These are the world’s best food destinations according to the world’s best chefs, the places they said provided their fondest food memories and favourite eating experiences, from markets they loved to memorable meals. These are the countries where the best chefs most love to eat.
As the 2017 World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards are rapidly approaching – they’re being announced in Melbourne on 5 April, and we’re going to be there (we’re also going to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival again!) – I thought it would be fun to feature this post again on the world’s best food destinations according to the world’s best chefs.
In 2014, I approached all 100 chefs helming the kitchens of the finest dining establishments on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – it actually runs to 100 restaurants; there is a separate 51-100 list – to find out what their favourite food experiences were for a story for CNN Travel. I managed to get hold of all but a handful of chefs, however, the timeliness of the story passed so I tried again in 2015 and finally heard from all but a few.
After the 2016 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list was announced, I thought it might be fun to compile their reflections a little differently as so many chefs had named the same destinations as the sites of their favourite food experiences. So I did the math and identified the world’s best food destinations according to the world’s best chefs.
World’s Best Food Destinations According to the World’s Best Chefs
These are the world’s best food destinations according to the world’s best chefs, starting with the country most named for its phenomenal food…
Japan tops the lists of best food destinations for many of the world’s best chefs. For some chefs, the country’s gastronomic cities and towns are unsurpassed, from Okinawa, which chef Yoshihiro Narisawa believes is unrivalled for its culinary traditions to the mountain town of Hirakata, which Hajime Yoneda recommends for its incredible wild plants and berries.
Many chefs nominated individual restaurants as providing sufficient reason to get on a plane. For Albert Adria, Tokyo’s Restaurant Umi comes close to perfection. Alinea’s Grant Achatz reckons Kyoto’s Kitcho is like no other restaurant in the world. Sepia’s Martin Benn loves Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa’s whimsical take on tradition at Den. Tokyo’s Ishikawa and Matsukawa (Akasaka 1-11-6, Roppongi) are special places that feel like home for Joshua Skenes of Saison. Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Etxebarri nominated Nihonryori RyuGin for its high quality produce, while Nihonryori RyuGin’s Seiji Yamamoto named Maru Yasu (7-6 Koushien Ichibancho, Nishinomiya City) as the best restaurant for tasting the blow fish ‘fugu’.
For other chefs, its about culinary experiences. St John’s Fergus Henderson said few things beat savouring sushi on Tokyo’s Ginza in the hands of a master, while Esperanto’s Sayan Isaksson cited a shabby little izakaya in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, which served up funky okonomiyaki and icy beer, as being responsible for his most memorable experience. Observing the making of yuba in a wooden pool in Kyoto stuck in the mind of Helena Rizzo of Maní, while Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugartiz can’t forget a chilly morning at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, for the chance to get close to exquisite produce as much as for the steaming bowl of ramen that warmed him up afterwards.
Many of the chefs said Spain and its cities, restaurants, markets, and produce had provided their best gastronomic experiences, particularly the Basque Country’s San Sebastian and Bilbao. Chef Rasmus Kofoed of Geranium restaurant went as far as to say that if you love food, all your heart’s desires are in San Sebastian.
Kofoed adores everything from the old town’s pinxtos-bars to Mugaritz’s “extreme creativity” and Asador Etxebarri’s “amazing flavours”. Mugaritz and Asador Etxebarri were two restaurants named again and again as reasons to travel to Spain. Ashley Palmer-Watts of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal raved about Chef Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Etxebarri’s dishes that often only showcase a single ingredient, “preserving ancient cooking techniques using carefully selected firewood”. For Paul Pairet it was about the “the essential perfection of naked food wrapped with smoke”. Pairet also loved Mugaritz for the “simplicity and elegance” with which chef Andoni Aduriz “interprets ingredients”.
Dan Hunter of Brae, who was head chef at Mugaritz for some years, named the Basque Country as his favourite food destination for its small local markets, produce (wild mushrooms, jamon, cheeses, fresh fruit and veg), providores (La Bretxa, Don Serapio and Solbes in San Sebastian), iconic restaurants (Etxebarri, Mugaritz, Arzak, Azurmendi) and the pintxo bars of Bilbao and San Sebastian. Zuma’s Rainer Becker rated the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s Nerua as a favourite, while Nerua’s chef Josean Alija said Bilbao’s pintxo bars were a source of inspiration.
Quique Dacosta’s Mikel Ponce nominated San Sebastian’s pintxo bars, Sevilla’s tapas bars, Valencia’s Mercado Central, Mugaritz and Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca as delivering memorable experiences. Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns said Aponiente in Cadiz was his favourite restaurant for chef Ángel León’s seafood-based cuisine while Juan Mari Arzak of Arzak named restaurant Akelarre for chef Pedro Subijana’s food.
