I am often asked to share my favourite places to dine at when I travel and while there are new places cropping up all the time, these are the spots I can rely on for exceptional food and service every time.
(1) KNIGHTSBRIDGE, LONDON
This buzzing and exclusive residential, dining and shopping district south of Hyde Park has a lot to offer the discerning foodie. Whatever fare you are in the mood for or if you just want a cup of tea or a glass of wine while you people and supercar watch, it’s all possible here.
The Restaurant: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
What Makes It Special: It has two Michelin Stars and is currently ranked at No. 7 on The San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Chefs across four kitchens at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal bring recipes from as long ago as the 1300s back to life, using modern-day cooking techniques and present-day ingredients. The service here is what you would expect from a Heston Blumenthal creation. The mix of knowledge, humour and charm of the servers here blend perfectly.
Savour: Top of the list is the meat fruit (chicken liver parfait encased in mandarin jelly and served with grilled bread), juicy Hereford ribeye accompanied by mushroom ketchup and triple cooked chips, tipsy cake (brioche soaked in Sauternes, brandy and vanilla cream served with spitroast pineapple) and ice cream from the nitrogen ice cream cart.
VC Tip: Head over for drinks at Bar Boulud in the same hotel before your meal. If you’re going during lunch, ask for a table by the window, which has a great view of Hyde Park. Make sure you book well in advance.
Info: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, www.dinnerbyheston.com.
Other Favourites in the City: Restaurant Story, La Bodega Negra, Gymkhana, The Duck and Rice, Roka, Granger & Co and more.
(2) GREENWICH VILLAGE, NEW YORK CITY
Not only is this area known for its classic mom-and-pop joints, charming neighbourhood restaurants and pizzerias, hotspots, cheese shops and fine dining eateries, it’s also great for people-watching, a spot of jazz and some stand-up comedy.
The Restaurant: Carbone.
Cuisine: Mid-20th century, Italian-American fine dining.
What Makes It Special: There are just so many incredible options in this foodie haven that it’s next to impossible for me to name just one restaurant as my favourite. If I had to pick, it’s Carbone. Why, you ask? Think of a buzzing Italian speakeasy oozing old world charm and glamour as servers dressed in suits and slicked back hair sit down at your table for a chitchat over the menu filled with exceptionally well-prepared dishes.
Savour: I love starting my night here with a classic Chianti followed by the best vodka sauce rigatoni I have possibly ever had (don’t even think of sharing this with someone!), sizzling pancetta, succulent meatballs in a tangy chunky tomato sauce, cherry pepper ribs, linguini vongole and veal parmesan to name a few. The lemon cheesecake here is the one to pick for dessert. Hey, if it’s good enough for President Obama and Kim Kardashian, it’s good enough for us!
VC Tip: Go with an appetite; the food here is sharing style. Lunch offers smaller portions but you will be sacrificing the great night vibe here. Also, you can make a reservation as early as one month in advance. I strongly suggest booking as soon as you know you are heading to New York City as it’s very hard to get a table. Don’t even think of cancelling your reservation here.
Info: 181 Thompson Street, www.carbonenewyork.com.
Other Favourites in the City: Cosme, Eleven Madison Park, Katz Deli, Roberto’s Pizza, Balthazar, Momofuku Ko, Dominique Ansel Bakery… the list goes on.
(3) SANTORINI, GREECE
Often called Greece’s most beautiful island with its unique location of being perched on the edge of white cliff-tops with jaw-dropping views of the caldera and the azure blue Aegean Sea, it felt like I was in a dream.
The Restaurant: Oia Vineyart.
What Makes It Special: Finding a restaurant that isn’t featured in every guide book in Oia is hard. This family-run spot opened last year and was one of the best farm-to-table meals I had in Greece. Their menu is small because they use quality locally grown produce and vino. I dined surrounded by a garden of fresh herbs, a rarity in Oia. You can also shop for quality Greek ingredients and wine here or walk through the art gallery in the compound.
Savour: My favourites are the Greek salad, Santorinian fava with caper and onions (it was so good, I made it a few times at home), spicy cheese from Naxos, grilled sausages and Trahanoto (a form of Greek pasta) with local tomatoes and cream cheese and yoghurt with a spoon dessert (comes in various flavours) at the end of your meal.
VC Tip: Chat with the owners over a glass of wine and let them guide you through their small home-style menu. This is the perfect place to see how the locals spend their evenings.
Info: Sidearas in Oia, www.oiavineyart.gr.
