In Food + Drink

Can An Computer Algorithm Compete With The Michelin Guide?

La Liste, a French restaurant guide designed to take on the UK-based World's 50 Best, doesn't use critics, but a sophisticated algorithm to crunch numbers to find the world's best restaurants.

What would Ándre and Édouard Michelin, the two brothers who started the famed restaurant guide in 1900, think of La Liste? For centuries, the tyre entrepreneurs and their successors have sunk millions of dollars into sending anonymous critics to create the Michelin guide. The criteria for making the guide has been elaborate, with a secret-society of critics bound by strict rules. This year, La Liste debuted its own list of the world’s top 1000 restaurants  – sans restaurant critics and more importantly, sans restaurant bills.

Guy Savoy in Paris was crowned number one by La Liste. Photo: Supplied

As the refrain goes; “The world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content, and the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property.”

It was only a matter of time before we had a restaurant guide that doesn’t use critics.

Instead, the tech-forward list employs an algorithm to crawl some 550 guides and more than 26 million reviews worldwide. First, the guide books are aggregated into a data base and all scoring is converted to a standard system. Next, chefs are asked to rate their locals guides and a “trustworthiness index” is applied to the content, which then affects the weighting of content from the guide. Finally – and perhaps most controversially – online customer scores from say,  Open Table, Zomato, Yelp and the like, are applied. Et voilà, you have a restaurant guide.

In France, La Liste is a big deal. The December ceremony was attended by President Emmanuel Macron and sponsored by Moët Hennessy. Former Gault & Millau CEO Philippe Faure founded the list in 2015, and has slowly integrated more resources for a more ‘world-wide’ approach.

Co-founder Jörg Zipprick argues that the list actually shines a light on local guides.

“Our goal at La Liste is not to put guidebooks out of business, but rather to put them into the spotlight. The La Liste app clearly names each and every source. Most Travellers are unfamiliar with local guidebooks. Too few Europeans know the Australian Good Food Guides or the Chinese Ctrip Mei Shi Lin. They can discover the guide through La Liste.”

Cuisine at Guy Savoy Photo: Facebook

This year, Guy Savoy (Paris), Le Bernadin (New York), Kyubey (Ginza), Alain Ducasse (Paris) and Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville (Swizterland) rounded out the top five.

La Liste’s leading comparative list, the UK-based World’s 50 Best, has a completely different top five; Eleven Madison Park (New York), Osteria Francescana (Modena), El Celler de Can Roca (Spain), Mirazur (France) and Central (Lima). Of course, that list is not without its problems – chefs and tastemakers are free to vote based on their own travels and experiences, which may be swayed by tourism bodies or personal relationships.

Attica –  Australia’s highest rating restaurant – holds the most consistent position, ranking at 32 and 39 on the World’s 50 Best and La Liste respectively.

Ben Shewry’s Attica was top for Australia. Photo: Attica

Of the 1000 restaurants, 27 were Australian. Attica scored an impressive 98.25 percent on La Liste’s algorithm system, while a handful of restaurants – Victoria’s Vue de Monde, Cutler & Co and Brae, Brisbane’s Esquire, Adelaide’s Orana and Sydney’s Quay, Sepia, The Bridge Room and Momofuku Seibo – all scored above 85 percent.

Comparatively, all of these restaurants have been awarded two or three hats by the national Good Food Guide. Queensland’s Urbane and Melbourne’s Minamishima – both three-hatted restaurants – ranked in at 85.5 and 82.5 respectively.

Peru illustrates the biggest problem in the list well. The South American country has four restaurants on the World’s 50 Best, including Central (number 5) and Maido (8), but doesn’t feature in La Liste’s top 50 at all. Thailand has the famed Gaggan (7) and Nahm (28), but also doesn’t crack the list. Neither country has traditionally had a wealth of food media, which may reduce the restaurants standing in terms of  quantity of reviews scanned.

“In Peru, restaurants are rated by newspapers and magazines. “El Comercio” gives 4 out of 5 stars to the best Peruvian restaurants. No restaurant has been rated 4.5 or 5 stars. Restaurants cannot be ranked higher in La Liste than by their critics,” says Zipprick.

So while Uber may have cannibalised the taxi industry, La Liste can’t do the same thing to restaurant guides – the very thing that its algorithm depends on to establish credibility. But you certainly can’t question its objectivity.

La Liste’s Top 50 Restaurants for 2018


(Lead image: Cuisine at Guy Savoy Photo: Facebook)

Published 17 January, 2018