japanese cuisine is a sexy nerd – much like the owner-chef himself – that puts the big, flashy types to shame. Every inch of the concept is super refined, but small touches like the brass soybean pod chopstick rests and cocktails like the Pickled Jew – Levy’s take on a bloody Mary featuring smoked tomato-infused sochu and pickled okra – remind you that buried beneath the technical savvy and attention to detail, Okra has a sense of humour. 


The menu is a constantly shifting landscape, in equal part masterfully rearranged classics and original Levy creations. Taste and texture reign supreme at Okra, from the cuts of sushi to the Josper oven-roasted chicken thighs and house-cured monkfish liver ‘foie gras’. 


ORDER THIS Chilean wagyu skirt tartare with Onsen quail’s egg and bagel chips (160RMB). 


INSIDER TIP Book for an early dinner when cocktails are two-for-one (6-8pm), or go on Friday when sake is 30 percent off.


Merit Yotsuba (Lido)

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There are few houses of sushi that can compare to Yotsuba, with its three perennially packed locations. With hardly an inch of tatami free for the walk-in guest, it’s not hard to see why Yotsuba is a refuge for sushi purists and the go-to spot for discerning Japanese transplants. 


Fish is flown in daily from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, and while the dishes are priced to cover the cost of that first class airfare, creamy botan shrimp sashimi and slabs of milky white toro fatty tuna can’t be found elsewhere, at any price. 


INSIDER TIP The tuna tasting lunch set is ideal for the cash-conscious sushi obsessive. Tuck into all three grades of Yotsuba’s choice toro and a host of side dishes for 200RMB.


Readers’ Choice Okra

Winner Vin Vie

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The back alley locale and hardly noticeable signage belie what is one of the hardest reservations to secure in town. Vin Vie’s stellar wine selection (and price point) and playful French-influenced Japanese izakaya fare make for a potent combination that keeps the place packed daily. There’s nothing else like it. 


ORDER THIS Horse carpaccio with olive tapenade (48RMB).


DON'T SKIP DESSERT ‘French Toast with Lots of Maple!!’ (38RMB).


Merit Sake Manzo

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You can’t spit in this city without hitting a sushi bar-cum-izakaya, but Sake Manzo knows how to keep us coming back for more. With one of the best sake menus in town, courtesy of sake master and owner Taka Yamamoto, excellent cuts of fish and a battery of classic Japanese casual eats served up in a lively open dining room, Sake Manzo is one of our favourites.


INSIDER TIP Book ahead for a tatami-style room


Readers’ Choice Hatsune (Sanlitun)

Winner Opera Bombana

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When big-name chefs come to town, particularly ones with stars from a certain tyre manufacturer at the end of their name, the result is almost always underwhelming. Opera Bombana, the Beijing outpost of Hong Kong-based maestro Umberto Bombana, rips that sad trope to shreds with a fine truffle shaver. 


Portraits of Marylyn Monroe oversee the dining room, while chef de cuisine Marino D’Antonio presides in the kitchen. The rules at Opera are simple: serve only the best ingredients, respectfully prepared in blissfully unadorned Italian fashion. When Bombana is in town to cook at his restaurant the truffles pile high and the crowds gather, but the cuisine at Opera is flawless year-round – from the first lip smack of thick, aged balsamico to the last bite of pastry chef Enzo Jiang’s famous ‘pistachio three ways’. 


TRY THIS The swordfish carpaccio with mandarin puree sings as a briny bite yields to the fragrant citrus.


INSIDER TIP The Sunday brunch (328RMB) is essentially a scaled down, cheaper version of the excellent dinner menu and can be kitted out with freeflow Bisol Jeio prosecco for 148RMB.


Merit Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB)

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Fine dining is all about occasion, and no restaurant respects the pageantry of the formal meal more than Temple Restaurant Beijing. Proprietor Ignace Lecleir commands an army of highly trained, attentive staff that wow you with kindness, complimentary champagne and a seemingly endless supply of canapés – all in a beautiful modern dining room inside a 600-year old temple. 


Sip on grand a premier cru from one of the best cellars in China as the kitchen whiles the hours away with course after course of modern takes on classic European haute cuisine. Fancy a butter-poached lobster with crab foam, or maybe sweet pea soup with crème fresh and Beluga caviar? TRB is unabashedly luxurious, and we apologise for none of it. 


SIT HERE For supper, request one of the cosy booths.


Readers’ Choice Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB)

Winner Migas

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When do the staff at Spanish restaurant Migas have time to siesta? Whether the kitchen is turning out stunning dry-aged cuts of Chilean wagyu, imported by head chef and resident madman Aitor Olabegoya himself, or setting up a summertime cevicheria – they have a rooftop that’s effectively the beating heart of Sanlitun all summer, maybe you’ve heard of it? – there’s not a moment of peace in this culinary powerhouse. The Migas team are full of energy and culinary invention. 


