Everyone knows you can enjoy wonderful meals in cities such as Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. But what of other dining destinations, with fabulous dishes that are more likely to be found in casual bars or bistros than in fancy restaurants?
We asked some of the world’s leading chefs about their favourite food cities, from the markets of Ghana in West Africa through the crowded and noisy streets of Kolkata to a tiny island off Auckland, in New Zealand.
Here are their recommendations.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mauro Colagreco is the holder of the title of World’s Best Restaurant at Mirazur, in the south of France. But he still misses the food of his native Argentina. “The country and cuisine are both incredibly close to my heart,” he says. “I often return to La Plata and Buenos Aires to see family and spend time there. In Buenos Aires, I always recommend Parrilla Don Julio, it offers the best Argentinian meat cooked with unparalleled expertise. For brunch or a relaxed lunch, Narda Comedor is comfort food with fresh ingredients.”
British-born Ashley Palmer-Watts is the executive chef of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in London and Melbourne, where he has fallen in love with the dining scene. “Melbourne is great because of the range of types of restaurants,” he says. “They are just so approachable, with good tasty food. My go-to restaurants are Cutler & Co. and MoVida. I love sitting at the bar. Also Marion wine bar, which is run by Andrew McConnell of Cutler. You can have great food, great wine, great service. It is just so easy and diverse.”
“There is amazing street food in Accra,” says chef Selassie Atadika, where she celebrates Africa’s culinary heritage at Midunu. “There is everything from bofrot (donuts) and hausa koko (spiced millet porridge) and waakye (rice and beans) to afternoon snacks of fried yam stick with shito (preserved chili sauce with dried shrimp). Then there is kenkey (fermented corn) in the Osu night market and an ice-cold akpeteshie (a spirit made from palm wine or sugar cane juice) cocktail with live music at the Republic bar.”
Chef Asma Khan of Darjeeling Express in London savours the food of her native Kolkata, or Calcutta as it was formerly known. “There is a unique food experience not to be missed if you are in Calcutta over a weekend: Terreti Bazar on Sun Yat Sen Street. It is fascinating, with Chinese and Indian stalls selling breakfast.” Her other recommendations include Arsalan, Park Circus, for biryani and Shiraz for classic Mughlai. “And no trip is complete without kati roll (kebab). The original place is Nizam’s behind New Market.” (My personal favourite restaurant in Kolkata is Mocambo, which traces its history to 1956.)
Ravinder Bhogal of Jikoni, in London, loves Mumbai for the food. “It’s a mosaic of old and new and such diversity,” she says. She enjoys the vegetarian dishes at places like Shree Thaker Bhojanalay and Swati Snacks; and Trishna or Mahesh Lunch for Maharashtrian seafood. Then there is Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Palace for Japanese. “What is currently thrilling is young chefs like Thomas Zakaria at Bombay Canteen who have traveled the world and worked at big-name restaurants in London and New York.”
French chef Pierre Koffmann is a new convert to Dublin after two visits to Ireland from his London base. “I was amazed by the food,” he says. “And the service is even more impressive. The Irish are so friendly and welcoming. They love eating and drinking and they love life. We went to two particularly good places. Aimsir is a long drive, but it is worth it. Everything was fantastic and the welcome was among the best I’ve had in my life. The GreenHouse was was more classical and the cooking was very good.”
Chef Francesco Mazzei, of Sartoria in London, is a champion of southern Italian cuisine, and picks the Puglian capital of Bari as a favourite dining destination. “Puglia is very fertile, with amazing produce,” he says. “Go to a restaurant like Giampà and you can taste amazing seafood, as well as the pasta and the olive oil. It’s a great city. The cucina povera of the south (of Italy) is finally gaining the respect it deserves overseas. Another favourite restaurant of mine is Lo Scoglio, right near the airport. They cook with passion.”
This city in Michoacán state has been in the news for the wrong reasons — killings by drug gangs. But chef Martha Ortiz, with restaurants in Mexico City and London, says: “I am very proud of being Mexican. I don’t think people should be afraid. Uruapan is not touristic but I have eaten the most delicious mole with Cotija cheese and they use beautiful herbs and make wonderful tortillas. The best food is to be found in the homes of traditional cooks, who welcome visitors though they are not formal restaurants.”
