For the first time ever, Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine have partnered on an ambitious and exciting new platform — curated by one anonymous critic, who journeyed around the world to discover the best restaurants that travelers must visit right now. As much about the destinations as it is about the food, this list aims to reflect the most vibrant aspects of each location it represents, capturing dining experiences that fully express the culture of each country, city, or region.
The list was curated by James Beard Award-winning writer Besha Rodell, who has been reporting on food and culture for almost two decades, in multiple cities and across two continents. Currently the dining critic for the New York Times’ Australia bureau, Rodell accepted recommendations from a global panel of experts across the hospitality and restaurant industries made up of our own editors and 22 noteworthy culinary personalities (you can see the panel here).
Over four months, she visited 81 restaurants in 24 countries and across six continents, stayed in 37 hotels, spent 279 hours in the air, and traveled more than 100,000 miles to arrive at the list of 30 restaurants. To read more about how our critic chose the list, check out the explanation of our methodology.
Here, we are publishing a portion of this collaborative project between Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine. Discover the rest of the winners at foodandwine.com.
ASIA + AUSTRALIA
What is Australian food? It’s a question that gets asked a lot, and there’s rarely a satisfying answer. But if I could employ the show-don’t-tell method of explanation, I’d take the asker for a meal at Attica. Through his thoughtful and playful tasting menus, chef and owner Ben Shewry explores myriad aspects of Australia’s culinary personality, from avocado toast to emu liver.
Yes, there was at one time a take on avocado toast on the menu (a nod to Melbourne’s most ubiquitous cafe culture dish): a cracker topped with avocado cut in an impossibly tiny and perfect dice, garnished with finger lime and mint. Shewry also plays on the country’s nostalgia with versions of the cheesy Vegemite rolls that every Australian child ate as a snack and the iconic teatime dessert, lamingtons. But the lamingtons come coated in black ants instead of shredded coconut, and what comes off the barbecue here are things like saltwater crocodile ribs. Shewry is one of the chefs leading the charge on incorporating native Australian ingredients into almost every dish.
The restaurant resides in a storefront in Ripponlea, a historically Jewish suburb to the southeast of the city center. The neighborhood’s past is explored in a dish called “An imperfect history of Ripponlea,” which comprises three small tarts representing the three eras of the area. Over the years, the backyard has served as a garden for the restaurant and then — when the kitchen’s needs outgrew the space and the garden was shifted off-site — a souvlaki stand where diners were taken for a taste of Melbourne’s iconic late-night snack along with beer poured from pitchers. (A wink to the city’s Greek population, one of the largest outside Greece.) Recently, the outdoor space was transformed again, this time into an art installment meant to transport diners 100 years into the future.
While the menu and backyard and dynamic wine list change regularly, the constants are even more impressive: This is some of the best service you’ll find anywhere. And Shewry’s dedication to finding ingredients and dishes that are — above all else — Australian is a blessing. In doing so, he allows the diner to fully explore the unique terroir of this wide country.
Burnt Ends, Singapore
I have two main pieces of advice for the traveler to Singapore. The first is: Eat all the chili crab you can possibly manage. As much as I tried to narrow this broad instruction into a single restaurant recommendation, I was unable to do so. There’s a lot of good chili crab, and it’s not hard to find.
My second piece of advice is: Get a reservation at Burnt Ends. In some ways, the six-year-old Chinatown spot is barely Singaporean at all. It bills itself as a “modern Australian barbecue restaurant,” the chef is from Perth, and the staff is a wildly diverse crew from all over the globe. But in some respects, this is representative of Singapore, one of the most thrillingly international cities in the world.
That chef, Dave Pynt, designed the massive brick kiln at the heart of the operation, and almost everything in the restaurant is cooked in one of its ovens or on a custom-built grill. Smoke and char rule the day, in ways both expected and surprising.
There are steaks galore, from Australian producer Blackmore Wagyu, and they’re everything good about the meeting of meat and flame. But some of the best things on the menu are vegetable-based, dishes like long garlic shoots that have been grilled and served with gremolata, and smoky, tender fennel served over burrata.
