June saw the culinary equivalent of the Oscars as The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018 list was announced in Europe. Featuring 23 countries across six continents, including London entry The Clove Club.. Feast your eyes on the list and a few of the signature dishes.
A reinvention of Italian cuisine by a famously passionate chef
What makes it special: Nestled down a cobbled street in peaceful Modena, Osteria Francescana is the gem of Italian gastronomy that rose to the top of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants last year in the hands of talented chef Massimo Bottura. But it could have been very different – in its early days, the restaurant almost closed after conservative locals were resistant to Bottura’s daring approach to cooking.
On the menu: A poet, storyteller and artist as much as a cook, Bottura weaves narratives through his dishes, playing with traditions and experimenting with ingredients from the Emilia-Romagna region from whence he hails. Courses include the famous Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, which takes the diner through the region’s esteemed cheese in different temperatures, textures and tastes, and The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna, Bottura’s reinvention of a corner of the classic Italian dish.
The space: Bottura’s creations are heavily influenced by art and music (in particular, jazz), and the dining space is made up of three elegant rooms that are adorned with high-quality contemporary artwork.
Other projects: A passionate political campaigner, Bottura has stepped up his game by founding the Food for Soul not-for-profit project to fight hunger and food waste, and the last year has seen him speak on the subject at numerous events around the globe. He also owns Franceschetta 58, a more casual contemporary Italian pantry in Modena.
What’s the deal: Twice ranked the No.1 restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca thrives on the endless creativity of the trio of gastronomically talented brothers behind one of the most acclaimed restaurants on the planet.
Three rocks: Sit down at your table in the airy and elegant dining room of El Celler de Can Roca and you will see three rocks as centrepiece. Each represents one of the brothers, whose surname translates as ‘rock’ from the Spanish: Joan, the chef, Josep, the sommelier, and Jordi, the pastry chef.
What to expect from the menu: Complex creations inspired by the Rocas’ childhood memories (their parents owned a restaurant in Girona and still cook for the staff every day), the local ingredients or their sheer creative force. A sense of playfulness is instilled in the dishes, with innovative cooking techniques and unique presentations that stimulate the mind as much as the senses. The wine pairing, which enhances and complements the flavours, could be a reason to visit on its own.
Signature dishes: Highlights include ‘Frozen olives’ picked directly from a bonsai olive tree that explode with flavour in the mouth; freeze-dried oyster shells with oyster tartare; bite-sized interpretations of traditional Basque dishes and a dessert infused with ‘essence of old book’.
Worth noting: Always at the forefront of the global gastronomic scene, the Roca brothers work as Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations Development Programme and provide free psychology and wellbeing sessions for their employees..
Why visit: Mirazur’s panoramic view overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, in an idyllic palm tree-studded cove perched upon a hillside mere steps from the Italian border, provides reason enough to drive an hour from Nice. Here, chef Mauro Colagreco assembles modern, delicately flavoured dishes imbued with the essence of the Côte d'Azur via local French and Italian ingredients.
What’s on the menu: Colagreco grows much of Mirazur’s produce on his own backyard farm, while sourcing additional products from the nearby Ventimiglia market. Seasonality guides his menus, which are rich in both vegetables and sterling seafood from the surrounding ocean. Think anchovy fillets on fried anchovy skeletons brightened with juice from Menton’s famous lemons, or Colagreco’s signature: oyster with tapioca, shallot cream, and pear.
Pro-tip: After dining, take a five-minute walk across the Italian border into Genoa for an espresso at totally unfancy Bar La Grotta.
Other projects: In addition to Mirazur, now 12 years old, Colagreco also commands Grand Coeur, a brasserie in Paris. Back on home turf in Argentina, he operates a more casual burger chain called Carne.
The iconic restaurant where hospitality and cuisine are elevated to art forms
What makes it special: It’s the perfect partnership of outstanding hospitality and exquisite food in an iconic setting in New York City that makes Eleven Madison Park the No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Co-owners Will Guidara and Daniel Humm have put their lives into breaking down the walls between dining room and kitchen, making sure the customer experience is harmonious from start to finish.
About the chef:Swiss-born cook Daniel Humm started working in kitchens at the age of 14 and won his first Michelin star at 24. He became executive chef at Eleven Madison Park in 2006 when the restaurant was still owned by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group and in 2011 he and Guidara took over ownership. The pair now also oversee the food and beverage spaces at the NoMad hotels and have written several cookbooks together.
Typical dishes: Humm’s signature roasted duck has had many iterations, from the classic honey and lavender version to honey-glazed with turnips and huckleberries. Dishes on the seven-course tasting menu also include celery root cooked in a pig’s bladder, which Humm cites as a career-defining creation.
Reinvention plans:Eleven Madison Park is closing for renovation in June 2017 and will reopen in September with a new kitchen and refurbished dining room. Until June, diners can enjoy an 11-course retrospective tasting menu with classics from the last 11 years. Over the summer months, Humm and Guidara will operate a pop-up restaurant in The Hamptons.
Best Restaurant in Asia: For the last four years in a row, Gaggan has been voted No.1 in Asia Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, testament to the constant innovation and improvement at this ever-evolving hub of creativity. El Bulli-influenced chef Gaggan Anand serves up a menu of 25 or more courses of rapid-fire small bites, many of which are eaten with the hands.
Visit while you can: While Gaggan is currently the best that Asia has to offer, it won’t be for much longer, as Anand has pledged to close his flagship restaurant in 2020 after 10 years serving gastronomes from all over the globe. After the final service, he plans to open a small restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan, with fellow Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants chef Takeshi ‘Goh’ Fukuyama of La Maison de la Nature Goh.
Constant creativity: With the help of a test kitchen and some shiny new equipment, Anand’s menu has evolved from purely modern Indian to a much more global cuisine as the chef has travelled and taken influence from restaurants all over the world. The menu now includes Mexican-inspired taco bites, Japanese-Indian nigiri sushi and even aubergine Oreo biscuits. The classic Yoghurt Explosion remains on the menu alongside newer signatures such as Lick It Up, where diners are encouraged to lick a flavoursome curry straight from the plate
.Other ventures: Kolkata-born chef Anand has invested in multiple other restaurants in his adopted Bangkok over the last few years, including his casual beer and burger chain Meatlicious, the Sühring twins’ eponymous German restaurant, new tofu omakase restaurant Mihara Tofuten, and Gaa and Wet, both ventures from Gaggan alumni.
What makes it special: Chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pía León’s flagship restaurant is a shrine to everything that is Peruvian, including many ingredients that are seldom served elsewhere. The husband-and-wife team have been travelling the length and breadth of the country for several years to source interesting and unique produce from land, sea and mountains.
On the menu: Martínez and León like to play with the many varieties of corn, potato and much more obscure products offered by Peru’s vastly biodiverse landscape. Classics include Land of Corn and Extreme Stems, with newer dishes such as Waters of Nanay featuring piranha fish served in an entire, sharp-tooth-filled piranha head. The menu explores every altitude, from 20 metres below sea level to 4,100 metres above it, in 17+ courses.
Central family: Martínez and León got married four days after the awards ceremony for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013, where they celebrated Central’s first appearance on the list. León runs the kitchen day-to-day while Martínez still oversees the menu. The couple run together, work together and travel together, often in search of new ingredients with Martínez’s sister, Malena.
Other ventures: Central has left its original location in Lima’s Miraflores district for a new home in the arty Barranco neighbourhood, where Malena Martínez will run their Mater Iniciativa research project from a larger base. León opens her first solo restaurant, named Kjolle, at the end of July 2018 in the same spot. Earlier in 2018, the team opened Mil restaurant in Cuzco and they now have their sights set on a project in the Amazon next year. Watch this space.
