Browse Culture Trip’s guide to the finest restaurants Europe has to offer, from London and Paris to Rome and the Cote d’Azur.
British magazine Restaurant has been creating a run-down of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, since 2002. Sponsored by San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna and voted for by the Diners Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, it has become as prestigious as the Michelin Guide. While, like the music charts, restaurants can go up and down the pecking order, the list below are all worthy of a visit, whether near the top or the bottom or fluctuating in position.
El Celler de Can Roca
This legend in its own lunchtime has scored a hat-trick: two charismatic, talented chefs – the eponymous Roca brothers – and one of the best restaurants in the world. Earning an awesome three Michelin stars for their contemporary take on of Catalan cuisine (the restaurant is in the Spanish city of Girona), and with a focus on sustainability, El Celler de Can Roca presents visually thrilling tasting menus that unravel over hours, including the likes of canapés contained in a paper globe with flavours from different countries. Be sure to book a long way in advance.
A salmon-pink facade and sage-green walls set the epicurean tone for this three Michelin-starred restaurant run by chef Massimo Bottura in Modena, one of Italy’s great gastronomic centres. Diners survey expensive modern wall art by names including Damien Hirst as they graze on exquisitely presented à la carte dishes that, curiously enough, sound like the titles of whimsical modern artworks – fancy “An eel swimming up the Po River”? If you’ve got a spare €290, settle in for the 12-course tasting menu.
With guru-like chef René Redzepi at the helm, world-famous Noma’s micro-seasonal new Nordic cuisine focuses solely on ingredients from the Scandinavian region, a mission that has seen it top the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list four times. (This year it’s number two.) Where previously it occupied an industrial warehouse in Copenhagen, now it inhabits a glass-sided structure by a lake on the edge of the city. This more pastoral setting permits views of the changing seasons as lucky diners blow their minds and their taste buds with dishes along the lines of tart of crisp potato and nasturtium flowers, with butterfly-shaped sea-buckthorn jelly.
Errenteria, a 20-minute drive from San Sebastián in northern Spain, is the home of Mugaritz, currently seventh on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It’s a playful palate-teaser of a place, riffing brilliantly on Basque Country‘s culinary traditions. Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz uses only local ingredients to startling effect – crab served on a frozen tongue, anyone? The setting is comfortingly traditional, in a Basque country house with warm wooden walls and open beams..
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
In the Insta-glam setting of hotel Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, London, Blumenthal protégé Ashley Palmer-Watts wafts about working magic beyond the glass walls of his open kitchen. Dishes at Dinner reflect, with delicious distortion, Heston’s fascination with food through history, from Tudor dining to savoury ice-creams of the late 1800s. (Expect a dash of fantasy, too, a la Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.) Highlights include cod in cider with chard and flamed mussels; and the now-famous meat fruit: chicken-liver parfait, disguised as a mandarin orange.
With marine blue views across the Cote d’Azur, Mirazur draws praise for dishes such as salt-crusted beetroot served with caviar cream. In the dreamy coastal setting of Menton, with soft-cream interiors, Mirazur is steered by Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco, who adds something of his homeland into contemporary French cooking, flaunting three Michelin stars for his efforts. This is the finest restaurant in France, according to the Restaurant list 2020, with an organic garden attached that provides inspiration and produce for the dishes.
Smack-bang by the Musée Rodin in Paris, Arpège is ruled by the brilliant chef-patron Alain Passard, a man known for his bold approach. Unusually for a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, where meat might be considered the main attraction, Passard makes the humble vegetable the centre of the plate. Many of them are grown on the restaurant’s biodynamic farm outside Paris, before being served to diners at tables of starchy white cloths in the sleek dining room.
In a rural village 40 minutes beyond Spain’s industrial city of Bilbao, Asador Etxebarri focuses on a classic Basque grill menu of meat and fish cooked on firewood, with chef Victor Arguinzoniz insisting on the use of different woods for different ingredients. Local produce, from goat’s-cheese butter to dry-aged beef, transforms into something sublime when cooked over “curated” charcoal. The charming house nods chunkily to Basque tradition, too, with unfussy interiors of open beams and stonework on display above smartly set tables.
Mountain trout seasoned with lime salt and char-cooked in hot beeswax. It’s all par for the (main) course at this mirror-fronted, futuristic fine-dining restaurant overlooking the river Wien in the Austrian capital. Heinz Reitbauer took over his family’s restaurant in 2005 and has turned it into the finest dining establishment in Austria, with two Michelin stars. Trained under culinary giants of the Joël Robuchon/Anton Mosimann order, Reitbauer presents a menu heavily influenced by the flavours and produce of the Styrian region, which translates perfectly to Steiereck’s leafy location in the Stadtpark, Vienna.