The steaks are not cheap, but one of the great things about this restaurant is its flexibility — it would be easy to come here and spend a fortune on red meat and wine, but you can also stop by for a beer and a “Burnt Ends sanger,” an immense pulled pork sandwich that costs about $15. The service is fantastic but not overly formal, and the crowd is as international as the city itself, with locals and visitors striking up conversations; this is, above all else, a fun place to eat.
The majority of the restaurant's seating is at a long counter that faces the kitchen, which imbues the whole experience with the sense that you’re eating at the bar of the world’s greatest modern pub, a feeling made stronger by the fact that the drinks here — cocktails, beer, wine — are outstanding. An Australian/Singaporean/pub/fine-dining barbecue restaurant? Yes, please.
The line at Fuunji is intense: It took me and my son about an hour to make it from the end of the queue to a seat at the 15-person counter. It stretches out the door, breaks to allow for traffic, and then continues across the street.
Once you get to the restaurant’s threshold, you realize that there’s still a long way to go: The line extends along the back wall of the restaurant, meaning that the people leaning over their food at the counter have hungry diners right behind them, willing them to slurp faster.
But that time inside gives you a chance to watch the show, to observe the gregarious owner, Miyake-san, perform his theatrical routine — his cooking and plating of noodles and his ladling of soup is a dance as much as it is work. The wait inside the door will also allow you time to figure out the ticket machine, which is how you order and pay. You put cash in, punch a button for your chosen meal and drinks, and the machine spits out a ticket for each item, which you then hand to the staff upon being seated.
The specialty here is tsukemen, the thick dipping broth with noodles on the side. You can ask for a large or medium serving of noodles — the cost is no different whether you get a huge meal or simply a large one. The noodles are perfectly chewy, the broth (which is made with chicken and kombu) decadent and so umami-rich it’s like slurping the platonic ideal of pure flavor. Though Miyake-san is known specifically for his tsukemen, his ramen is awfully good, too.
There are lots of great noodles in Tokyo, many long lines in which it’s worth waiting. But this was the place my son and I kept reminiscing about, even weeks after we visited. In the midst of a particularly expensive and fancy meal a few days later, my son said, “This is fine, but Fuunji cost twenty bucks, and I’d so much rather be eating there.” He’s a wise kid.
Sushi Yoshitake, Tokyo
There is a no-phones-on-the-counter rule at Sushi Yoshitake. Still, at some point during my meal there, I managed to take one surreptitious under-the-counter note on my phone. It said, “Lean tuna: meat, ocean, air, grain, flowers, life!”
Despite the phone ban, the eight-seat sushi counter is actually far more relaxed than many of its counterparts — chef Masahiro Yoshitake will happily help you choose a sake, and smile as he hands you each delicately formed piece of nigiri, offering instructions on the best way to enjoy it.
A parade of appetizers starts the meal, including a tender steamed abalone in a velvety liver sauce that has become somewhat of a signature dish. But it’s the sushi that had me agog, from that piece of tuna that somehow encompassed all of nature and the universe in its deep red flesh, to a stunningly sweet and meaty aji, to the tiny creamy uni. For the first bite of sushi of the evening, Yoshitake’s assistant cut a squid lengthwise into tissue-thin sheets, then stacked and scored them for a texture so soft and glossy it left me breathless.
While I was happy to follow Yoshitake’s excellent sake suggestions, the couple beside me turned to the wine list, and I could sense their growing excitement as they read over its contents. They ordered a 1978 Bollinger and then a cult Burgundy from the late ‘90s. “It’s rare,” the husband told me, “for a wine list to have everything I want with so few bottles on the list.”
There are a number of hard-to-afford, hard-to-book, legendary sushi counters in Japan, and almost any one of them will likely offer an incredible meal. But Sushi Yoshitake stands out, for its wine, its technique, and its chef — who exudes far more welcome than he does strict austerity.
Masque is not easy to find. Hidden deep in an old industrial section of Mumbai in a building that used to be a cotton mill, entering the restaurant conjures stepping through an enchanted doorway into another dimension. Outside is all dark steel and grit; inside are the soaring ceilings and sleek modernity of what is possibly the most ambitious restaurant in India.
Chef Prateek Sadhu spent time in the kitchens of Alinea, The French Laundry, and Noma, and you can see those influences, particularly that of Noma, in the style of cooking and service at Masque. But the flavors here are decidedly Indian. Sadhu often focuses on his native Kashmir, which he visits frequently to seek inspiration while foraging and shopping for ingredients. While the tasting menu format — snacks, then increasingly richer larger courses, then dessert — will seem familiar to the moneyed world traveler, the food is entirely distinctive.
Ingredients like smoked buttermilk and pickled jackfruit are elegantly paired with seasonal greens, meats, and seafood. Katlam, a delicious Kashmiri bread as flaky as any croissant and yet denser, richer, is paired with a small bottle of ketchup made from jamun, otherwise known as black plum (and purported to have a wealth of health benefits). Sticky smoked pork neck was brightened by local mango, which also appeared alongside a dessert of black rice ice cream.
There’s a level of passion from the staff here — from the servers to the impressively mustachioed sommelier to the cooks who usher you into the kitchen for one pre-dessert course — that is almost unnerving in its enthusiasm. But give into it, and you might find yourself with a fervor for Masque that mirrors the immense amount of effort it takes to create an experience like this one.
Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, Mumbai
The sign on the wall of Shree Thaker Bhojanalay says, “Please don’t waste food.” It instructs you only to order what you will eat, and to eat everything on your plate. It’s a noble sentiment, but it becomes hard to honor as the hosts enthusiastically insist you try just one more thing. “No, no, I’m full,” you’ll say.
“Yes, yes, just try. You must try.”
In a crowded neighborhood through a nondescript doorway and up a small staircase, this all-you-can-eat Gujarati vegetarian thali restaurant, which has been serving Mumbai since 1945, is one of the world’s great examples of true hospitality. And the food is stunningly good.
Once seated in the stark, tile-floored dining room, a thali plate is placed before you, then quickly filled by waiters carrying trays and vats containing all manner of deliciousness: chutneys, snacks, assorted breads drizzled in ghee, and an endless varieties of vegetable preparations. Dhal, pulao made with fresh young coconut, vegetable curries, creamy okra, bitter gourd studded with cashews. There are fritters filled with fragrant herbs, paneer patties, and a cup of fresh buttermilk to wash it all down. As soon as one dish is empty, a waiter appears to ask if you’d like it refilled.
I was blessed to be in Mumbai during mango season, and even more blessed to partake in Shree Thaker’s aamras, a silky mango puree so bright and perfumed it tasted like essence of summer. The hard part was then convincing the host that I didn’t need four more servings, or three other kinds of dessert. In fact, I lost that battle completely. “You will try,” he said firmly and happily. Resistance was futile.
Nang Loeng Market, Bangkok
You don’t really need to seek out great food in Thailand; all you have to do is step out onto the street and there it is. The food I ate while walking from one Bangkok restaurant to another was universally more interesting, satisfying and delicious than the (much more expensive) things I found inside those restaurants. This may be cliché, but it is also true.
It is impossible for me to pick just one of those street stalls and proclaim it the best, but I can direct you to the marketplace with the most history, charm, and variety, and that is Nang Loeng Market.
Nang Loeng was officially opened in 1900, and aside from a recent structural update to its central food court, it has barely changed since that time. When it was built, most of the trading in Bangkok was done from floating markets, but the king, inspired by marketplaces he’d seen in Europe, asked the department of public works to build a walkable covered arcade in the part of the city that was being transformed into an administrative and residential precinct. Because of that, Nang Loeng now sits in the midst of a fascinating historical section of town, and the food in the market is influenced by the many different ethnic groups that settled nearby.
Around the edges of the market you’ll find many different varieties of khanom wan, or Thai desserts. Closer to the central food court, there are stalls selling snacks, Chinese-influenced noodle dishes, and Thai curries. At one stall I had a perfect, lacy seafood pancake made with egg and rice flour; at another a fiery roasted eggplant salad, infused with chilies and shrimp paste and topped with fried shallots and a hard boiled egg. You can buy garlicky Thai sausages and whole tiny fish to snack on, or take your lunch to-go in plastic bags.