Peru’s No.1 Nikkei destination in a stylish settin
What it’s all about: Maido, meaning ‘welcome’ in Japanese, is the flagship restaurant of chef Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura, serving an inventive tasting menu of Peruvian-Japanese bites alongside à la carte options and a classic sushi counter. In a stylish room decorated with coloured ropes in the formation of the Japanese flag, it’s a popular setting for business dinners and special occasions, as well as for destination diners looking to sample Lima’s best offerings.
About the chef: A Lima-born Peruvian Nikkei, Tsumura was encouraged by his father to turn his passion for cooking into a profession and, after studying culinary arts in the US, he went to Japan to learn about his cultural and culinary heritage. Though he spent many months washing dishes, he learned vital knife skills and eventually how to cook rice and make sushi. He took a job at the Sheraton on returning to Lima and, some years later, opened Maido, which was rose to No.2 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016.
On the menu: Maido’s tasting menus are a colourful journey through Nikkei cuisine, with highlights including a fish hotdog, nigari from the catch of the day, dim sum with squid and sea snail cau-cau, and sea urchin rice.
A legendary chef: One of a handful of cooks who have remained at the top of global fine dining for decades, Alain Passard needs little introduction. He has retained his three Michelin stars at Arpège for more than two decades during times of great personal and culinary change, and in 2016 he was the recipient of The Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
What’s it all about? Vegetables, in short. Passard famously in 2001 announced that Arpège – until then a meat institution – was turning vegetarian, and although meat has since returned to the restaurant in smaller quantities, vegetables still take the main stage. They arrive daily from Passard’s own farms and appear on diners’ plates soon after.
Signature dishes: Despite his ever-changing menu, Passard has managed to amass a number of signature dishes over the years, some so famous that diners book months in advance for the first taste of white asparagus in spring or the arrival of black truffles in winter. Other signature dishes include the dumplings, stuffed with seasonal vegetables, and the langoustine carpaccio with caviar.
A powerhouse of creativity hidden in the green hinterlands of the Basque country
Who is behind Mugaritz’s magic? Andoni Luis Aduriz, simply known as Andoni, is considered by many observers to be the natural heir to the title of Spain’s most pioneering chef after Ferran Adrià.
How does it play out? A meal takes place over 20 courses – several of them, if the weather is clement, served in the gorgeously appointed gardens around the restaurant. Basque cuisine often combines elements of the mountains and the sea, and so it is at Mugaritz where the menu might roam from oyster and young garlic omelette and pig tails and squid, via a crunchy “sandwich” of local cheese presented in a book, to a loin of lamb smoked over eucalyptus and served with “its cultivated wool”.
What’s the vibe: One of the greatest things about Mugaritz is the sense of play, whether it’s the waiters throwing a curve-ball for the wine lovers at the table with a mystery bottle (a well-aged rosé from Lebanon’s Chateau Musar, perhaps), or the presentation of chocolate petit fours in stacked oak boxes designed to allude to the seven deadly sins.
What makes it special: Chef Victor Arguinzoniz has a remarkable ability to coax out explosive flavour from seemingly simple ingredients, most of which are grilled over an open hearth.
What’s on the menu: Arguinzoniz respects the intrinsic natural flavours of premiere local products and delicately urges each ingredient to show its potential: goat’s milk churned into ethereal butter, green peas amplified in their own juice, beef dry aged for so many days it burns with umami. Arguinzoniz cooks vegetables and proteins – including ice cream – on a range of charcoals he makes from a variety of woods, kissing most plates with at least a suggestion of smoke.
About the chef: Arguinzoniz was born and raised in the farming community of Axpe, a tiny picturesque village nestled in the mountains an hour’s drive from Bilbao. He is self-taught and has only worked in one kitchen – his own – where he designed and built his famous adjustable-heat grills.
A lack of pretense: Despite its world-renowned status, what separates Etxebarri from many other world-class restaurants is its simple – boarding on austere – second-floor, stone-adorned dining room that’s totally unpretentious. Eccentric maître d’ and sommelier Agustí Peris presides over the front-of-house operations, presenting an effortless and relaxed service style and natural charm. Etxebarri’s ground floor houses a basic bar that also doubles as the village pub.
In print: Last year, Arguinzoniz released his first book, Etxebarri, dedicated to the restaurant’s masterful grill cookery.
What’s in a name? Quintonil is the name of a green Mexican herb which features in some of the dishes and cocktails, and pretty much sums up this restaurant: fresh, authentic and brimming with flavour. Chef Jorge Vallejo’s menu is based on local produce and showcases the best of Mexico.
What to order: Although there’s an à la carte option, those with time should pick the tasting menu for the true Quintonil experience. From crab tostadas with fresh radish and habanero chilli mayonnaise to charred avocado tartare and escamoles (ant eggs), there’s a taste of many of the things that make Mexican cuisine so unique. Everything is perfectly balanced, with palate cleansers such as cactus sorbet, so that every diner leaves happily satiated rather than uncomfortably stuffed.
About the team: Vallejo worked on cruise ships before moving on to Enrique Olvera’s restaurant, Pujol, then a role as executive chef at Diana restaurant within Mexico City’s St. Regis Hotel. He left for a stint at René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen before opening Quintonil with his wife Alejandra Flores in 2012. Flores and her charismatic team run the front-of-house at Quintonil.
Urban garden: Much of the produce at Quintonil comes from a nearby garden, where the cooks pick fresh veg and greens on a daily basis. Vallejo and his team keep their carbon footprint so low that many of their ingredients travel just 30 metres from origin to plate.
What makes it special: Approximately 30 miles north of Manhattan, chef Dan Barber’s ambitious farmstead restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, set within an enchanting barn on an 80-acre estate shared with non-profit educational space Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, builds a beautiful 30-course tasting menu centred on produce that is often pulled from the earth mere hours before hitting a plate. Barber is committed to deriving the greatest flavour potential from every animal and botanical on the land and devoted to producing food with a low environmental impact.
On the menu: Barber consistently seeks out eco-friendly and low-waste practices to enhances his menus. For example, he cooks vegetables in the heat created by vegetative compost. And just recently, his kitchen stripped and cut the brawny stems from overwintered fighter spinach into a cacio e pepe dish that looks just like green-hued penne pasta.
Redesigning food: For years Barber has worked with seed breeders at the genetic level to develop more nutritious fruit and vegetables with deeper flavour. In 2018, he and several long-time seed breeder associates launched Row 7, an operation that sells seeds for plants like Badger Flame Beets and Habanada Peppers designed to taste better, yield more, and resist disease.
Going casual: For those looking to sample Barber’s cuisine without signing up for a four-hour tasting menu, Stone Barns also houses a more casual café open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Here, diners can find seasonal pastries and more substantial options like roasted chicken.
What makes it special: Celebrity chef Enrique Olvera is credited with proving that rustic Mexican flavours deserve as much attention as any other haute cuisine in the world. And Pujol has been his pedestal to make that point via a tasting menu of refined and elegant plates built from indigenous ingredients that pay tribute to Mexico’s rich culinary history.
A new home: Last year, Olvera relocated his 17-year-old Polanco restaurant to a stunning, mid-century mod home within the same neighbourhood, building a comfortable space that’s aglow in natural light. Beyond expansive windows, the new Pujol involves a wood-burning oven, terrazzo floors and a long dining bar that offers a separate taco tasting menu.
Most famous dishes: While Pujol’s menu changes seasonally, the restaurant’s signature Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo will always grace the menu. Think, a perfect circle of fresh mole surrounded by a larger ring of mole that’s aged for more than 1,000 days, beside a basket of warm tortillas – a taste of Mexico’s past.
Other projects: Olvera commands not one but two dining engagements on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Cosme, the modern Mexican restaurant in New York that he opened in 2014, made its debut onto the list last year and this year has risen to No.25.
What’s it all about: It may, on paper, sound fairly traditional – family owned for generations, with a bias towards Austria’s rural Styrian region – but under the guidance of chef Heinz Reitbauer, Steirereck has become a byword for cutting-edge cooking rooted in the Austrian landscape.