The spirit of the place is infectious, intoxicating (that might also be the gin) and inspiring. There’s always opportunity to check out new dishes on the regularly updated menu: both a tapas of molecular olives draped in anchovies on potato crisps, and dry-aged lamb chops charred in a Josper oven (served with black garlic sponge cake cooked in a microwave) are representative of the ethos at Migas. Always creative, always surprising. 


ORDER THIS Octopus two ways (98RMB). 


INSIDER TIP Reserve a seat next to a window for lunch.


Merit Mosto

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If Sanlitun were an actual village, Mosto would be its town hall. With its casual-chic style, Mosto positively bumps with energy at any hour of the day. Whether it’s the suit-and-tie set shaking hands over a rib eye and bottle of red at lunch, or 24-hour party people tossing back shots of premium hooch and the occasional oyster at the bar, things are always going down at Mosto. 


With head chef Daniel Urdaneta at the helm of this eclectic, South American-inspired kitchen, the cuisine is familiar when you crave it and boundary-pushing when you want it to be. A curry-marinated chicken breast from the brunch menu will change how you feel about ordering chicken in restaurants, while seared scallops topped with strawberry compote is a seemingly bizarre yet incredible dish that really hammers home the point: leave it to Mosto to prove you don’t know jack. 


INSIDER TIP The last Sunday of the month is the La Familia dinner, a family-style feast for 100RMB per person with 30RMB glasses of wine.


 Readers’ choice Migas

Winner Taco Bar

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With carnitas and fish tacos this good, it’s no wonder the place is bumping every night. Tequila flows with a fierce passion at Taco Bar, but the real gems come from chef-owner Kin Hong’s kitchen, not the bottle. 


ORDER THIS The Big-ass Grilled Prawns (70RMB) shouldn’t be missed. 


 

Merit Bottega 

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Bottega raised the bar for authentic Neapolitan style pizza when it opened last year. With gooey fresh burrata-topped pies and Aperol spritz aplenty, this backstreet pizzeria managed to revive an otherwise desolate corner of Sanlitun. 


INSIDER TIP Head over on Monday for the best deals.


Readers' Choice Home Plate BBQ (Sanlitun)

Winner Green Cow City Café

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Organic produce and ingredients are all that’s used at this Jiuxianqiao outpost from Green Cow Organic Farm. Handmade bagels, dope ricotta pancakes and some of the best pizzas in town, all at near-bargain prices, make this one of our all-time favourite spots for work or play. 


ORDER THIS Green Cow Special pizza (125RMB). 


INSIDER TIP Make sure to grab some frozen pizza bagels to go (50RMB for three). 


Merit Soloist Coffee Co

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Get your third-wave, single-origin pour-over at this bastion of all things beans. The first spot for serious coffee in Beijing is still the best, with freakishly knowledgeable staff and an in-house roasting company that make this the first and last word on caffeine in the capital. 


INSIDER TIP Order a tasting flight to identify your ideal brew (120RMB).


Readers' Choice Moka Bros (Sanlitun)

Winner Migas 

Migas


While other places see lunch sets as an excuse to move inventory and fill seats, Migas sees an opportunity for experimentation and growth. With a menu that changes weekly, you’re almost guaranteed to see three courses of something new. One week a crispy skinned chicken, next a charred octopus or maybe a casserole overflowing with manchego cheese, you never really know what to expect. The one thing you can rely on is the scandalously low price: 95RMB. 


BONUS Add a cheeky glass of wine for 20RMB.


Merit Jing Yaa Tang, The Opposite House

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As a rule, all you can eat is the wrong amount to be eating, but we cave for dim sum, and we flat out bow down for Jing Yaa Tang. Chef Li Dong’s kitchen does the impossible, serving up endless rounds of dumplings, turnip cakes, rice rolls, you name it, all without sacrificing one iota of flavour. Try and top that for 128RMB (plus 15 percent). 


INSIDER TIP Roll deep with at least four people so you can find stomach space for a wider variety of dishes.


Readers' Choice Temple Restaurant Beijing

Winner Opera Bombana

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Easily the most under-the-radar brunch we have the conflicted pleasure of telling you about, Opera Bombana lays out an Italian Sunday brunch spread that could turn a glutton out of the Pope himself. Endless folds of coppa and Parma ham are accented with mammoth green olives and freshly tossed greens – and that’s before the main course arrives. Choose from a quartet of entrées and one of Enzo Jiang’s famous desserts and wash it all down with endless glasses of Bisol Jeio prosecco. 