China and Hong Kong
Mainland China and Hong Kong were two of the world’s best food destinations for many chefs, particularly European chefs who had made Hong Kong their home. Umberto Bombana of 8½ Otto E Mezzo Bombana cited Cantonese cuisine as his favourite because of its long history and precise cooking techniques. Chef Richard Ekkebus of Amber reckons Hong Kong has one of the most amazing dining scenes in the world, where “every food culture is represented at its very best”. He loves Cantonese restaurant The Chairman (18 Kau U Fong, Central) for “bringing old family recipes to life” and the pride with which they use ingredients.
Many chefs said eating specific dishes at particular restaurants comprised some of their favourite food experiences. South Korean chef Yim Jung-sik of Jungsik named the roasted chicken at Golden Leaf for its unbelievably crispy skin and juiciness. Chan Yan Tak of Lung King Heen nominated a small, local, 50 year-old eatery Man Sing Cafe (16 Wun Sha Street, Tai Han) for its signature steamed-pork patty tower with salty egg. Chef Tim Raue of restaurant Tim Raue who travels to Hong Kong several times a year, said the first place he goes is Tm Ho Wan (Shop 8, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon) for superb dim sum followed by a trip to the market for ingredients. Jonnie and Thérèse Boer of De Librije love Hong Kong’s Yardbird for its yakitori.
Italy counts as one of the world’s best food destinations for many chefs, including its own, for its fantastic produce, markets and restaurants. Massimo Bottura, the chef helming this year’s number one restaurant, Osteria Francescana, loves his country’s markets, including Modena’s Albineli Market, which offers up some of Italy’s finest products, and Manzini for its fresh produce, cold cuts, condiments, anchovies, and spices.
Christian F. Puglisi of Relae restaurant recalled his first pizza research trip to Campania, Italy, and driving south of Napoli to Paestum and Tenuta Vannulo where he sampled the “most incredible organic buffalo mozzarella you can imagine”, surrounded by fields of buffalo. Brett Graham of The Ledbury nominated a little restaurant in Montalcino in Tuscany, Boccon di Vino, for the onion soup made by the owner’s father to the same recipe everyday.
Le Calandre’s Massimiliano Alajmo praised the spaghetti con le patelle (a coastal mollusk) at Il San Pietro di Positano and lunch in Florence at Faith Willinger’s kitchen for “some of the most authentic Italian food made with the most high-quality and hard-to-come-by ingredients”. Hedone’s Mikael Jonsson recommended the markets of the Italian Riviera (and French Riviera) for the diversity of produce, recalling a visit to Longo Saverio, a fishmonger at Ventimiglia’s market where he experienced a flavour explosion “to die for” after chewing into fresh, raw gamberoni, shells, heads, and all.
As expected, France remains a favourite eating destination with chefs. Paul Pairet of Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet named Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV restaurant for being responsible for “moonlike moments”, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park said a goat farm and restaurant in Provence, Ferme Auberge Le Castelas, was the location of one of his most memorable dining experiences, recalling the delicious food, simply prepared and served communally – in the company of the goats that roamed about the property.
Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert said he tries to visit the market in Nice’s old town every spring for “the smells, the colours and the taste of the produce – it is just so fresh and gorgeous”. Julien Royer, formerly of Singapore’s Jaan, now chef-owner of Odette, said he enjoys his best food experiences in his hometown of Cantal in the countryside of Auvergne at the end of spring and beginning of summer, when his family’s garden is at its peak. He also loves discovering local markets “to ‘feel’ the soul of food”.
The USA was nominated not for its fine dining restaurants. Chefs counted its taquerias, diners and delicatessens as being responsible for some of their most memorable meals with fried chicken, bagels and barbecue ribs making it one of the best food destinations.
Attica’s Ben Shewry recalled a west coast road trip from San Diego to Santa Cruz, stopping at taquerias. He said “the generosity and humility” of the taco stands, small restaurants, and food trucks was for him “a poignant reminder that sometimes the most delicious food can cost as little as $1”. The Clove Club’s Isaac Mchale said his most amazing time was at the Fremont Diner in Sonoma County where he washed down fried chicken and a Reuben (sandwich) with a Coke – “a great all American experience”. Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad named Russ & Daughters as a special place for its deep roots in New York’s culinary and cultural history of New York, and the smoked and cured fish as “some of the best around”.
Coi’s Daniel Patterson cited eating a bucket of ‘steamers’, steamed soft-shell clams, on the Massachusetts’ coast, “outside, where I can listen to the sound of the ocean”, and recommended the Back Eddy in Westport. Estela’s Ignacio Mattos said one of the best places he’d ever been was Gjusta at Venice Beach, California, for its “mind-blowing warehouse space” and “overwhelming” menu with breakfast dishes, sandwiches and rotisserie plates. He said the porridge waffle was a standout. Fergus Henderson, who nominated the ribs at Martin’s BBQ joint in Nashville, was the only chef to name an American fine diner as provided a memorable meal, and it was The French Laundry on a glorious summer evening.
For a handful of chefs, Thailand was one of the world’s best food destinations for produce, markets and street food especially. Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi said he loved the street food culture of Thailand, especially in Bangkok and Phuket, where he has his restaurant Aziamendi. He said it made him happy to see “societies where daily life revolves around food and people enjoy meals together each day, sitting outside around the same table with strangers”.