What’s the vibe? Housed in a monolithic glass cube in Vienna’s Stadtpark, Steirereck’s design may be super-modern but the interior speaks a recognisable language of international fine dining. It’s a bright, tranquil vision of wood, concrete and starched white table linen.
Typical dishes: Reitbauer’s signature says everything you need to know about his outlook, being equal parts culinary theatre, precise technique and obvious reverence of local ingredients. The freshwater mountain fish, char, is cooked at the table in hot beeswax before being returned on a plate with yellow carrot, pollen and sour cream.
What else? While the tasting menu is, undoubtedly, the best way to engage with Reitbauer’s vision, the à la carte menu also includes plenty of gems – from a wild boar’s head with carrots, pineapple, radicchio and buckwheat to Forono beets with hempseed, new potatoes and woodruff.
A few words on the chef: Chef Vladimir Mukhin is in the vanguard of a new wave of young Russian culinary talents. Known as much for his use of local, seasonal ingredients as for his charisma, Mukhin is making international waves and appeared in the 2017 series of Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
Typical dishes: Traditional Russian produce like borodinsky black bread marries luxe ingredients like caviar to create innovative dishes. Standouts include rabbit and mini cabbage rolls in foie gras with potato crisps and truffle juice as well as roast suckling pig and Black Sea oysters.
Down the rabbit hole: As the name may suggest, the restaurant whimsically embraces an Alice In Wonderland theme – think lots of rabbits and rococo furniture… so be sure not to be late for your very important dinner date.
Served with a side of scenic: The restaurant’s glass dome provides diners with a spectacular 360-degree view of the beautiful city of Moscow.
What to expect: A taste of Piemonte, one of the finest food and wine regions of the world, through the sharply focused culinary lens of Enrico Crippa, now firmly established as among Italy’s most creative chefs. Diners can select from the à la carte options, or choose from three tasting menus, one of which focuses specifically on the local Langhe region, while the others are more wide-ranging (while still distinctively Italian). During white truffle season, tables are at even more of a premium than usual.
More about the chef: Crippa opened Piazza Duomo in 2005 with the backing of the Ceretto family, themselves pioneers in the region’s winemaking resurgence of recent decades. A quiet and supremely dedicated professional, he trained and worked extensively in Europe and Japan and was mentored by the late great Italian chef Gaultiero Marchesi.
Highlights: The restaurant’s most famous dish is the Salad 21, 31, 41, 51, which incorporates a cornucopia of leaves, herbs and vegetables, the precise number and make-up of which changes according to the season. However, it is the array of one- or two-bite flavour-filled starters – also primarily sourced from Piazza Duomo’s own farm-meets-kitchen garden, and served simultaneously – that linger longest in diners’ memories.
And finally: Restaurant manager Vincenzo Donatello leads a highly personable young service team in the restaurant’s two dining rooms – one that is famously pink-hued. Donatello also happens to be one of the best sommeliers in Italy, if not the world, combining access to the Barolos and Barbarescos on his Langhe doorstep with a personal passion for Burgundy to curate a wonderful wine list full of surprises.
Who’s in the kitchen? Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa began his career at age 18 in the kitchen of a ryotei (exclusive traditional Japanese restaurant) in Tokyo’s Kagurazaka geisha area, where his mother worked. Eleven years later he opened Den, which moved to its current location in late 2016.
The philosophy: Rather than sticking to the elegant, refined but often impersonal traditions of high-end kaiseki cuisine, Hasegawa offers an elevated, deeply personal take on Japanese home cooking. He draws on diverse influences, both home-grown and gleaned on overseas trips, but always based around prime ingredients from ocean, pasture and forest.
Any house-specials? So many, and most of them changing with the seasons. But constant points of reference include the signature foie gras monaka (wafer sandwich) as an appetiser; the 20-plus-vegetable Den garden salad, invariably incorporating a few surprises; and the now-classic Dentucky Fried Chicken – probably the best chicken wings you will ever taste, complete with customised fast-food take-out carton. Underpinning everything, the culmination of every meal is the donabe-gohan, claypot-cooked rice with wagyu beef or seafood.
Read all about it: There’s now a cookbook, simply and appropriately titled “Den: The Evolving Tokyo Japanese Cuisine.” Although mostly in Japanese, it has some English text and enough sumptuous images to give a good taste of what makes Hasegawa’s cooking so special.
Service from the heart: Hasegawa likes to say his aim is to see his customers leaving with smiles on their faces. An essential ingredient in achieving this is the welcome and service provided by Den’s front-of-house team, which was recognised in 2017 with the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants inaugural Art of Hospitality Award.
Expect the unexpected: Gazpacho in sandwich form? Crispy egg yolk? Liquid salad? Hare bonbon? If such seemingly paradoxical or counterintuitive dishes do not pique your interest, then Disfrutar is not the restaurant for you. But for most who attend this unique Barcelona restaurant, still less than three years old, such surprises form part of a thrilling rapid-fire, roller-coaster ride of a dining experience.
Who’s behind the magic: Three chefs – Oriol Castro, Mateu Casañas and Eduard Xatruch – all of whom held senior positions in the creative culinary team at the legendary El Bulli prior to the restaurant’s closure in 2011. The trio opened the more casual Compartir in Cadaqués on the Costa Brava in 2014, before adding Disfrutar in Barcelona to the mix in late 2014.
A word on the space: In contrast to the hyperactive and avant-garde menu, which can run to over 30 courses, the dining room appears relatively simple and serene: light-filled, white and opening onto an outdoor terrace. The overall design is no less creative, however, incorporating a ceramic-lined tunnel effect as guests travel from the narrow entrance area almost through the busy kitchen into the wider restaurant space.
Multiple trophy-winner: Disfrutar doesn’t disguise its obvious debt to El Bulli, but it has also succeeded in writing its own gastronomic story, delivering brave and playful dishes awash with both flavour and wit. Last year it picked up the Miele One To Watch Award from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and in 2018 it follows up by making its debut on the list itself as the Highest New Entry, an award sponsored by Aspire Lifestyles.
An exploration of Scandinavian terroir in an unlikely stadium location
Why visit? Noma may have hogged the headlines but Geranium has given René Redzepi's restaurant a run for its money as the hottest reservation in Copenhagen. Recently awarded three Michelin stars (before it closed in 2017, Noma had two), Rasmus Kofoed's terroir-driven cooking is taking Scandinavian cuisine in exciting new directions.
What's on the menu? The 20-plus course Universe menu changes with the seasons, but expect an exploration of Scandinavia's superb wild and organic produce in delicate and beautifully presented forms. What look like razor clam shells are actually made from dough and coloured with squid ink so they can be eaten whole, while a sliver of salted hake is doused in buttermilk speckled with parsley stems and Finnish 'kaviar'.
How do I get there? Take the lift to the eighth floor of Denmark’s national soccer stadium. The dining room has stunning views of the Fælledparken (Common Gardens) with glimpses of the city's copper roofs.
Who’s behind it: Chef Kofoed cut his teeth at Hotel D’Angleterre in Copenhagen and Scholteshof in Belgium before setting up Geranium with fellow chef turned sommelier Søren Ledet in 2007. Ledet now runs the dining room as well as collating a fascinating wine list.
What makes it special: Consistently ranked as The Best Restaurant in Australasia, Attica is the brainchild of chef Ben Shewry, originally hailing from New Zealand. In a discreet spot in Melbourne’s Ripponlea neighbourhood, he serves up an elaborate menu of fresh Australian produce in a cosy dining room and vegetable garden.
What’s on the menu? A meal at Attica takes diners through a series of dishes and ingredients that are unfamiliar to many Australians, let alone international gastronomes. Rather than foie gras, caviar or lobster, the chef serves his own version of luxury, including pearl cooked in paperbark, hand-picked crab with wattle bread, grilled marron with desert lime and even bunya bunya (Shewry’s favourite ingredient). Each course has its own colourful name, such as Our Vegemite, Our Salada, Tac’Oz and Pests of the Neighbourhood.
