Travelling somewhere for the specific purpose of visiting a restaurant is a relatively new phenomenon, but destination diners are discovering cuisine worth the effort. People flock to Paris to visit the Louvre, but a different set of travellers are choosing to spend their time (and money) eating at the city’s legendary restaurants instead. It’s not just Paris either, there are restaurants all over the world which people consider worth the journey.
This elevation of fine dining frequently draws unimaginative criticism. The labelling of foodies as ‘snobs’ is unjustified, especially in light of the sheer creativity and passion behind some of the best restaurants in the world. What does the Mona Lisa look like? Google it. What does Sweden taste like in spring? The only way to find out is to go. Why get excited about seeing paintings when you could travel to restaurant Fäviken and actually taste art. While seeing the texture in Rembrandt’s brush strokes is a moving experience, wouldn’t it more stirring to taste your way through the textures of Michel Bras’ gargouillou, a salad of over fifty vegetables and wild flowers?
James Martin at The Talbot Hotel
Familiar to fans of Saturday Kitchen, James Martin is the executive chef of the dining room at The Talbot Hotel in Malton. The restaurant has received critical acclaim, with Jay Rayner crowning the ‘Beef Cheek and Pearl Barley Risotto’ his dish of the year. The menu is littered with local produce and showcases some of the best of British ingredients. The bar also champions local craft beers. Only half an hour away from York, Malton is building a reputation as a foodie destination, with a busy food market and The Talbot Hotel offering inspired food at excellent value. If you don’t want to travel too far, it’s perfect.
Claude Bosi’s restaurant Hibiscus is ranked 7th in The Good Food Guide and holds two Michelin Stars. His food is unique, utilising unusual flavour combinations and modern technique. ‘Seared scallop with pork pie sauce and grapefruit’ was once something of a signature dish, while ‘Gigha halibut with brown butter foam and crushed potato’ was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Diners are presented with a list of the day’s best ingredients, and then given the choice of three, six, or eight courses. The chef constructs a menu specifically for your table, taking into account any preferences or dislikes. H
ibiscus is an experience, not just a meal. There are many fantastic places to eat in London, and Hibiscus is one of the best.
Phil Howard’s restaurant, The Square, is much more traditional in its flavour combinations. It also holds two Michelin Stars, and Phil Howard is respected for his cooking and consistency the world over. Expect classic combinations with absolutely faultless cooking, impeccable service and good value wines. ‘Fillet of Beef with Short Rib and Celeriac’ was sensational, a perfect example of The Square’s reputation for huge depth of flavour, and the kitchen did an admirable job catering for my vegan partner.
The Square offers a la carte dining as well as a tasting menu. Both restaurants offer good value lunch menus.
Mugaritz is a restaurant in the ultimate foodie town: San Sebastián. It is consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world, and offers an experience like no other. Head chef Andoni Aduriz’s food has been described as ‘techno emotional Spanish’, and his creativity is highly regarded by critics and fellow chefs.
Around 25 courses are served, and the general idea is to experiment with people’s emotions and memories, using illusion and deception. The famous canapé of ‘Potato Rocks’ illustrates this idea: potatoes are cooked in grey clay, taking on the appearance of the rocks they are served on. Diners expect an extreme (even unpleasant) crunch but receive incredibly soft garlicky potato. A dessert called ‘The Birthday Party’ is served with the appearance that somebody else has eaten it already, and celebrated without you.
The decor is plain but stunning, with wooden walls and a simple ornament at the centre of each table: a broken plate. This is to reflect the restaurant’s atypical approach to fine dining, and the movement away from the expected.
The restaurant serves food that can actually leave you sad or shocked, a cuisine that is both intelligent and delicious. Mugaritz is up there with the ultimate destination restaurants.