David Thompson of Nahm nominated his favourite street food eatery, 40 year-old Nai Mong Hoi Nang Tort (539 Thanon Phlapplaachai, off Charoen Krung Road, 02 623 1890), known as ‘the oyster omelette house’, which he said does the best oyster omelette. Bertrand Grébaut of Septime said his all-time favourite food experience was eating milk fed pork in Bangkok, which had been poached, dried and caramelised over fire, then served like Peking duck. He said eating that sort of dish “can create emotions as great as the best dish you could eat at one of the restaurants on the List”.
Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca recalled the “exuberant local products, the smell of the fruits, the durian perfume, (and) fantasy textures” of Krabi market, along with “the fragrance of fermented shrimp paste, the rich variety of curries, coconut and coriander”, while Christopher Kostow of Restaurant at Meadowood cited the experience of scootering around Koh Samui, stopping at noodle stands along the way, his wife determining where to stop based on the smells as they drove by.
For chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda, who has been travelling to Singapore for 20 years, and has his restaurant Waku Ghin, there, the island-state is a “rich gastronomic hub”. He said he loves the food culture, which for Singaporeans is a national sport. He named his favourite spot, Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut The (58 Seng Poh Road) for an authentic, herbal pork rib soup for breakfast, and also the local coffee shops in the old Singapore neighbourhoods.
Other chefs named the hawker centres as being a reason they loved the city. David Muñoz of Restaurant Diverxo cited two hours feasting on everything from chilli crab to beef kway teow at Newton Food Centre (500 Clemenceau Ave North, Newton) as providing “one of the most unforgettable gastronomic experiences of my life”. Margot Janse of The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français agreed that Newton was special and said one of her favourite dishes was yong yau foo, while St John’s Fergus Henderson nominated a bowl of tripe and noodles at Lavender Food Square (195 Lavender Street).
Mexico’s markets and street food, particularly in Oaxaca, make it one of the world’s best food destinations for a handful of chefs, including Noma’s Rene Redzepi, who said the greatest market he’d ever visited was Oaxaca’s Mercado de Abastos. The “mind-blowing diversity of ingredients” impressed Redzepi, along with hundreds of food stalls serving “seasonal drinks, tacos, and the crunchiest chicharrónes (fried pork rind)”.
Mexican chefs agreed. Pujol’s Enrico Olivera named the Sunday market at Tlacolula in Oaxaca as his favourite for “the smells, colours and people”, which were all “almost too beautiful to be true”.
Biko’s Mikel Alonso loved going to the market during the first rains of the year for the different varieties of insects (chapulines, chinicules, hormigas) and Chicatana’s Mole, made with giant flying ants, which can be sampled at Restaurant Pitiona with rib eye and hand-made tortillas, washed down with a good local mescal.
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom – no, not just London – was named as one of the best food destinations by some of the world’s best chefs. Peter Gilmore of Quay said visiting Borough Market was one of his favourite things to do for the quality and variety of produce, which he found inspiring, while Thomas Keller of the French Laundry is a fan of the city’s restaurants.
Keller loves St. John restaurant, where he said chef Fergus Henderson has refined “simplicity to the highest level” and Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill where chef Richard Corrigan has “exemplified what a true oyster bar should be”. For St John’s Fergus Henderson, one of his favourite things to eat was an urchin fresh from the sea, from a good fishmonger, anywhere around the British Isles.
The Rest of the Best Food Destinations
These are some of the other countries that the world’s best chefs named as their favourites when it comes to food.
A handful of Peruvian chefs reckon Peru is the world’s best food destination. Central’s Virgilio Martinez Veliz praised the native Andean cooking near Cusco, Gastón Acurio and Diego Muñoz of Astrid y Gastón recommended the huariques (small hidden restaurants) and cebicherias (ceviche vendors) of Lima while Maido’s Mitsuharu Tsumura said Arequipa’s cuisine made by the women who cook in picanterias (traditional restaurants) was “mindblowing”.
Chef Thomas Keller of Per Se said that while there’s much to love about Australia, the food was “a huge draw”. He said he was enthralled by Neil Perry’s cooking and that the date tart at Rockpool was the best tart he’s eaten in his life.
Vila Joya’s Gebhard Schachermayer said few things are better than Vienna’s Naschmarkt while Steirereck’s Heinz Reitbauer nominated the Noah’s Ark seed savers association’s Bio-Jungpflanzen Markt in Schiltern, which attracts organic farmers and gardeners for its rare seeds, plants and homemade products.
Turkish-Finnish chef Mehmet Gürs of Mikla in Istanbul nominated the food of the Finnish Archipelago, where his family spends their summers, and specialties such as “hot smoked flounder right out of the smoker with a nice beer”.
Tae Hwan Ryu of Ryunique nominated Jeju Island for its fantastic produce, ranging from seafood such as shellfish and sea urchins, and fresh fruit, from mandarins to mangoes and mandarins.