Go early — the lunch rush is intense and the vendors pack up by mid-afternoon — and go hungry. You will want to eat so much more than is humanly possible. There are worse problems to have.
Samcheongdong Sujebi, Seoul
A vat of comforting soup and a plate of crispy potato pancakes: that is why you go to Samcheongdong Sujebi. It’s why everyone else goes there, too, and why there’s usually a line in front of the door, trailing down the street. Once inside the straightforward dining room, those are the two things you’ll see on almost every single table. And they are the things I keep going back to in my mind, even after some rather exemplary Korean BBQ and elevated bites elsewhere in Seoul.
The soup in question is sujebi, wheat dough dumplings floating in a broth made from anchovies, ginger, kelp, and clams. The soft dumplings retain their structure but aren’t even a tiny bit chewy, the broth so comforting in its umami-rich austerity it feels elemental. Douse it with soy sauce or leave it be; either way you’ll find solace in its homey depths.
The gamjajeon, or potato pancake, comes in a few variations, one of which is made with potato and no other ingredient besides the oil it’s fried in. It’s the texture that makes it so special, the perfect balance of crispy exterior and soft interior. A container of fragrant, piquant kimchee on the table adds spice and intrigue. Waitresses bustle around you, helpfully pointing to the condiments you might use and the way you might use them.
Samcheongdong Sujebi has been open for almost four decades, specializing in these two dishes, serving hundreds of customers per day. It doesn’t play particularly well on Instagram. It isn’t dining engineered to inspire jealousy in others. It is simply a place that does one wonderful thing (or, more accurately, two wonderful things) better than anywhere else.
VEA, Hong Kong
Your first impression of VEA will likely be the restaurant’s deep sense of whimsy: Diners sit at an undulating counter facing the kitchen, and opening dishes include a choux puff made with salted fish and bok choi that arrives atop a music box playing a wistful tune. Food comes with poetry presented in scrolls at the side, or nestled in a full bird’s nest, or spritzed with wine from a perfume bottle. The theater is palpable.
All this drama could easily veer into the realm of self-serious pretension, but the tone is light hearted and joyous. And even without the spectacle, the cooking would be enough to hold my rapt attention. Chef Vicky Cheng was born in Hong Kong, but much of his training was in the U.S., working under European chefs — most notably, he spent years working at Daniel in New York City. At VEA, he combines many of the techniques he learned training with French chefs with traditional Chinese ingredients, focusing on seasonality and creativity. The results are stunning.
One of the most memorable dishes I’ve had all year was the crispy sea cucumber that arrives about half way through the 10-course tasting menu. Stuffed with a mousseline made from female mud crab, the spiny beast is then placed atop a vibrant yellow sauce made from the roe of the crab and thickened with a whole egg. A spritz of 22 year-old Shaoxing wine finishes the dish.
The things I love about VEA are, unsurprisingly, the things that make Hong Kong such a unique and wonderful place. It is modern but with many elements that are traditional, stylish and fun, international while remaining true to its roots. In that way, Cheng is doing more than just feeding people delicious food: He is representing his hometown, and he’s doing it with heart.
Antichi Sapori, Montegrosso, Italy
The notes on my itinerary said to take a cab from my Puglia hotel to Antichi Sapori, but there are no cabs in Montegrosso, so the innkeeper drove me herself. “We call it a town,” she said as we pulled up to the tiny collection of buildings anchored by a church where the restaurant is located, “but really Montegrosso is just one street.”
Set among the endless olive groves of Puglia, Antichi Sapori is the passion project of Pietro Zito, who tends to a large garden nearby, much of which is set aside to allow for the cultivation of wild greens and herbs. Zito’s aim is to keep the historic cooking traditions of the region alive. Everything about this place is an embodiment of the word rustic, from the tiled dining room with its wooden tables and farm-tool decorations to its hearty and delicious cooking.
Though there is an à la carte menu, the set menu costs around $45 and is an obscene amount of food. You might start with a bowl of fresh fava beans topped with sharp cheese, a smattering of antipasti, toast with a puree of wild herbs, baked artichoke hearts, and more. Then come the two servings of pasta — which you choose from the pasta list — before you move on to the main course: grilled sausage, beef, pork, or sometimes donkey.
This is where I discovered what chicory really tastes like in its original state, bitter and bracing, intermingled with handmade orecchiette. I marveled at the quality of the pork, with its deep, intense flavor, and found new hunger I thought I didn’t have when five or six different desserts appeared.
Antichi Sapori represents Italian dining as it has been for hundreds of years: rustic, handmade, entirely reliant on the countryside around it. Most of all it feels outrageously generous, in its cooking and hospitality but also in its spirit. I left full, happy and sleepy — and one of the waiters was kind enough to drive me home.
Sorbillo, Naples, Italy
With a line almost as legendary as the pizza, it can be tempting to skip Sorbillo for one of the other very good pizza shops in Naples. But if you arrive a little before the noon opening, it’s likely you’ll make it into the first seating of the day. And what a wonderful feeling, to roll up your sleeves and dive in to these resplendent pies: tart sauce; gooey cheese; and a perfectly blistered, tangy crust.
The two-level dining room is a hive of activity, with waiters hurrying back and forth carrying pies aloft to their lucky new owners. A seat downstairs offers a view into the kitchens, where the pizzaiolos spin and sweat in front of the restaurant’s giant ovens.
What is it that makes Sorbillo the absolute best? It’s hard to say — perhaps it is the specific char created by the woodfired ovens, or the organic tomatoes that go into the sauce, or the care owner Gino Sorbillo puts into his dough. As is the case with all great pizza, there is likely a little magic involved, something unknowable that turns dough plus sauce plus cheese into something far greater than the sum of its parts. In this case that magic becomes the best pizza in Naples, and by extension the best pizza in the world.
There’s no English menu, but if you speak no Italian you’ll do just fine guessing and pointing — it was this method that garnered me one of the best pizzas of the bunch, an artichoke-heavy vegetarian option with a glorious, pure acidity. The go-to order is the margherita with mozzarella di bufala, which takes the already decadent pie and ramps it up, adding a deliciously creamy element.
Sorbillo also has an outpost in New York City — I have not eaten there and can’t attest to its greatness or not. I have to guess that the setting makes somewhat of a difference, and why shouldn’t it? Some things are worthy of pilgrimage. And to eat Neapolitan pizza this good in Naples with a glass (or three) of fantastic local wine came close to a religious experience.
Ganbara, San Sebastián, Spain
The opportunities for eating well in and around San Sebastián are countless and varied. But if you’ve traveled to this part of the world hoping to experience its unique dining culture, you’re here to drink wine and eat pintxos. It’s hard to go wrong when picking a pinxtos bar in the narrow streets of San Sebastián’s old town — a cab driver told me that the best way to judge which place to visit was by the size of the crowd spilling out onto the street. And the largest, happiest crowd is often outside Ganbara.
Wade through the throng, make your way to the counter, and marvel at the beauty: piles of vegetables and local mushrooms, platters of tiny perfect crab tartlets, miniature sandwiches stuffed with rosy jamón ibérico. The house specialty is wild mushrooms, sautéed with garlic and served with an egg yolk. The mushrooms are meaty and perfectly salted, the egg yolk rich and silken — it truly is one of the most perfect dishes I ate during my travels.
Upstairs at Ganbara is a glorious party, but one of the things that elevates the restaurant above all the other fantastic pintxos bars in town is its lovely little basement dining room, where you can have a full sit-down meal. That same mushroom dish is available downstairs with the addition of seared foie gras (honestly, it’s kind of overkill, but why not?), along with a menu of Basque specialties like charcoal-grilled fish on skewers and hake cheek served in a mellow green sauce.
Ganbara encapsulates everything good about eating in this part of the world: the incredible local produce and seafood, the casual conviviality of a crowded pinxtos bar, and the joyous ease of the restaurant-as-party -- one that happens every day, because life and food are always worth celebrating.
