Not that long ago, we took a big chunk of time off and did some travelling. We travelled wisely, investing our money into the actual adventures, rather than the hotels and souvenirs. And our actual adventures were targeted mostly around one thing: food. Street food. Fine dining. Holes in the wall. The newest place. The little Indonesian grandmum who cooked for us using the fish of the day and fresh sambal. The bamboo hut on stilts where I ate the best handmade spring rolls of my life. The moment of surprise when I sipped a tea made by Heston Blumenthal and it was half cold and half warm and I still can’t even begin to understand how. When I think of a place I’ve visited in my travels, my first memories are usually the food related ones.
When S. Pelligrino’s The World’s Best Restaurants 2016 were announced last week, I thought about how fortunate I’ve been to experience some of them. And even though I’m a firm believer that the mystery spicy concoction distributed by hand on the streets in Bali was a dish that stands up against a Michelin Star restaurant, this list is very much highlighting the finest of dining. So I will wax poetical about the other end of the food spectrum another time, instead reliving some of my memories from the restaurants who did make the list. Because food = joy.
It is called “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” and it’s the highest food award honours at the moment. Confusingly, the list goes to 100. But nevermind the specifics. Here we go:
Number 1: Osteria Francescana
Strongest Memories: Well this is the best dining experience of my life, so I have a few: Massimo Bottura answering the phone himself when we called trying to secure a reservation. (NBD, just the best chef in the world. NO BIG DEAL RIGHT). Eating the famous “Five Ages of Parmesan” dish. Eating it so slowly because I so badly did not want it to end. When Massimo came out to say hi. Casually chatted about his dish that we were eating, how it was made, how it inspired him. Was in no particular rush, took a fangirl photo, he was unbelievable and exactly like how he’s been portrayed on Chef’s Table. Passionate, kind, friendly, talkative, generous and talented.
Favourite Dish: Five Ages of Parmesan.
Number 3: Eleven Madison Park
(New York City, USA)
Strongest Memories: Eating sunflower chokes. Being halfway through the meal and then it was “picnic time” and we each got our own basket and set up a picnic on the table, complete with “paper” plates and bottles of beer. At the end of the meal, them giving us takeaway bags with homemade muesli for breakfast the next day. Sending us across the street to the hotdog vendor as the last bit of the experience, telling us to say “Eleven Madison sent us to say hi”, and the vendor handing us little Eleven Madison branded ice blocks.
Favourite Dish: Lavender Duck
Number 7: Mugaritz
(San Sebastian, Spain)
Strongest Memories: I was really ill the day we went here unfortunately, but it was an amazing theatrical experience. One dish came with mortar & pestle and we had to make it ourselves. The table decorations ended up being edible. One course was served with a sugar fork which you ate once you ate the dish. Dessert was The Seven Deadly Sins, wooden bowls stacked on top of each other in different heights, each representing a sin (Gluttony was the biggest container, filled to the top with chocolate soil. Envy was empty.)
Favourite Dish: Caviar and creme fraiche. We were given knuckle bones and had to play rounds to see who won the caviar. I lost, but my dining mate took pity.
Number 14: The Ledbury
Strongest Memories: How nice and not stuffy the staff were, chatting to us about rugby. Driving by the shop I used to manage in Notting Hill on my way to the restaurant. How fresh and simple and tasty every dish was, not being overworked. Taking zero photos, but remembering the mackerel dish and it’s magnificence. Pouring water all over the white linen table cloth and having it replaced in about 3 seconds. (ermmm taxi!)
Favourite Dish: Flame Grilled Mackerel
Number 33: Attica
Strongest Memories: Going with friends before the Melbourne Cup. Being invited out into the backyard to tour the herb garden and roast marshmellows. Eating a lot of New Zealand inspired dishes (Ben Shewry the chef, is from NZ). Eating pea shoots picked straight off the plant, dipped in hollandaise. Eating rare kangaroo. Having a take home box of “Pukeko Eggs” which melted into goop on the plane ride home.
Favorite Dish: Weirdly enough, the pea shoots.
Number 45: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Strongest Memories: I’ve visited Dinner a few times because it’s easy (easier) to get in. Taking my parents here was a special experience. Ordering courses, rather than it being a degustation. Food was modelled off of old world dishes. Meat fruit came out as a mandarin and a piece of bread. When you cut into the mandarin, it was full of liver parfait. It looked EXACTLY like an orange, down to the smell and dimples in the skin. First time I ever ate pigeon. First time I ever actually enjoyed sweet breads.
Favourite Dish: Meat Fruit.
Number 91: St. John
Strongest Memories: This is my favourite restaurant. Ever. It’s not over the top expensive. It’s nose to tail eating (my favourite). It’s run by Fergus Henderson who is a food hero of mine. Hanging our jackets up on the wall right where we are sitting. Eating pigs ears in dandelion salad. Taking risks and ordering weird sounding dishes because of course they would be tasty, it’s St. John. Always over ordering. Never needing the Welsh Rarebit but never learning. Fresh madeleines made to order and eaten on the Tube on the way home.
Favourite Dish: Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. My favourite EVER meal.
Number 98: Quay
Strongest Memories: The purple 80’s carpet. The gorgeous view from our table of the bridge and harbour. An umami heavy menu which I loved. Savoury overload. The best. A beautiful dish made up of crunchy bits, raw wagyu, several different types of mushrooms. Snow egg, their signature dish was giant. Couldn’t eat it all, but beautiful grantita, sorbet and meringue.
Favourite Dish: Abalone and chawanmushi.
Have you visited any of the 100 Best Restaurants? If so, what’s your best memory? If not, which ones are on your wish list?
** Hang around for my next post – The World’s Best Restaurants – A Wishlist **