Some highlights: Among many other must-eat dishes on the menu is the whipped emu egg, served instead a large, open emu eggshell. Red kangaroo is another mainstay and the marron, similar to crayfish, is unmissable.
Clean cuisine: As one of the most legendary leaders in classic French haute cuisine, in 2014 Alain Ducasse overhauled his landmark fine dining destination in the luxe Parisian hotel of the same name. His new approach – one that propelled the restaurant back onto The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017 after falling off the list in 2016 – prioritises sustainability, health and wellness-hinged plates focused on vegetables, fish and cereals.
The room: In one of the world’s most plush and luxurious dining rooms, guests enjoy elegant vegetable- and sea-focused tasting menus under a giant glittering chandelier cascading with Swarovski crystals. Pod-esque curved benches are sheathed in glossy steel, deriving their inspiration from domes used to cover plates. A tall oak alcove wraps around a single table, “Table Cabane,” providing extra privacy, bearing an interior relief design pattered to look like a mushroom.
Fun fact: Ducasse added the Shojin Menu specifically for vegetarians. It embraces a style of cookery called shojin – centuries-old vegetarian cuisine consumed by Zen Buddhist monks in Japan; also the predecessor to elegant Japanese kaiseki cuisine.
Where it’s located: Situated in Paris’s 8th arrondissement, the opulent palace of a property that is the Hotel Plaza Athénée is one of the city’s most glamourous lodging options. Ducasse oversees all five dining and drinking options, from his namesake to the more relaxed La Cour Jardin.
Chef’s story: Yoshihiro Narisawa left home at 19 and spent eight years cutting his teeth in some of Europe’s most venerated kitchens, including those of Paul Bocuse and Joël Robuchon. In 1996, he returned home to Japan and opened La Napoule in Kanagawa Prefecture. Seven years later, he moved to his current space in Tokyo’s non-touristy district of Minami Aoyama and formed Les Créations de Narisawa. After eight years of service, he renamed the restaurant simply Narisawa.
What’s on the plate: Narisawa defines his food as “innovative Satoyama,” the word “Satoyama” representing a border zone between mountain foothills and flat land where people live sustainably with nature. Narisawa expresses this culture of respecting the earth through an elaborate omakase. Diners fall under the spell of the season, and sample fleeting flavours from provinces around the country. Depending on the season, some might try a broth made from a poisonous snake that resides in the waters near Okinawa, or a warm sashimi course of langoustine from Suruga Bay.
To drink: Narisawa is one of the best places in the world to appreciate the finest of Japanese winemaking, with Pinot Noir from Nagano, Riesling from Iwate and aged Bordeaux-style blends from Yamagata. Of course there’s sake, too.
On the road: In 2017, Narisawa teamed up with celebrated Brazilian food photographer Sergio Coimbra on an exhibit titled Satoyama, which debuted in São Paulo, featuring photos of the chef’s nature-inspired plates. Most recently, the show jumped seas to Los Angeles, where Narisawa and Coimbra’s collective work was on display during the month of May.
Who’s behind it: Brothers Massimiliano and Raffaele Alajmo inherited the Paduan restaurant from their parents and have spent the last decade and a half perfecting it to create something very special. Massimiliano’s domain is the kitchen, with older brother Raffaele overseeing Le Calandre’s dining room and heavyweight wine list.
What’s the food like? Though modern in style, Max’s cooking is far from avant garde, so a meal at Le Calandre is refreshingly free of high-concept culinary posturing. Dishes are relatively simple and, above all else, delicious. There are three tasting menus available, one comprised of Le Calandre classics while the other two – ‘Max’ and ‘Raf’ – offer a window into the brothers’ own tastes.
Typical dishes: Must-try plates include the chef’s famed saffron, juniper and liquorice powder risotto as well as the crispy buffalo ricotta and mozzarella cannelloni with tomato sauce. Newer dishes include seared turbot with yellow potato purée, cardamom carrot juice and black olive powder.
Other ventures: The Alajmo brothers have amassed an impressive culinary empire that includes several restaurants in Padua, one in Paris and the reassuringly expensive Quadri in Venice, which offers stunning views over Piazza San Marco.
Worth noting: Max was the youngest chef in history to have been awarded three stars by the Michelin Guide.
What's the story: Founded in 2012, Ultraviolet by Paul Paired is considered by many to be the most avant-garde restaurant experience in the world. Just 10 guests per night experience the ultimate in immersive dining in a secret city location, courtesy of the inimitable French chef-provocateur.
How it works: The high-tech gastronomic production utilises video, audio, bespoke lighting and scents - as well as the dishes and drinks themselves, of course - to stimulate the senses. Service is theatrical, but still light and personable.
On the menu: The Original 'UVA' and subsequent 'UVB' and 'UVC' menus now rotate. All are original and witty, with dishes that crack jokes, challenge expectations and trick the eye: Tomato Monza and Again, for example, is a clever duo of dishes - one savoury, one sweet - which appear to be identical but taste strikingly different, thereby playing with misperceptions of taste. On top of that they also taste extremely good.
What's the room like? Having been transported to the unmarked entrance, guests enter a cocoon-like dining space with a single spot-lit table, at which everyone eats together. The room then transforms itself throughout the evening; at one point the walls even slide back to reveal the kitchen at one end, along with the recapped Chef Pairet himself.
Reasons to visit Cosme: Even before former US President Barack Obama had the good sense to add it to his dining list, Cosme was already one of the hippest places to eat in New York City. With buzzing but relaxed vibe and exquisite food and service, it is as much a special occasion restaurant as a place to visit time and time again.
Modern Mexican: Founded by Mexican chef Enrique Olvera and his business partners Santiago Perez and Santiago Gomez, Cosme has been run by young cook Daniela Soto-Innes since soon after it opened in 2014. While the menu takes some inspiration from Olvera’s flagship Pujol in Mexico City, many of the dishes were created by Soto-Innes, including her signature duck carnitas and must-try corn husk meringue dessert.
A mezcal for every occasion: It wouldn’t be a product of Olvera if it didn’t serve mezcal, so of course there’s a bar and bar area with an extensive mezcal menu and a fun vibe.
Girl power: Soto-Innes prides herself on having a kitchen staff that is 50% female, 50% male, with a mix of nationalities from all over the US, Latin America and beyond. She champions women, including her sous chef and pastry chef, and runs a relaxed kitchen, often with music, dancing and pre-service warm-up exercises. The chef won a James Beard Rising Star Award in 2016 at age 25.
Other ventures: Olvera and Soto-Innes opened more casual Mexican restaurant Atla in New York in 2017. They’re currently working on a restaurant based on Cosme and Pujol in Los Angeles.
What to order: Le Bernardin offers several tasting menu options. The classic four-course menu is split into three sections – Almost Raw, Barely Touched and Lightly Cooked – with dishes marrying French and global influences, especially those from Asia. Think kampachi sashimi with Niçoise olives and a Greek-inspired salad; and seared octopus with tomatillo salsa and red wine-mole sauce
.What’s the vibe: Completely refurbished in 2011, the dining room is a comfortable, modern space with waiters in Nehru-style jackets carefully presiding over the white tablecloth dining room’s well-heeled clientele.
A brief history: Established in Paris nearly 50 years ago by brother and sister Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, Le Bernardin expanded to New York in 1986. Decorated New York chef Eric Ripert has run the kitchen for more than 20 years, following the untimely passing of Gilbert
.A word on wine: Le Bernardin’s long-time wine director Aldo Sohm has earned a reputation as one of Manhattan’s top sommeliers, having received the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service in 2009. Expanding upon Le Bernardin’s French-focused list of wines that complement fish, in 2014 he and Ripert opened upscale Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, just steps away.