Other Favourites in the City: Sigalas Domaine Vineyard for lunch, Metaxi Mas Tavern and Franco’s Café for sunset views.
(4) SAN SEBASTIÁN, SPAIN
This small but charming city has everything going for it – Michelin-starred restaurants, exceptional chefs, stunning surrounds and it is the 2016 European Capital of Culture. After Kyoto in Japan, San Sebastian holds the highest number of Michelin stars per square metre.
The Restaurant: Arzak.
Cuisine: Spanish avant-garde.
What Makes It Special: You are treated like family at Arzak (housed in the Arzak family home) where Chef Juan Mari Arzak, 73, and his daughter Chef Elena Arzak walk around and chat with their guests during their meal. My interview with them felt more like an inspiring chat. For those of you who are not aware, he is recognised for modernising Basque cuisine and has paved the way for Spanish visionaries such as Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. His restaurant, Arzak, has held three Michelin stars for over 25 years. His daughter, Chef Elena Arzak, won the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award in 2012. I consider myself fortunate to have spent several hours with two very fascinating culinary artists.
Savour: Without giving away too much of the tasting menu, one of the highlights of the meal was marinated mango and a mango parcel with a deliciously intense, smoky chorizo filling atop of a crunched soda. My dessert pick would be a large chocolate truffle oozing creamy chocolate, candy floss and crunchy bread crumbs.
VC Tip: It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays, so plan your visit accordingly and book in advance especially if you are going during the San Sebastian Film Festival. Arzak is always booked and swarming with celebrities during this time.
Info: Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273, www.arzak.info.
Other Favourites in the City: Bar Nestor, Bar Bergara and La Viña to name a few.
(5) RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Rua Dias Ferreira, a tree-lined street in Leblon is Rio’s most fashionable, upmarket and sophisticated spot which also happens to be a gastronomic delight.
The Restaurant: Sushi Leblon.
Cuisine: Japanese with South American influences.
What Makes It Special: Sushi Leblon is fine dining with culinary influences from across the globe and with a funky vibe. Think exceptional produce, immaculately presented sushi, sashimi, meats and dessert. I really couldn’t fault anything I ate here. Their wine and sake list is equally impressive. Also worth a mention is the fact that this meal is a fraction of the cost compared to what you would pay in a fine dining Japanese restaurant in New York, London, Hong Kong or Dubai.
Savour: Just to give you perspective, I visited Sushi Leblon three times during my stay in Rio simply because it was that exceptional and I wanted to try as much of the menu as I could. Standout dishes were the edamame, melt-in-your-mouth dreamy butter fish sashimi with truffled oil (you cannot miss this), salmon sashimi, tuna tartar with egg yolk and black roe, seared tuna with foie gras and green apple and dulce de leche with cheddar cheese ice-cream (yes, this is not a typo) and warm, ooey gooey Brigadeiro, a traditional Brazilian dessert.
VC Tip: It’s a compact space so book well in advance by calling them. If you don’t get reservations during your stay in Rio, try doing a walk-in during lunch.
Info: Rua Dias Ferreria 256, +(21) 2512-7830, www.sushileblon.com.
Other Favourites in the City: Brigite’s, Rooftop at Hotel Fasano and Aprazivel.
(6) LIMA, PERU
Lima has gained the reputation of being the gastronomical capital of South America thanks to the exotic ingredients grown here and innovative chefs who are constantly pushing culinary limits. Other than their pre-Columbian heritage, food is the Peruvians greatest source of national pride and identity and it shows.
The Restaurant: Central Restaurante.
What Makes It Special: The 17-course Elevation Tasting Menu at Central Restaurante is the most unique dining experiences I have had. Central was named Latin America’s Best Restaurant and made it to No. 4 in The San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2015. While interviewing Chef Virgilio Martinez, I learnt about how he sources ingredients from various surrounding altitudes while always respecting ethical sourcing, the environment and farmers.
Savour: I sampled Peruvian ingredients I never knew existed from ocas, ollucas and mashwas (stems which are poisonous raw but safe to eat cooked) and river snails to milk of Bahuaja nuts served over a doncella Amazonian fish and chaco edible clay for dessert, which tasted like white chocolate.
VC Tip: You need to book a table here months in advance. Also experience the bar menu and try a special Peruvian wine called Quebrada de Ihuanco.
Info: Santa Isabel 376, www.centralrestaurante.com.pe/en.
Other Favourites in the City: Maido, Astrid y Gaston and Malabar.
Have you been to any of these restaurants? Tell us about your experiences below. I’m always up for chatting about food and restaurants across the globe so feel free to drop me a line.