For most of us, turning up to a favourite local restaurant, being greeted with a smile, and shown to our table to eat something delicious, is enough to make for a great dining experience. However, for haute cuisine aficionados, the quest to find the ultimate meal has become truly all-encompassing.
Dishes have earned legendary status, chefs have turned into alchemists and artists, secret ingredients have become the stuff of myths, and whoever’s in charge of booking tables is the gatekeeper to all that magic. Take a look behind the curtain at these revered restaurants with some of the longest waiting lists in the world.
Rao’s restaurant is a New York institution, so much so that its tables are fully booked for the next 38 years! The owner of the restaurant wanted to ensure that his regulars would always have a table, so he started assigning tables to friends, family, and loyal customers. The only way to get a table at Rao’s nowadays is to make friends with someone with a table reservation or bid for one at a charity auction. Of course, if you don’t have a connection to the restaurant, there’s one other way you can taste the food at Rao’s new location in Las Vegas, the gaming capital of the world.
Never a place to shy away from the competition, Caesar’s Palace saw a golden opportunity in Rao’s restaurant. In the great race between online and bricks and mortar casinos, Caesar’s Palace already goes above and beyond, offering numerous forms on entertainment, an opulent setting, and hundreds of slot machines. The only way online casino providers could top that is with generous new sign up deals, but one thing that these platforms can never match is a table at Rao’s. So naturally, Caesar’s palace got owner Frank Pellegrino on board and built their own Rao’s.
You can try their famous tomato sauce, have your steak served table-side, and generally enjoy a pretty damn similar experience, but without the 38-year waiting list. Satellite restaurants like this certainly have their place, but when the owner of a restaurant is so much the focus of its greatness, can a satellite dining experience ever live up to the original? In the case of Rao’s, there are probably very few people who can genuinely compare the two, but for most, a trip to Caesar’s Palace will have to suffice.
Perhaps one of the most well-documented restaurants in history, Noma, has become the subject of one documentary series, two films, three books, and more foodie blogs than you could imagine. It has hit the pinnacle of the top restaurant list four times in its 16 years, and it’s regularly lauded as the restaurant that single-handedly started the New Nordic culinary movement. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the reservation list is around three weeks long, that is when you manage to secure a place on it.
Noma only releases table bookings once per month, and you’ll be competing with 20,000 other hopeful diners to snatch a space. So sure, it’s 37 and something years shorter than Rao’s, technically. But when you’re competing with a small town’s worth of people to get yourself a spot, the wait might well be quite a lot longer than three weeks.
However, once the wait is over, you’ll be flung into the very best meal that money can buy. You walk along a flowered walkway to the restaurant building itself, where you’ll be greeted by Ali Sonko, a staple of the restaurant. Ali has been at Noma for 15 years, initially as a pot-washer and now as the Maitre d’ – and shareholder no less!
The ingredients at Noma are all sourced incredibly locally. Things that the home cook would not even think twice about using, such as olive oil, or Himalayan salt, are strictly off the menu. Absolutely everything is found within a 20 mile or so radius of the restaurant. Guests are all served a 20-course menu, costing around 2400 Danish kroner (360 USD) per head, plus extra for drinks.
Depending on the season, the menu revolves around seafood from late winter to spring, vegetables over the late spring and summer and game during autumn and early winter. Dishes are all served in incredibly imaginative ways, with some of the most famous including slurping your starter from a plant pot and eating from a branch. Whether food as art is ‘your thing’ or not, Noma is truly a life-changing experience and one that must be tasted to be believed.
The Fat Duck
With a choice of just five restaurants in the UK that hold the hallowed three Michelin stars, the waiting list for any of them is understandably pretty lengthy. The Fat Duck is the brainchild of one part mad scientist, one part master chef, Heston Blumenthal, and it is one of the five restaurants that made the three Michelin star list. It has been named the best restaurant in the world on more than one occasion and as such the wait for a table is quite a long one.
During its early years, the restaurant fielded some 2000 calls each day from diners after a reservation, but now that the initial hype has slightly quietened, it is possible to get your hands on a table in as little as three weeks.
The Fat Duck is an unassuming old pub in Berkshire, with a traditional Grade II listed exterior and a whitewashed wall and wooden beam interior. The whole thing feels comfortable, cosy and reminiscent of many a British pub from times gone by. You’re seated in plush leather bucket chairs around circular tables, each illuminated by an ever-changing spotlight – a detail that allows each dish to be perfectly lit.
Diners are then handed a map and a tiny magnifying glass with which to decipher the menu. As the evening progresses, guests delight at the special additions made to the menu just for them; during the booking process, the staff asks for a little information about each diner to make the meal more personal.
Touches like these are exactly the kind of thing that sets Heston apart from his contemporaries, he creates a whole story, meticulously labouring over every tiny detail. Dishes like ‘Sound of the Sea’ conjure up memories of holidays many years ago. Guests are invited to listen to a conch shell play out the sounds of seagulls and lapping waves, as they explore a tiny sandbox filled with edible goodies. If theatre and magic are the sort of things you look for in a meal, then suffice it to say, you will not be disappointed with a visit to The Fat Duck.