ORDER THIS Grilled king prawns with lemon salsa.


Merit Mosto

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We love Mosto for so much, but above all we love Mosto for brunch. With a fantastic, convivial atmosphere and a price point that makes what was once a special indulgence more of a weekend ritual, Mosto’s brunch menu pairs classics like eggs Benedict and blueberry pancakes with heartier fare like grilled octopus and curried chicken. 


DRINK THIS Bloody Mary with three oysters (158RMB).


Readers' Choice Temple Restaurant Beijing

Winner Bistrot B, Rosewood Beijing

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Bistrot B’s fantastic brunch isn’t a buffet, but don’t think for one second that means it holds back on the indulgences: a massive bread basket arrives laden with freshly baked croissants; the steak tartar arrives topped with an egg yolk and Spanish anchovies. Jarrod Verbiak has crafted a menu that pays homage to the best of all things French, with a smattering of local favourites, to round out an indulgent three-course brunch of astounding quality. 


DRINK THIS Make sure your complimentary cocktail is the kefir lime bloody Mary. 


Merit Feast, East Beijing

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East Beijing’s chef and silver fox Rob Cunningham has a simple credo: simple food done well. His brunch spread is a great example of that philosophy come to life. Take in some rays – Feast’s stylish, minimalist dining room sports a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows – and enjoy a small but well curated selection of starters at the buffet. Then order our all-time favourite burger from the la carte main course menu before heading to the dessert buffet for a slice of pavlova. 


DRINK THIS Buy-one-get-one-free bottles of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.


Readers' Choice Elements, Sunrise Kempinski Hotel Beijng

Winner Cai Yi Xuan, Four Seasons Beijing 

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The flagship Chinese restaurant at the Four Seasons is in a class of its own. The décor of illuminated lattice work, polished marble and onyx hint at the truly palatial proportions of the cuisine. The kitchen, which remains silent and out of sight, casts doubt on almost everything we thought we knew about Chinese delicacies. Check out the xioalongbao with an almost obscene amount of hairy crab roe – now this is living. The simmered prawns with black garlic and coriander are miraculously savoury and rich like foie gras, yet as light as if they had been simply poached. Cubes of red braised pork with Japanese abalone (pictured) coat the mouth with waves of rich fat that fades into an undertone of deep-sea flavour. It’s not cheap, but if this is what quality costs we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

INSIDER TIP Call ahead to ask the kitchen to prepare ‘money bags’, a special dumpling with black cod and water chestnut, secured with a sprig of green onion. 

Merit Jing Yaa Tang, The Opposite House

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For those who frequented The Opposite House’s alternative night club Punk, Jing Yaa Tang still comes as a bit of a shock. Shadows of the space’s former life remain: where once there was a DJ booth, now there roars a date wood-fired oven; where heady beats would once reverberate, now the aroma of rendering duck fat dominates the senses. From plates of duck tongues to pumpkins stuffed with botan shrimp and celadon bowls of poached cherry tomatoes in fragrant osmanthus, all the way to the smouldering heat of koushuiji with fresh Sichuan peppercorns, it’s easy to forget you came here for duck. The signature of the house is no less excellent, and remains peerless as far as we’re concerned. 

ORDER THIS Three-cups black cod with basil (238RMB), chef Li Dong’s take on the classic three-cup chicken. 

Readers’ Choice Country Kitchen, Rosewood Beijing

Winner Mio, Four Seasons Beijing

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The grandeur of Mio’s interior, with its myriad of crystal chandeliers, polished black mirrors and Italian marble, is pure spectacle. So much so that it can be distracting; any chef who wants to stand out among this vaudeville madness needs some serious chops and even more serious cuisine. Enter Aniello Turco, a young Italian with a passion for disassembling the conventional and producing what is simply the most exciting and dynamic cuisine in Beijing. Turco is killing it at every turn, elevating dishes from his predecessor Marco Calenzo’s already impressive repertoire while introducing his own gastronomic inventions. Lentils marinated in squid ink and monkfish liver (pictured) become ‘caviar’ and ‘foie gras’ in Turco’s hands; a hollowed-out heal of panettone, tofu and balsamic vinegar transform into a truncheon of remarkable vegan ice cream; a pizza oven becomes a garden for slices of pie decked out in a mosaic of spring blossoms – and things only get more insane from there. If boundary-pushing cuisine tickles your fancy, we have one recommendation: Mio. 


SIT HERE Go for the table by the open kitchen, next to the chef’s pass. 