What makes it special: A play on the word ‘borage’ in Spanish, Santiago de Chile-based Boragó deals in territory rather than technique, according to chef Rodolfo Guzmán. He and his energetic team source native Chilean products used by the Mapuche indigenous people, physically gathering them from the Andes, the Pacific coast and every hill and valley in between; they also work with tiny producers and foragers. The end result is Endémica, a menu starring diverse preparations that can change during the course of an evening according to produce supply, paired with natural and biodynamic wine or juices.
How many endemic Chilean species will I eat? Nine years into Boragó and Guzmán’s understanding and timing with respect to when products flourish in particular micro seasons – and how to use them – is greater than ever. Take uvas de montaña, wild grapes (not actually grapes) from the conifer family available for just five weeks a year; they form part of a wild leaf and lamb salad. Loyo, for example, is a giant mushroom with a tiny four-week harvesting window. Besides serving ingredients that many customers have never heard of, Guzmán has also expanded his repertoire. In his own words: “Seven years ago, one ingredient meant one possibility. Today it means 300.”
The space: Walk up to Boragó’s minimalist-style façade in the swanky Vitacura neighbourhood, and a whole lamb might well be slowly roasting on a cross-shaped spit on the terrace by the front door, a sign of flavours to come. Seated at tables made from Chiloé-sourced lumber, diners can witness some of the culinary action through the kitchen’s floor-to-ceiling windows; there’s also a small herb garden at the back. Ask to take a peek at the first-floor test kitchen, where Conectáz (see below) and other research magic takes place.
Other projects: In 2017, Guzmán published his first book, Boragó: Coming from the South, a 100-recipe tome. He is also working on Conectáz, Chile’s first encyclopedia categorising and cataloguing Chilean products, at Test Kitchen and Lab Kitchen at Santiago’s Catholic University, where one fascinating discovery is turning vegetables into protein. Guzmán also co-founded the Ngelemen symposium that discusses the world’s endemic pantry, and pops up around the world with the Gelinaz chefs collective.
New kid on the block: Chef and co-owner Julien Royer may look like he’s barely out of his teens, but he has serious pedigree. Having apprenticed under Michel Bras in his native France, Royer worked in the Caribbean and London before arriving in Singapore a decade ago. He established himself as the region’s rising star while at Jaan, before opening Odette in late 2015 at the grand National Gallery Singapore.
What to expect: This is unashamedly a fine-dining restaurant, complete with white tablecloths and luxurious velvet banquettes, but it’s also very much a contemporary version. The colour palette is light, the décor elegant – much like Royer’s ultra-refined take on modern French food using ingredients carefully sourced from a global list of artisanal producers.
Dishes to savour: Hokkaido Uni combines sea urchin, langoustine tartare, Granny Smith apple and caviar to stunning effect; Royer’s morels with veal sweetbreads and fresh asparagus has French terroir in spades; while rosemary-smoked organic egg is another signature.
What about the team: General Manager Steven Mason, formerly of The Ledbury in London, and star sommelier Vincent Tan join Royer to make a formidable force: relaxed and personable, but highly skilled and decidedly ambitious.
New era: Now that Restaurant André has shuttered, Odette has taken over as The Best Restaurant in Singapore in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and flies the flag for the Lion City on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
What makes it so special? One of Paris's oldest and most prestigious restaurants, Pavillon Ledoyen was given a new lease of life when Yannick Alléno took the helm in 2014 and introduced boundary-pushing modern French cuisine. The restaurant was last year’s Highest New Entry, sponsored by Aspire Lifestyles, debuting at No.31.
Typical dishes: Alléno's originality, technique and obsession with flavour are evident in hot sea urchin soup, served in a burned grapefruit shell and accompanied by crispy duck skin topped with foie gras, plus iodized granita. It's followed by a celebration of milk-fed lamb comprising leg tartare with quince and black truffle, saddle with pickles, and cutlet and collar with a sage fritter.
Some background: Legend has it that Napoleon met Josephine at the Ledoyen, which which first opened in 1791. Other regulars included Robespierre, Degas and Zola.
About the chef: Alléno learned his craft under some of France's greatest chefs, including Gabriel Biscay, Roland Durand and most notably Louis Grondard, before earning star status heading up the kitchens of Scribe and Le Meurice.
Other ventures: The chef runs a 16-strong restaurant empire under the Alléno, Stay and Terroir Parisien brands, which stretches from Morocco and Dubai to Taipei and Hong Kong. Both the Ledoyen restaurant and Alléno Courchevel at the Cheval Blanc hotel hold three Michelin stars.
What's it all about? Former punk and DJ Alex Atala ripped up the rule book in true rock 'n' roll style when he set up D.O.M. in 1999, fusing fine dining with wild and wonderful ingredients from the Amazon basin.
Typical dishes: Native ingredients are a hallmark of D.O.M., from jambú, a herb that creates a tingling sensation on the tongue, to Atala's now world-famous use of ants. Highlights include heart-of-palm fettuccine with butter, sage and popcorn powder and milk pudding flavoured with priprioca, an aromatic root previously used in the cosmetics industry.
What's the vibe? High ceilings, slick service and a soothing cream-and-taupe colour scheme make for a pleasantly relaxed space, allowing the vibrant food to take centre stage.
Other ventures: Atala's less formal restaurant Dalva e Dito and bar Riviera, both in São Paulo, were recently joined by Açougue Central (Central Butchery), a restaurant and butcher's shop serving lesser-known cuts of meat, cooked on a huge charcoal grill.
What's in a name? D.O.M. stands for Deo Optimo Maximo, which translates as 'To God, The Good, The Great'. The Benedictine motto was often used to indicate places where weary pilgrims could eat and rest.
The Chef: Elena Arzak is the daughter of Juan Mari Arzak, one of the founding fathers of contemporary Spanish cookery. During the 70s, Juan Mari helped ignite a movement toward avant-garde Basque cuisine, which set the stage for later legends like Ferran Adrià and José Andrés. Elena now fully runs operations, while 75-year-old Juan Mari takes a supporting role, tasting dishes, greeting customers and helping with menu creation.
What’s on the plate: Arzak’s artistic offerings are divided between multiple tasting menus and an à la carte option. Expect unsung flavour combinations like roasted pigeon with vanilla and kimchi, and sometimes whimsical service pieces: a wheel of Vietnamese chocolate may hit the table atop a skateboard.
What makes it special: The restaurant, situated atop a hill in San Sebastian, has been in the Arzak family for generations, but it was charismatic Juan Mari who revived the menu to make it what it is today.
Restaurant interior: The restaurant counts several different dining rooms, including a light-filled downstairs space that’s formal yet relaxed. There’s also a secret kitchen table reserved for special guests.
To drink: Arzak boasts an enormous wine cellar stocked with over 100,000 bottles from around the world.
The space: In a league of its own, Albert Adrià’s playhouse of culinary fun takes tapas to the cutting edge. Within a circus-themed space, five small plate bars and open kitchens surround the perimeter of the restaurant, each highlighting a different preparation method.
El Bulli connection: Until its closure in 2011, legendary Spanish brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià operated El Bulli, the groundbreaking high-concept Spanish restaurant in Catalonia which, arguably, is where the term “molecular gastronomy” was born. Tickets carries on El Bulli’s trailblazing, science-y cooking in a theatrical setting.
Typical dishes: Expect El Bulli classics like the restaurant’s infamous olives made from olive juice spherified through a process with calcium chloride, alginate and xanthan gum; in addition to the air baguette, a puffy hollow breadstick wrapped with umami-rich Ibérico ham.
Other projects: Under the umbrella of their El Barri group, Ferran and Albert Adrià command a total of six restaurants, all in Barcelona’s el Paralel neighborhood. The group offers everything from modern Mexican to Japanese-Peruvian to 40-plus course progressive Spanish.
Worth noting: In 2015, Albert Adrià was voted The World’s Best Pastry Chef.
