Even to those of us who had seen the leaks, Noma's victory last night at the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards was a bit of a surprise. Nobody at the shindig was sure whether the "leaks" were real or a piece of slick, sly marketing. Thomas Keller's predictions proved catastrophically wrong, at least for him, and the jostling between El Bulli and The Fat Duck was always going to be too close to call. (There's perhaps a joke in there about bulldogs chasing ducks, but I'm far too hungover now to make it work.)
Every year, much is made of these awards. They attract an inevitable slew of criticisms: the 800 judges can't have eaten in all the shortlisted restaurants; the awards focus too strongly on European and American places; the process assumes that food in the best restaurants will always be technically dazzling. Whither the Tayyabs lamb chops, a conspicuous member of the London food scene asked pointedly last night.
He was wrong, I think. Tayyabs may represent the apex of a certain kind of eating, but it's surely beyond the scope of the World's 50 Best, whose gilded USP is to assess food that is high-end, complex, painfully imaginative and – most important of all – unique. The event could never claim a Miami pizza parlour is the best restaurant in the world because, at one level, pizza is always pizza.
True, a certain kind of diner makes too much of the precise numbers: people like the stark brutality of lists, and it's hard to stop results from morphing into a checklist for those who traipse dispassionately from one fancy dining room to another. Ironically, though, the World's 50 Best represents a crucial balance against Michelin: the food it favours is often in stark contrast to the poncy lugubriousness of places like L'Ambroisie – which, rightly, didn't even make the top 100.
These awards form the only serious attempt to pit the most creative chefs in the world against each other. To those of us who see food as more than fuel, and who accept that kitchens can feed heart and head as well as belly, the results are useful, important and fun. Frankly, a part of me is almost relieved that Britain did so dismally this year: the three UK restaurants in the top 50 highlight the internationalism of the process – the lack of dinner jingoism.
And now, I think, I'm going for a lie down.
Oh, one other thing. A charity auction on eBay follows the awards: all proceeds will go to Action Against Hunger. Some fine lots are up for grabs: everything from signed cookbooks to dinners at chefs' tables across the world, with five-star accommodation thrown in. Click here for the page – and do remember that prizes are being staggered over a week or so, so check back.