Merit Bistrot B, Rosewood Beijing

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Bistrot B turned traditional hotel dining on its head last year with affordable French luxuries like a croque monsieur that nearly collapses under the weight of its thick-cut ham and shaved gruyère cheese, and a platter of sole meunière dripping with butter, lemon and showered in capers. At home in his new open kitchen, chef Jarrod Verbiak is constantly exploring in-house preparations like cured fat-back bacon and whole porchetta a la Provance, while introducing his personal takes on the French staples that earned him his stripes under Daniel Boulud at Maison Boulud à Pékin. Excellent French bistro fare with a dash of Rosewood luxe – what more could you ask for? 


INSIDER TIP Find ten friends and order the Porchetta a la Provence, a whole baby pig stuffed with rillon.  


Readers’ Choice N’Joy, Nuo Hotel Beijing

Winner The Georg

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There’s no denying that 2016 will be remembered as the year of The Georg. The new Nordic-inspired kitchen has been knocking our socks off with an unpretentious and earnest attitude towards contemporary high-level dining. A front-of-house team, led by the steely Stefano Censi, ruffled some feathers with their dressed-down manor and keyed-up talent, proving that luxury and comfort are afforded through a state of mind and a sense of being, not necessarily a suit and tie. Wanton formality has been thrown out the window, and we struggle to see why we liked it in the first place. It’s almost like a soothing trance wafts through this dimly lit dining room every night. And at 140RMB a plate with no service charge, the price is as unbeatable as what’s on the plates.


Merit Great Leap Brewing #45 Brewpub

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When is a pizza place more than a pizza place? When they serve some of the capital’s best craft beer as well as the finest New York-style slices, that’s when. Great Leap Brewing has always impressed with its quality brews, strong branding and popular taprooms, but the brewery’s most recent addition, a pizza place of all things, has made Great Leap a place to go eat and maybe get a drink, rather than the other way around. It’s the first Beijing bar to serve food on par with, and actually better than, most restaurants at similar price points. We’ll drink to that. 


Readers’ Choice TRB Bites

Winner The Georg

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In the relatively staid world of fine dining, it’s not often you see a young, relatively unproven upstart make waves, but The Georg has done just that. From the location to the interior styling, nothing about this place conforms to fine dining tropes we have come to expect in the capital. Style and substance have finally reached a stable equilibrium. What does that mean for us? It means spectacular splash-out, multi-course feasts where some of the best Burgundies of the past century are sloshed one night, and beer-battered fried chicken thighs served with a bottle of craft beer the next. It’s a space that won’t be labelled as any one thing, and a kitchen that won’t be tamed. The cuisine of chef Talib Hudda, in congress with the front-of-house team led by Stefano Censi, offers one of the first truly dynamic culinary experiences thus witnessed on this scale in Beijing. Youthful enthusiasm and candour prevails; cumbersome formality is dead and buried. It may be a shock to the system, but it’s the shake-up that Beijing has been looking for. 


Merit Migas

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Whether it’s remodeling the hottest rooftop in town, pushing boundaries with experimental cuisine or hosting (because why not) a competitive fideuà gathering of chefs, Migas is constantly dialed up to 11. The infinitely charismatic Aitor Olabegoya leads one of the largest and most talented teams of passionate culinary minds in the city. From its constantly changing menu to the relentless schedule of events and collaborations, Migas is never ready for a breather. The restaurant is just the tip of the iceberg for this Nali Patio institution; with its three separate spaces spanning two floors in the beating heart of Sanlitun, ‘restaurant, bar and rooftop’ hardly does the whole justice. It would be impressive in any one part, but for all three to constantly be firing on all cylinders is incredible.


Winner Aniello Turco, Mio, Four Seasons Beijing

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Young, passionate and with a sense of purpose that emanates from the open kitchen, 29-year-old Aniello Turco wields a confidence that belies his age. While some chefs play with colour and texture, Turco addresses his ingredients on a cellular level, manipulating asparagus into a frozen cloud of herbaceous foam, suspending globules of 15-year-old balsamic vinegar in a mixture of dried tofu and pulverised bread to form vegan ‘ice cream’. This is not smoke and mirrors, this is molecular gastronomy at its most essential – utilising the technical to create something bordering on emotional. 


Merit Aitor Olabegoya, Migas

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The man behind the madness that is Migas. Olabegoya’s passion for food is as relentless as it is infectious. What’s more, his charisma has attracted one of the most talented international teams around. Whether he’s serving up Chilean wagyu or ‘the best ice cream you ever tried in your life’, the man’s goals are clear: to share his beautiful and delicious world with whomever he encounters. As eaters and as people, we’re lucky to have him. 


Readers’ Choice Kin Hong, Taco Bar

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