Hiša Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia
I would recommend chef Ana Roš’ restaurant for the journey there alone. Whether you’re traveling from the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana or crossing the nearby border with northern Italy, the drive through the fairyland mountain scenery of Slovenia’s Soča Valley is likely to be one of the most memorable of your life. The “Emerald River”! The tiny, quaint towns clinging to the sides of steep, flower-strewn hills! The snow-capped mountains!
Even so, as soon as I stepped through the doors of Hiša Franko, I understood that it was going to do justice to its breathtaking setting. In the years since they’ve taken over the family business, Roš and her husband, Valter Kramar, have single-handedly put Slovenia on the global map as a culinary destination, highlighting the Soča Valley and telling an edible story with its bounty. A convivial staff welcomes you to the 19th-century building (which also serves as an inn and the home of the chef and her family), offering, if your table’s not yet ready, a glass of Slovenian sparkling wine with the tiny bubbles and crisp finish of a very good Champagne, and approaching you with all the personable professionalism that has become the hallmark of the world’s truly great restaurants.
Once you’re ushered in to the warm, red-walled dining room, the party starts in earnest. Wine begins to flow, and a series of small bites lands on your table: a tiny salad of chickweed and green peas sitting atop an airy green cracker smeared with smoked bone marrow; a taco made from kale, with elderflowers and hazelnut miso; a piping hot savory doughnut with a filling of intensely delicious lambs’ brains.
When the butter for your spelt-and-whey sour bread arrives, it is covered in bee pollen, which tastes of the essence of springtime. Cuttlefish is shaved in a pile so it resembles lardo and served with fried bread soaked in asparagus “milk.” There is a playfulness to this food that doesn’t detract from its elegance, a lack of ego that allows pleasure to be the defining factor. You get the feeling that Roš is interested in one thing only, and that is delight.
The restaurant’s beverage program is a serious strong point, and the wine pairing option will give you a thrilling introduction to the wonders of wines from Slovenia and nearby northern Italy, from small producers of wines made on Rifnik Hill to large-format bottles, like a seriously funky and delicious orange Pinot Grigio from Gravner in Friuli.
When Roš appears in the dining room, you can tell where the staff gets their straightforward, friendly attitude. The chef stops by tables with the relaxed humor of an old friend and leads a post-dinner tour of the kitchen and cheese cave with the same affability.
Working on this project made me a font of advice, but the advice I find myself shouting the most to family and friends is this: Go to Slovenia! It’s jaw-droppingly magical. And while you’re at it, go eat at Hiša Franko.
Noma is still good. It’s as good as everyone says it is. It’s better.
While this truth may not be that shocking, some of the reasons why Noma is so magnificent came as a surprise. This is despite the fact that René Redzepi’s restaurant/laboratory/garden/institution has been examined from almost every angle, in multiple books, films, television shows, and articles. And yet, going there still feels like a wondrous discovery.
Of course, there’s the food and the setting. Arriving for a meal at Noma 2.0, you begin with a drink in one of many greenhouses set amongst gardens overlooking the water. You walk along the waterfront toward a fire pit and then enter the long main building, formerly a military warehouse. All activity in the kitchen stops as you make your way to your table — every cook and waiter in the place turns to welcome you.
In the late spring when I visited, seafood was still the restaurant’s focus. (In summer Noma serves an all-vegetable menu; in the autumn they turn to game meat.) One fat scallop in its shell set the tone for the evening, naked aside from its bright orange roe. It tasted of pure fresh ocean sweetness and salinity — the soul of the sea.
Multiple types of clams come arranged in their shells, one carpeted with perfectly arranged purslane leaves, one daubed with fresh cream, and one dotted with slivers of preserved hazelnut. One shrimp dish shows off the sweet, delicate nature of the raw meat, another — grey shrimp cooked with sea lettuce — wrings all the funk and umami out of the crustacean, emphasizing its deliciously opposing potential.