Why visit: The Clove Club’s interpretation of ‘modern British’ is refreshing and full of surprises, with fresh produce from all over the island reinvented in creations that put forward natural flavours and playfully mingle with tradition.
Who’s in the kitchen: Scottish chef Isaac McHale is at the helm with Daniel Willis and Johnny Smith overseeing the dining room. The three friends used to run an experimental supper club in Shoreditch, East London, before opening The Clove Club in 2013. McHale trained at The Ledbury, Noma and Eleven Madison Park prior to embarking on his own venture.
On the menu: There is a full tasting menu and a shorter version with five courses (also available at lunchtime), as well as wine and ‘ambient tea’ pairings. The signature raw Orkney scallop (from the eponymous archipelago north of Scotland) with Périgord truffle, hazelnut and mandarin is among the most Instagrammed dishes, together with the ‘parten bree’ Scottish spider crab hot pot, inspired by a traditional Scottish soup. As dessert, you may taste burnt clementine granite and buttermilk mousse.
The space: Set within the historic Shoreditch Town Hall, the blue-tiled dining room has a relaxed East London vibe with an open kitchen and laid-back service. However, every guest is well looked after by the expert staff, who don’t miss an opportunity to heighten the dining experience.
If you’re still hungry: In late 2016, McHale and the team opened Luca restaurant in Clerkenwell, a more casual venue where he channels his inner Italian while still focusing on British seasonal ingredients.
What makes it special: The key ingredient infused into every Alinea meal isn’t a mountain of caviar, or a fat puck of foie gras. Since Alinea’s debut in 2005, chef and owner Grant Achatz has built a reputation for designing dishes spiked with emotion; eliciting playful nostalgia from his diners via sophisticated riffs off a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or pheasant served with smouldering oak leaves – aromas of fall.
What’s on the menu: Alinea has kept itself at the forefront of modern creativity via edible vanilla beans, langoustine yuba, crystal clear pumpkin pie and what has become Alinea’s most famous dish: an edible, helium-filled, floating balloon designed by former executive chef Mike Bagale.
Best seat in the house: To commemorate Alinea’s 10th birthday, Achatz shuttered his wildly successful restaurant for four months, giving the place a total overhaul. When Alinea reopened in June 2017, the temple of haute cuisine emerged with a clean and bright look, in addition to a new dining experience: a glassed-in kitchen table. With room for four to six diners, “The KT” is where guests embark on a lengthy bespoke menu, often with more than 22 courses.
Reliving the past: For those who missed out on some of Alinea’s most iconic dishes from the past, fear not. Next – Achatz’s nearby fine dining haunt that conceptually reinvents itself every four months – will offer two dining instalments dedicated to vintage Alinea menus. Alinea 2005-2015 runs June 30 to September 30, followed by Alinea 2011-2015 from October 6 to January 13, 2019.
Who, where, what and when? Maaemo’s 35-year-old head chef and co-owner, Esben Holmboe Bang, hails from Denmark but has made Oslo his home for the past 13 years. Since opening in 2010, Maaemo has become one of the most in-demand destination restaurants in all of Scandinavia.
Mission statement: Holmboe Bang says that his focus at Maaemo is on a complete experience that allows him to highlight “the relationship between the raw nature, produce and our cultural history.”
A culinary journey through a Nordic landscape: Reflecting the name – Maaemo is ancient Norse for “Mother Earth” – the menu is based almost entirely on ingredients sourced from the surrounding region. Some of the seafood, such as the hand-dived scallops, comes from the pristine waters of Norway’s northern coast, but most of the produce is grown or foraged in the area immediately around Oslo, focusing on organic and sustainable practices.
Any signature dishes? Among the stand-out dishes that helped put Maaemo on the map is Bang’s langoustine roasted in pine butter, glazed with a gel of spruce shoots. More recent classics include his remarkable chicken foot, with chicken liver and fermented lingonberry juice, decorated with glistening red sorrel leaves.
Theatrical dining: The kitchen is located on the mezzanine level and dinner is punctuated by the procession of waiters, and often chefs, too, carrying dishes down the gracefully curving stairs to the dining room. The best seats in the house are at the upstairs six-seat chef’s table, which faces directly in (through glass) to the intense activity in the kitchen.
Why go? Reale is a truly original restaurant and not just because it's housed in a 16th century monastery with rooms in the mountains of Abruzzo. Niko Romito's cooking philosophy is unique, using innovative techniques to enhance the intrinsic flavours of often unfashionable ingredients from the region.
More on the food: “Complexity, but not complicated,” is how the chef describes his deceptively simple dishes. 'Absolute of onion,' for example, is an intense roasted onion with saffron accompanied by pasta 'buttons'. Another creation involves roasting savoy cabbage and ripening it for weeks in foil, before serving slices with a cabbage sauce made with star anise distillate on a potato emulsion.
The chef: Romito studied economics and wanted to work in finance, but changed direction in 2000, setting up Reale in the family bakery with his sister Cristiana, who oversees the front of house operation.
What else? The former Casadonna monastery and different culinary laboratories for researching techniques in baking, fermentation and pressure cooking. It is also the base for the Niko Romito Formazione – a certified higher education cookery school.
Did you know? Romito pioneered a radical project to improve the quality and nutrition of hospital food in Italy.
What makes it special: Tim Raue fell in love with Asian cuisine and brought it back to Berlin, where his eponymous restaurant opened in 2010. In a two-story building adorned with artefacts from his travels around Asia, Raue serves up a fusion of flavours inspired by Japan, Thailand and China, while a charming front-of-house team led by his business partner Anne-Marie Raue completes the experience.
On the menu: Raue’s classics include langoustine with wasabi, Cantonese-style, pikeperch with kamebishi soy and leek, the elaborate Peking Duck Interpretation and an unmissable suckling pig course. À la carte options include everything from black truffle dim sum to mango chicken satay and pomelo with coconut and butterhead lettuce.
Healthy outlook: Chef Raue believes in serving dishes that release energy to the body instead of stressing it, so there are no supplements such as bread, pasta or rice. Refined sugar, dairy products and gluten are also absent.
A place in history: Restaurant Tim Raue is located near Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin’s most famous crossing point between the former East and West Berlin and now a popular tourist stop.
About the chef: After dining two consecutive nights at St. John Bread & Wine and The Fat Duck as a 20-something graduate, James Lowe was so blown away by the extremely different experiences that he became convinced that he too should run a restaurant. Jacking in his dream of becoming a pilot and notching up experience with Heston Blumenthal, St. John Bread & Wine and a longer stint at The River Café, Lowe then took the pop-up route with chef friends Ben Greeno and Isaac McHale (see The Clove Club) under the Young Turks moniker. Four years ago, he opened up a permanent space with John Ogier in London’s Shoreditch, aiming to identify British food in this day and age.
On the menu: The short and sweet daily menu is micro-seasonal, showcasing what’s best on any given day in London and the UK; the wine list follows suit. Lunch is à la carte while dinner is a set menu. Attention to detail starts at origin and working with producers is key: fish is couriered from Cornwall daily while every week in summer the Lyle’s team drives to the south coast to pick fruit. Lowe’s philosophy sports common sense, with dishes focusing on a particular moment in a particular season: during the shooting season, gamebird or venison is likely to be the main protein – think wild duck breast cooked at a low temperature in a wood oven, served with preserved wild mulberries and red cabbage. Lowe also enjoys challenging diners with oft-forgotten products such as mutton, cooked over the grill with beechwood charcoal.
The space: Originally built as a factory for Lipton, Lyle’s is housed in trendy Shoreditch’s Blitz-surviving Tea Building. Décor retains a mixture of utilitarianism – think ash and elm tables or reclaimed British oak and walnut given a new lease of life as wine shelves – and brutalist poured concrete floors. Lowe was adamant that bums should sit on the Windsor chair, a design classic; Lyle’s is also well equipped in the natural light department, with sunlight streaming in through enormous crystal windows.