It’s a family affair at Arzak, yet another outstanding restaurant in Spain’s Basque Country. In 1897, the Arzak family set up a tavern in San Sebastián. Today this world-famous restaurant is run by grandson Juan Mari Arzak, who has created a three-Michelin-star restaurant, along with his daughter, Elena Arzak Espina. Dishes such as cured sweetbreads with prawn-flavoured corn chips are created in the research and development kitchen “lab” before being served in a setting of (gently) industrial panelled walls and dark wooden floors. The wine list runs to over 45 pages.
Azurmendi is worth visiting for the building alone – a glass-walled, stone-floored sensation on a hillside in the Basque Country, amid lush foliage and gnarled trees. Eco-credentials are in place: geothermal energy is used, rainwater reused. The marriage of modern technology and traditional cuisine has earned three Michelin stars; avant garde dishes are so preciously created that ultrasound scans judge the texture. The tasting menu is in sections, from the starter Welcome Picnic with smoked-fish brioche to the finale (dessert) with black olives and cocoa.
With an enviable and eponymous West London address (127 Ledbury Road), The Ledbury is a two-Michelin-starred institution for the residents of Notting Hill and beyond. You are welcomed into the cream-and-brown formal dining room by Australian chef Brett Graham. His memorable menu of British-ingredient dishes, which include the likes of cured mackerel, Celtic mustard, cucumber and shiso, prompted Harden’s Guide to describe his food as “nothing short of genius”.
This hip Paris institution deploys Basque culinary genius courtesy of chef Iñaki Aizpitarte while dispensing with convention. (No menus are available; the no-choice taster changes daily and by the season.) With unusual flavour pairings (think steamed turbot with rhubarb and elderflowers or cherry ice cream with dried capers), Le Chateaubriand has introduced a highly original concept that has sparked imitators across Paris. Aizpitarte has a reputation as something of a brooding genius, much like the great writer who gives his name to the restaurant.
Enrico Crippa’s culinary expertise includes working with the immortal Ferran Adrià and a spell in Japan. His restaurant, Piazza Duomo, is the town of Alba, Piedmont, a region of Italy famed for its truffles. During white-truffle season you’ll be hard-pushed to bag a table. But good for you if you do: his clever dishes include Salad 21…31…41…51… It began with specifically 21 leaves, growing to 31 and so on. Changing according to the season, it is part of the obsessive nature that netted Crippa an enviable three Michelin stars.
Three Michelin stars define Vendôme, on the outskirts of Cologne. Its setting is the grand five-star Schloss Bensberg Hotel, with views of the city’s magnificent cathedral vying for diners’ attention. Of course head chef Joachim Wissler wins the competition, holding their fascination with his own new German cuisine. Technical and creative takes on classics display a deft twist that’s almost artful, with combinations such as sucking pig, grilled green bananas and bean stew.
In the wake of its success, Restaurant Frantzén found itself relocating to three storeys of a revamped 19th-century Stockholm townhouse. Here chef Bjorn Frantzén, whose training included spells in London at Chez Nico and in Paris at Arpège, guides guests through his experiential 10-course menu (and the building). The menu is modern Scandinavian cooking with a dash of Asian, and includes a dish comprising more than 40 types of vegetables grown in the restaurant gardens.
Aqua is the only three-Michelin starred restaurant in Wolfsburg, a city in Lower Saxony, northern Germany. Petrol heads will love the recherche location, rubbing shoulders with the Volkswagen factory. And everyone will adore the restaurant’s setting, in the posh Ritz-Carlton hotel with a nature-inspired interior and a private garden. Chef Sven Elverfeld blends sophistication and simplicity with beautifully presented dishes such as spiced chicken skin with avocado and olive.
The food at Le Calandre in Padua, northern Italy, is a truly family affair, rooted in Italian classics, which are prepared with immaculate precision; for flavours, think sublime, spherical almond mozzarella, an explosion of almond milk and basil. This precision-honed preparation extends to the glass- and tableware line, created by the restaurant itself. Opened in the 1980s by Rita and Ermino Alajmo, the restaurant is run now by their sons, including Max, who at 28 became the youngest chef ever to earn three Michelin stars.
On the other side of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, diminutive Astrance is a self-willed, very special establishment. Not a place to fuss about menus, it has gained three Michelin stars for chef Pascal Barbot who, immaculately, combines French, Australian and South Pacific influences in dishes such as a starter of button mushroom and verjus-marinated foie gras, hazelnut oil and roasted lemon paste. His training included stints at Arpège and in the French Navy, so he’s more than prepared for any eventuality.
Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms
Forget fuddy-duddy notions at this 15th-century restaurant with rooms, set in a North Wales country retreat once owned by Queen Victoria – chances are, you’ll be dining to the beat of The Prodigy or the Arctic Monkeys. On the edge of Snowdonia National Park, it attracts guests as much for its menus as its bedrooms. Chef Gareth Ward has one Michelin star but can expect at least one more for his original 19-course tasting menu mixing Japanese flavours and Welsh produce: sample his signature Welsh Wagyu beef. The experience lasts four hours, as you savour the fruits of his techniques, from ageing, pickling and foraging to salting and preserving.
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