This kitchen can craft magic from a bowl of lumpfish roe, thickening it with egg yolk and pairing it with grilled wild garlic leaves, convincing you that this is the most decadent — but also the most clever and balanced — thing you’ve ever eaten.
So yes, the food is stunning. Thoughtful, beautiful, delicate, bold. And while I may not have eaten many meals on this journey that were quite as accomplished as what Redzepi and crew are delivering, I did eat quite a few that came close.
But nowhere else came even a little close in another very important aspect: hospitality. I’m loath to call it service; this is something much deeper. When staff members come to your table to bring a dish or fill your wine, they approach you as a human. If a conversation develops, they stay and see it through.
While nothing about the flurry of activity happening in the kitchen looks relaxed, the anxiety of service never reaches the guest. I have never experienced the possibility of extended and meaningful connection with the people cooking and serving my food the way I did at Noma, and I think it’s thanks to the way Redzepi has organized his staff — more like an interconnected organism than a brigade with strict and set rules — and also the culture he has instilled in them.
So yes, the food is good. It’s great; it’s magnificent. You will eat things here that will haunt you for years to come. But Noma’s greatest achievement may lie in something not edible at all: its deep and palpable humanity.
Paris presents an interesting conundrum for the hungry traveler these days. Do you blow your budget on one of the city’s extremely high-end tasting menus? Do you follow the cool kids to the casual wine bars, or try to find the best classic bistro? The answer, if you have the time and the money, is all of the above. But within all of these categories, I struggled to find one single meal that felt essential.
Instead, I found that meal at Saturne, a restaurant adhering neither to fashion nor tradition but somehow exhibiting the best of both. The seasonal menu was one of the most ethereal meals I’ve had, beginning with a raw oyster hiding under a froth of watercress mousse, asparagus wrapped in garlic leaf,and a tiny tart holding fava beans topped with a cream made from Tomme de Savoie cheese and dotted with tiny flowers.
Raw bonito came in a pool of intensely fresh asparagus jus and a drizzle of green pepper oil, garnished with pickled white asparagus and radish flowers. Tenderly cooked cod came under a mound of fresh peas, with lemon pith used to great effect as a lightly bitter counterpoint to the sweet fish and vegetables.
Chef Sven Chartier, who worked under Alain Passard at L’Arpège, was only 24 when he opened Saturne in 2010. He is also responsible for encouraging serious talent elsewhere in the city. (It was his group that took over Clown Bar in 2014.)
In the months since I ate here, Chartier has announced plans to close the restaurant in October and focus on a new project for 2020. While it could have been omitted from this list for that reason, to do so would have denied some folks two months or so of delicious eating. Visit now if you can, and discover why, in this moment, when I shut out the hype and really focus on what experience gave me the most delight, there is no question. It was Saturne.
St. John, London
Perfect. It’s the word that best describes everything about St. John, a restaurant that has had a massive influence on London, the U.K., and the world and is still one of the most satisfying eating experiences anywhere on earth. Twenty-five years after opening, Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver’s Smithfield ode to all things British and meaty and delicious is still as thrilling as ever.
There are famously no flowers on the tables in the simple dining room (housed in what was once a smokehouse), no piped-in music. The staff is courteous without any unnecessary pomp. In other words, there is nothing to distract you from the task at hand, which is eating and eating very well.
Of course, you should order the marrow: four massive cylinders of bone housing the wobbly essence of meat, served with toast and a pert parsley salad. It is St. John’s most famous dish because it encapsulates everything about the place: the intensity of its dedication to simplicity and meat and quality.
I ate there in early spring, and alongside my marrow I enjoyed a plate of asparagus, served plain with a dish of melted butter and a pile of salt — a pure springtime pleasure. From there I moved on to a bowl of braised rabbit with white beans and then a fantastic steamed blood-orange pudding with a dollop of cream so thick it was like cutting through butter.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so satisfied, on so many levels, as I was at the conclusion of this meal. I was even happier when the bill came — in this world of exceedingly expensive dining experiences, St. John is a comparative bargain.
It was, and is, simply perfect.
See the rest of the restaurants that made the list in North America, South America, Africa, and Middle East at foodandwine.com.