Other projects: With little time on his hands to travel, James created The Guest Series, inviting nine or 10 chefs from all over the world – friends as well as colleagues who he wanted to know better – to explore the British countryside, then cook together. During hunting season, he might take Sean Gray from Momofuku Ko or Bertrand Grébaut from Septime deer stalking in Scotland, following that up with two nights of dinners, with the emphasis on introducing them – and their diners – to something unique about British food.
What’s it all about: This is where the magic began, the first establishment helmed by chef and patron saint of modern Peruvian cuisine Gastón Acurio – who fortunately jacked in his law degree for hospitality – and pastry chef wife Astrid Gutsche. Opened in 1994, over the years the restaurant and its owners have grown exponentially, changing concept to focus exclusively on Peruvian culture, dishes and ingredients, as well as moving house: the eponymous restaurant relocated to Casa Moreyra in Lima’s San Isidro district in 2014.
What makes it special: All areas are finely tuned at Astrid y Gastón, starting with the most recent menu, a tribute to Lima. Star dishes served à la carte or as part of the tasting menu include Peking-style guinea pig bao, grilled octopus with a pseudo-cereal salad and lucuma gnocchi. Chef patron Gastón – who picked up the 2018 Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award – and his team have taken home a cluster of accolades over the years, ranking first in the inaugural Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013, the Art of Hospitality Award in 2017 and Latin America’s Best Pastry Chef for Gutsche in 2015.
The space: With a past dating back 300 years, Casa Moreyra continues to make history but of a gastronomic kind. The former plantation house is home to a bar, private rooms, development kitchen, patio and kitchen garden; the tasting menu kicks off outside on the lovely terrace before moving into a minimalist salon.
Other projects: Peru’s gastronomic ambassador has found time to open El Bodegón in Lima, penPeru: The Cookbook, launch LatinoAmerica Cocina with Buenos Aires restaurant Don Julio and he’s currently working with the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú to found the country’s first gastronomic university.
What’s the appeal? This is a cool space in a cool street run by cool people with lots of cool customers. It also just happens to be the winner of last year’s Sustainable Restaurant Award
But what of the food? Dip a fork into the menu on any given day and you’ll quickly discover that the food more than holds its own. Turbot is paired with Brussels sprouts, bacon and a sauce of mushrooms from Paris. The texture of new-season white asparagus is played off against oysters, hazelnuts and clotted cream. Oh, and there’s a sorbet of cheese flavoured with bay and teamed with an apple and pear purée.
What of the chef: Owner-chef Bertrand Grebaut is far from the only boldface-named Paris chef to graduate from the kitchens of Alain Passard’s landmark restaurant Arpège, but in a few short years he has quickly come to be recognised among such luminaries as L’Astrance’s Pascal Barbot as the future of French cooking.
What else: Grebaut and his team have colonised the neighbourhood with well-pitched brand extensions: the seafood-focused Clamato (possibly the best bet for the ever-tricky Saturday lunch slot in Paris) and the tiny, brilliant wine bar Septime La Cave.
Who, what, where and when? One of Tokyo’s most dynamic interpreters of traditional Japanese cuisine, chef Seiji Yamamoto hails from rural Kagawa Prefecture in Shikoku, where he trained for over a decade at the revered Aoyagi restaurant. In 2003, at the age of 33, he opened Nihonryori RyuGin in the heart of Tokyo’s cosmopolitan Roppongi district.
Eating with the seasons: Yamamoto’s menu changes constantly throughout the year to reflect the finest produce of each season. Among the many highlights are the grilled ayu (sweetfish) in summer; matsutake mushrooms with Wagyu beef from Kagawa in early autumn; matsubagani crabs from November to December; and wild torafugu blowfish in the winter months.
Keeping it contemporary: Yamamoto initially gained recognition for integrating avant-garde modernist cooking techniques in his cuisine, but he has always been deeply grounded in the kaisekitradition.
Enter the dragon: From the décor to the table settings, dragons have a powerful presence in the dining room. This motif reflects the restaurant name: Nihonryori simply means “Japanese cuisine,” while RyuGin is a term used in Zen Buddhism, meaning “dragon’s voice.”
International presence: RyuGin has two overseas branches. The first, Tenku RyuGin, opened in Hong Kong in 2012, and debuted on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2014. Then, in 2015, Yamamoto opened Shoun RyuGin in Taipei, which made its first appearance in the Asia’s 50 Best list in 2018.
New beginnings: After presiding over his Roppongi premises for over 15 years, Yamamoto moves RyuGin in the summer of 2018 to the new Hibiya Midtown development.
In a nutshell: A serene and distinctly high-end London dining experience featuring modern British food with an emphasis on wild and reared game and seasonal veg, plus the odd Pacific inflection born of the chef’s Antipodean background.
And the chef is: Brett Graham, who first travelled from his native New South Wales, Australia, to the UK as part of a culinary prize. He opened The Ledbury in West London in 2005 when he was just 25.
More on said chef: Graham is a great talker – get him onto his passion projects such as raising livestock at his deer farm or the importance of an unobtrusive and relaxed service style, and you’ll know it – but he’s an even better cook. The Australian is not one to parade around his West London dining room, and eschews TV, books and international gourmet summits in favour of turning out exquisite dishes from his basement kitchen.
Such as: White beetroot baked in clay with caviar salt and smoked eel; Cornish cod caramelised in Richmond Park honey and turnip; Berkshire muntjac with hen of the woods, potato emulsion and rosemary.
More than a restaurant: The Ledbury uses a probiotic technique to produce compost made from 100% kitchen waste. Customers can take home 5kg bags for their indoor planting or gardening needs.
Unique selling point: Far from the straightforward sit-down restaurant experience, at Azurmendi the journey starts in the rooftop vegetable garden where guests inspect the home-grown produce before continuing via the kitchen to an indoor greenhouse for a selection of ‘snacks’. Diners are eventually seated in a section of the dining room, flanked by temporary fabric walls projecting different scenes for different courses.
The chef: Basque cook Eneko Atxa was brought up with the kitchen at the heart of his home and says he’s committed to giving guests the same homely experience. Azurmendi is a family business that also houses a winery run by his cousin, Bertol Izagirre, specialising in Basque txakoli wine.
Other ventures: The chef opened Eneko at One Aldwych, a more relaxed version of Azurmendi, in London in 2016.
On the menu: Highlights include Truffled egg, which is ‘cooked inside out’, with part of the yolk removed and replaced with truffle consommé, while Edible Cotton is a classic snack that guests eat in the greenhouse.
Bonus point: Azurmendi first won The Sustainable Restaurant Award in 2014, and this year it once again gained the highest sustainability rating, winning the award for a second time. Not only is the restaurant made with environmentally friendly materials, it also recycles its own waste, harvests rainfall and cools itself using geothermal energy.
What makes it special? Consistently rated one of the best restaurants in Istanbul, Mikla offers the full package of great service and exceptional food in a stunning location. With one of the finest views in the world, Mikla’s dining room has an outdoor terrace from which guests can look over the Bosphorus to see a glimpse of both Asia and Europe.
About the chef: Mehmet Gürs was credited as one of the cooks leading the change in Istanbul’s restaurant scene when he returned from the US to open his first restaurant in 1996. Aside from Mikla, he is also chef and partner at 18 restaurants and cafes including the Numnum casual restaurant chain, Italian eatery Trattoria Enzo and the Kronotrop coffee bar and roastery.
What’s on the menu: Gürs is a champion of the New Anatolian Kitchen, where he transforms traditional and ‘noble’ products with a blend of new and ancient techniques. His menu includes everything from Anatolian raw milk cheeses to north Aegean octopus and Iskenderun prawns with 65-degrees egg.
What about a nightcap? A meal at Mikla is not complete without a trip to the top of the Marmara Pera hotel to sample one of the cocktails at the rooftop bar. Not only is the unmissable 360 views of Istanbul, there’s also a DJ playing mellow tunes and a lively crowd of locals and international gastronomes.
What to expect: It may be a large, extremely busy hotel restaurant in the posher part of west London, but don’t underestimate the ingenuity and originality of the dishes at Dinner, which retain the Blumenthal stamp, albeit in a very different guise to those at The Fat Duck. What’s more, dishes are delivered by super-friendly and well-versed staff.
History lesson: The menu was conceived following extensive research into historical British dishes from as far back as the 14th Century, and has retained that unique niche since its opening. But while some creations have become world-famous – Meat Fruit, Rice & Flesh et al – there are lower-profile gems to look out for such as Frumenty (grilled octopus, spelt, smoked sea broth, pickled dulse and lovage, circa 1390) and Eggs in Verjuice (verbena and coconut panna cotta, coffee parfait, verjuice and citrus, circa 1730).
Will Heston be there? Not usually. The restaurant is led by chef-director Ashley Palmer-Watts, who has been with Blumenthal for almost two decades. At Dinner, which now includes a branch in Melbourne with another to come in Dubai in 2019, Palmer-Watts has established himself as an innovator in his own right.
Worth nothing The glass-walled kitchen allows diners to see a pineapple slowly roasting to on an elevated spit, the centrepiece of the famed (and delicious) Tipsy Cake dessert.
How to define it: Indefinable? Saison is, on the face of it, full of contradictions: a former weekly pop-up, it is now one of the most exclusive (and expensive) restaurants in the world. It boasts one of the finest cellars in the US, with wines poured to the accompaniment of a pumping 80s and 90s rock-classic soundtrack. It uses ultra-luxury ingredients, often eaten with the hands, and the kitchen employs super-sophisticated contemporary techniques alongside the ancient practice of cooking meat over fire.
Who’s behind it: The brilliant and mercurial chef talent of Joshua Skenes is complemented by co-owner and wine director Mark Bright’s smooth delivery. They are currently expanding their portfolio with the opening of seafood-grill restaurant Angler on the SF harbour side, with one to follow in Los Angeles late in 2018.
On the menu: The nightly changing tasting menu of up to 18 courses not only showcases the highest-quality produce but is guided by what is best on that very day. Dishes may feature Skenes’s Liquid Toast, a glazed sea urchin served on crusty bread soaked in a rich sauce of grilled bread and dusted with a powder of river vegetables; or barbecued celeriac slow-cooked in the fireplace for three days. Chefs step out from the barrier-free kitchen into the dining room to explain each dish.
Bonus point: Skenes is shortly to open his own hideaway ranch up in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.
Destination restaurant? Yes, in the truest sense – Schloss Schauenstein is housed in a fairy tale castle in the Swiss Alps. The restaurant and six-room boutique hotel sits in the historic village of Fürstenau, which, with only eight full-time residents, claims the title of the smallest town in the world.
Worth the trip? The remote location means that Schloss Schauenstein is enveloped in a beautiful and romantic atmosphere. The food – from characteristic preparations with a single ingredient to balanced flavours and precise presentation – has been fine-tuned over the years, resulting in surprising flavours even from the simplest ingredients.
Who’s at the stove: Swiss chef Andreas Caminada, who fell in love with fine dining after visiting Jardin des Sens at the age of 20. He took over the then-empty castle in Fürstenau in 2003, when he was only 26 years old, to realise his vision of an all-around hospitality experience for his guests. Starting with a team of only four employees, Caminada has grown and developed the restaurant with relentless passion, now running a team of 40 and with three Michelin stars to his name.
The experience: With equal importance given to food and hospitality, a dinner at Schloss Schauenstein is a warm and immersive experience from the moment you are greeted by the attentive staff at the door. The menu is designed to enrich the senses, with dishes such as beef, apple and mustard, or Swiss pikeperch fish, artichoke and mushrooms.
Bonus point: Caminada oversees a biannual bookazine called Caminada Documenta, where he discusses and reveals the sources of his culinary inspiration and shares the stories behind the dishes, often involving other art forms or exotic travels.
Where have you heard that name before? Chef Ana Ros put Slovenia on the gastronomic map after being voted The World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 and starring in her own episode of Netflix’s cult series, Chef’s Table. Pronounced Hi-sha Franko, the restaurant is located in the stunning surrounds of the Soça Valley and has drawn visitors to Slovenia from all over the world.
About the chef: Ros was destined to be a diplomat, having completed a degree in international diplomatic studies, before she met her husband Valter Kramar and agreed to take over his family’s restaurant with him. She taught herself to cook and now specialises in intricately made ravioli and dishes that focus on produce from within a few kilometres of Hisa Franko.
On the menu: Ros and her team offer a six-course and an eight-course tasting menu, each starting with the restaurant’s homemade bread, local butter and Kramar’s own cheese lollipops. The rest of the menu might include anything from the chef’s signature cauliflower ravioli and kid goat liver to tripe cooked in wild duck jus or ‘dirty’ cuttlefish with sea salad.
A family affair: Hisa Franko is actually a big house in the countryside where Ros and Kramar live with their two children, Svit and Eva Klara. In addition to making the Tolmin cheese on the premises, sommelier Kramar also serves the wine from his extensive collection.
About the chef: Executive chef Pim Techamuanvivit is the first woman to run the flagship restaurant at the Como Metropolitan hotel in Bangkok after legendary cook David Thompson left for pastures new in 2018, having worked with Como hotels for 18 years. Bangkok native Techamuanvivit gave up a career in Silicon Valley to pursue her passion for cooking, becoming a chef in 2014 with the opening of her Michelin-starred restaurant, Kin Khao, in San Francisco.
On the menu: Nahm is famed for its fiery modern takes on traditional Thai dishes and a meal here is a banquet of hearty plates rather than tiny bites. Signatures include steamed red curry of scallops with Thai basil and coconut, hot and sour soup of river prawn and wild mushrooms and coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with kalamansi lime.
The vibe: A meal at Nahm is a luxury experience, with a low-lit dining room and the opulent surroundings of the Como Metropolitan including the stunning night-lit view of the crystal blue swimming pool and veranda.
A bit of history: Following on from the first Nahm in London, which opened in 2000 and closed some years later, the Bangkok restaurant launched in 2010 with a menu influenced by the street food of Bangkok and by centuries-old cookbooks belonging to private Thai households. In 2014, Nahm was voted No.1 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
What makes it unique: The first fine dining restaurant to open in Cape Town’s gentrifying Woodstock, The Test Kitchen kicked off an artistic boom. With food based on popular global dishes with South African ingredients and twists, chef Luke Dale-Roberts’s restaurant has two intimate dining areas – one “dark”, one “light”.
About the chef: Luke Dale-Roberts was born in rural England and had an active youth, fishing and spending hours in nature. Too fidgety to enjoy a regimented school day, he excelled at cooking school as a teen. Work in the UK, Bali, South Korea and Japan opened his eyes to a world of technique and ingredients, which Dale-Roberts adopts at the restaurant – it encapsulates his discipline in delivering exquisite sauces and bold flavours.
What’s the vibe? The cosy dark room is a cluster of comfy chairs around low tables – think luxe ski cabin. The main dining area is a semi-industrial setting – think screed floors, exposed brick and metal, laid-back, friendly staff. The energy from the open-plan kitchen fizzes into the room.
Typical dishes: The experience starts with distinctive small bites from around the world like ceviche and roti paired with cocktails in the quiet dark room. More classic-mod fare is served in the buzzy light room – like eiland (local oryx) carpaccio, local kingklip smoked with curry leaves and scallops with a Cape Malay sabayon.
Other ventures: Dale-Roberts has The Pot Luck Club on the same premises – a sharing plate concept with dizzying, panoramic views of Cape Town (go there for Sunday brunch), the more classic Short Market Club in town and avant-garde pop-ups in Johannesburg, Mauritius and elsewhere.