El Bulli, near Rosas, regained the title it won at the inaugural World's 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2002, swapping places with last year's top eatery, The Fat Duck, in the village of Bray, west of London.

 

The Spanish restaurant, which one British newspaper critic once described as "culinary nirvana", has consistently been in the top three ever since with its experimental, scientific approach to cuisine known as molecular gastronomy.

 

Disciples of the food science typically use centrifuges, liquid nitrogen, microscopes or lasers to cook.

 

El Bulli is said to be booked for months in advance by diners eager to sample 43-year-old chef Ferran Adria's Michelin three-star cooking which includes dishes such as barnacles with tea foam and grilled vegetables with charcoal oil.

 

The luxury restaurant is only open from April to September to allow Adria to spend the other six months of the year perfecting recipes in his Barcelona laboratory.

 

Strong showing by Spain

 

Spain had a strong showing in the awards, organised by the UK-based Restaurant Magazine and unveiled to the cream of the culinary world at a ceremony at London's Science Museum.

 

Restaurante Arzak, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, was in ninth position, followed by the highest new entrant and its near neighbour, Mugaritz, at 10, and with Can Fabes, in Sant Celoni, near Barcelona, at 11.

 

The United States has five restaurants in the top 20, including best restaurant in the Americas for the French Laundry in California in fourth.

 

France had four, including Chef's Choice for Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, and Britain three.

 

Italy had one - the highest climber, Gambero Rosso, in Rome at 13 - while Tetsuya in Sydney was voted the best restaurant in Australasia and also took fifth spot.

 

Middle East/Africa

 

The best restaurant in the Middle East and Africa was said to be La Colombe, in Cape Town, South Africa. It was 28th on the list.

  

Hong Kong restaurant Felix, which was last year's sole Asian representative, slipped off the list, although London-based Japanese restaurant Nobu made a strong showing at 12.

  

South Asian eatery Bukhara in Delhi made it to 46th spot this  time around.

 

The awards are based on assessments made by 560 judges across the world.

 

Voting was changed this year to prevent a repeat of complaints of a London-bias in the awards after 14 restaurants in the British capital made the top 50 in 2005.

 

Here is the World's Best Restaurants 2006 winners list:

  

   1 El Bulli, Spain - The Penfold's World's Best Restaurant, Best in Europe

   2 The Fat Duck, United Kingdom

   3 Pierre Gagnaire, France - Chef's Choice

   4 French Laundry, US - Best Restaurant in the Americas

   5 Tetsuya, Australia - Best Restaurant in Australasia

   6 Bras, France

   7 Restaurant Le Louis XV, Monaco

   8 Per Se, US

   9 Restaurante Arzak, Spain

   10 Mugaritz, Spain - Highest New Entrant

   11 Can Fabes, Spain

   12 Nobu, UK

   13 Gambero Rosso, Italy - Highest Climber

   14 Gordon Ramsay (Royal Hospital Road), UK

   15 Restaurant Alain Ducasse, France

   16 Jean Georges, US

   17 Le Cinq, France

   18  Daniel, US

   19  Oud Sluis, The Netherlands

   20  Chez Panisse, US

   21  El Celler de Can Roca, Spain

   22  L'Astrance, France

   23  Hof van Cleve, Belgium

   24  La Maison Troisgros, France

   25  L'Atelier, France

   26  Charlie Trotter's, US

   27  Le Gavroche, UK - Outstanding Value

   28  La Colombe, South Africa - Best Restaurant in the Middle  East and Africa

   29  Enoteca Pinchiorri, Italy

   30  Rockpool, Australia

   31  Le Calandre, Italy

   32  Le Bernardin, US

   33  Noma, Denmark

   34  Restaurant Dieter Muller, Germany

   35  St John, UK

   36  Hakkasan, UK

   37  Martin Berasategui, Spain

   38  Le Quartier Francais, South Africa

   39  Chez Dominique, Finland

   40  L'Ambroisie, France

   41  Die Schwarzwaldstube, Germany

   42  Dal Pescatore, Italy

   43  Bocuse, France

   44  L'Arpege, France

   45  Gramercy Tavern, US

   46  Bukhara, India

   47  De Karmeliet, Belgium

   48  Oaxen, Sweden

   49  Comme Chez Soi, Belgium

   50  DOM, Brazil