Auckland, New Zealand
Samoan-born chef Monica Galetti, of Mere in London, grew up in New Zealand and picks Auckland as a favourite food city. “Forget the fine dining—you can get that in London,” she says. “It’s a city to go and chill out and enjoy great produce. One place we always eat is called Depot. It’s simple fare and delicious. There’s an open kitchen and you sit at the bar and eat great fish and New Zealand oysters, or simple vegetarian dishes. Or take the ferry to Waiheke island, with all the little cafes near the beach. It is so relaxed.”
Chef Albert Adria of Tickets, in Barcelona, is a big fan of Peruvian cuisine and loves Lima. “You can try so many different styles of Peruvian cooking,” he says. “You can eat very traditional food at cevicherias like Don Fernando, which is unbelievable. Or you can eat sandwiches and very casual food in the markets. But then Lima is also home to some of the very best restaurants in the world, places like Central, Maido and Astrid y Gaston.” (Closer to home in Spain, Adria is also a lover of Cádiz.)
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Shane Osborn of Arcane, in Hong Kong, was impressed by a recent visit to Riyadh. “People there have a very deep love of food and the hospitality is incredible,” the Australian-born chef says. “I loved kabsa, a local specialty cooked with lamb and rice and cardamom flavours. It’s best to eat with the locals.” His enthusiasm is shared by Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who recommends the Mama Noura chain. (Not surprisingly, he’s also a fan of his brother’s Italian restaurant, Fiamma.)
Ljubljana is the pick of Ana Roš, winner of the title World’s Best Female Chef. She welcomes the emergence of a new generation of younger chefs in the Slovenian capital, a two-hour drive east of her restaurant Hiša Franko. “I used to feel very lonely before, but there is a whole new generation discovering Slovenian produce and bringing back regional food,” she says. She particularly admires Gostišče Grič, in the countryside; and TaBar in the city. For classic, it has to be Restavracija Strelec in Ljubljana Castle.
This port in southwest Spain is the pick of Spanish chef Nieves Barragan, of Sabor, in London. She goes there to relax and to enjoy great snacks in small bars and restaurants. “You walk into almost any bar and you can be sure that the food will be tasty,” she says. “You have a glass of sherry and tapas and life is good. I go to Manteca. It is a very old bar and everything is amazing: Sardines, anchovies. You forget the world. Then I go to El Faro. They have amazing seafood and food from the market. It’s heaven.”
San Sebastián, Spain
French chef Helene Darroze, with restaurants in London and Paris, says: “San Sebastián is particular in my heart as I spent my childhood in the Basque Country. San Sebastián is for me the capital of the region’s gastronomy.” She points to the quality of the produce and the range of places to eat, from humble tapas bars to fancy restaurants. Her many favourites include Ganbara, a pintxos (tapas) bar whose signature dish is roasted mushrooms and foie gras, with a confit egg yolk in the middle.
New York-based Daniel Boulud of Daniel is a fan of Minneapolis. “It’s always been one of the top cities but now you are seeing the rise of a whole generation of chefs going back home from New York, from Chicago, from L.A. and Europe. They are opening very cool places. People like Ann Kim at Young Joni, and Jamie Malone at Grand Cafe. And then you have John Kraus, a very, very talented pastry chef with Patisserie 46, which is really special. A good city for food is a city with good companies spending on entertaining.”
San Francisco, U.S.
San Francisco is where Swiss-born Daniel Humm first lived when he moved to the U.S. in 2003. “It really opened up my eyes,” says Humm, whose Eleven Madison Park in New York is a winner of the title World’s Best Restaurant. “I saw chefs working much more freely and it changed how I look at food. It was liberating.” His favourite spots include Swan Oyster Depot, a counter in a fish market, for the freshest seafood. He also loves Cotogna for rustic Italian cuisine. Humm opens Davies and Brook in London on Dec. 9.
Richard Vines is Chief Food Critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines