Travel

On the menu for 2024 … 20 chefs and food writers pick their dream meals across Europe


Devon and Cornwall

A few years ago, visiting Devon in a wet and windy summer, chef Margie Nomura, host of the Desert Island Dishes podcast, stumbled across Beachhouse cafe on a soggy dog walk at South Milton Sands.

“We were lucky to get a table and warmed up with steaming bowls of fresh mussels and the most delicious prawns,” she says. A testament to fresh ingredients and simple cooking, it was “one of those memorable meals where, in the moment, everything was perfect”.

The same owners run a second cafe, Schoolhouse, around the coast at Mothecombe. And this Easter they are launching bedrooms at their new gastropub, Harbour House, in Flushing in west Cornwall, so that’s also on her wishlist for this summer. From February, Great British Menu chef Andrew Tuck is coming in to oversee menus across all three sites.

Andros, the Cyclades, Greece

Seafood at Mèlisses, a luxury guesthouse on the Greek island of Andros Photograph: Lucy Laucht / Melisses

Bre Graham has been plotting her return to Andros in the Cyclades ever since she first visited the island five years ago. “It’s very beautiful and home to a really exciting food scene,” she says. The food editor and writer is planning a return trip this summer to Tou Josef restaurant, to eat roast baby goat with vine shoots and lemon sauce, local goat’s cheese with spiced loquat jam and yoghurt with wild figs. “It’s at the top of a hill, so you drive up winding streets to reach it and you’re rewarded by incredible sunset views and the most delicious food,” she says.

Also on her Andros wishlist is a food retreat run by Allegra Pomilio and Mimi Thorisson at Mèlisses, a luxury guesthouse overlooking the Aegean: “Last time I was there, I stayed on a boat because I was sailing between the Cyclades; but I would not recommend that if, like me, you do not have sea legs.” Instead, Graham dreams of basing herself in one of Mèlisses’ all-white bedrooms and exploring the island from there.

“A friend of mine, Anastasia Miari, wrote a cookbook called Yiayia, which is all about the regional cooking Greek grandmothers do. I would like to live inside the pages of that book. Starting on Andros.”

Piedmont, Italy

Visiting Piedmont’s misty hillsides, vineyards and villages during truffle season is a great foodie experience, according to Dan Keeling, co-founder and editor of Noble Rot restaurants and magazine. “Ancient villages teetering above the rolling Langhe hills give off a distinct Game of Thrones atmosphere,” he says. Keeling likes to go in November, once the season is under way, to taste the new wines from the makers he buys from.

First stop is always Il Centro in the village of Priocca, a family-run restaurant with stylish bedrooms. Keeling cites chef Elide Mollo’s “joyful renditions of local classics”, such as veal tartare, peppers stuffed with tuna, and tajarin (thin tagliatelle) with white truffle, as some of the best in the region. Meanwhile, her son Giampiero Cordello’s extensive collection of barolos and burgundies gives him cellar envy.

Half an hour away, at the “always excellent” wine bar Centro Storico in Serralunga d’Alba, Alessio Cighetti offers a “similarly awe-inspiring” selection, and some of the best charcuterie Keeling has ever eaten. “At least once in your life it’s worth making a trip there to eat a plate of Cighetti’s melt in the mouth, hand-cut Bettella hams,” he says.

Costa de la Luz, Spain

Upmarket tapas at El Faro in Cadiz, Spain

The Costa de la Luz is on the wishlist for cookbook writer Ed Smith: “A two-week trip, with Cádiz at one end, Zahara de los Atunes at the other and a beach in the middle, is my kind of holiday. It’s not an obvious foodie destination like, say, San Sebastián. That adds to the charm.”

He suggests starting in Cádiz: “It’s got history, fantastic architecture, great light and, if you’re self-catering, amazing access to fresh fish via the market. There’s also a very good upmarket tapas place there called El Faro. It does the absolute best tortillitas de camarones [battered shrimp fritters].”

Iris, a boutique hotel in Zahara de los Atunes on Spain’s Costa de la Luz

Across the bay is El Puerto de Santa María, home to the Osborne sherry bodega, and more tapas places. Down the coast, Zahara de los Atunes is known for its tuna fishing and is also home to Iris, a boutique hotel run by London restaurant luminary José Pizarro which offers food experiences. Smith, who is co-author of Welcome to Our Table: A Celebration of What Children Eat Everywhere, says that one of the advantages of eating in local tapas places is that children are welcome: “It’s a good way for kids to try new things – if not the sea urchin, perhaps the tomatoes and bread.”

Sardinia

Cagliari’s San Benedetto market is “incredible”, says Letitia Clark, an illustrator and cookbook author based in Sardinia. Visit and you’ll spot local “caramelly” pecorino and green camone tomatoes, as well as the island’s famous bottarga (salted grey mullet roe) – “delicious if you like fishy things: it’s sort of salty and slightly sweet and bitter at the same time”.

Handmade pasta at Domu Antiga B&B, Sardinia

She recommends staying an hour’s drive inland at four-bedroom B&B Domu Antiga, “run by the enterprising Lai family, who cover all bases, producing natural wine, olive oil, honey and cheese ”. Cookery classes are available, as are set-menu suppers based on what they produce – “maybe fried courgette flowers from the garden and then a pasta dish with some of their own lemons. They also make really nice homemade pickled vegetables, which they serve warm.”

Sometimes there’s meat, sometimes not, but there’s always a traditional dolce – “think almonds and honey”.

Nearby holiday cottage Mario Cesare, run by the Lais’ daughter, Giulia, is also worth staying at “for the breakfast alone”, says Clark, whose book Wild Figs and Fennel will be published in April. She adds: “Giulia gathers blackberries and bakes them into a pie or a cake, which is served under a fig tree with the family’s homemade ricotta and honey.”

Skåne, Sweden

‘Perfect for long lunches’: the waterside restaurant Horte Brygga in Skåne, Sweden

It’s for good reason that the Skåne region of southern Sweden is known as a food destination, says Simon Bajada, a food and travel author and photographer based in Stockholm. “It’s densely concentrated with good places to eat.”

Just outside Skivarp is Horte Brygga, a restaurant by the water’s edge that takes inspiration for its set menu “long lunches” from the surrounding farms. “In summer, you can also get great soft-serve ice-cream at Bee Kind, next door,” Bajada says.

Further east along the coast is Vyn, a new flagship, farm-based operation from chef Daniel Berlin. “I hope the main restaurant will get three Michelin stars,” Bajada says, “but there’s also a more casual food and wine bar where you can just drop in.”

More casual still are the area’s bakeries. “They’re especially good in Skåne,” says Bajada, who recommends Ôrum 119 for pizzas and “amazing” breakfasts, and Gamla Bageriet for “beautiful, typically Swedish buns and breads”.

In Ystad, a town familiar to fans of the Wallander crime series, JH matbar is a neighbourhood bistro that opened a couple of years ago and serves “really good wines and food, including their take on struva, the Scandinavian fried rosette cookies”. Skåne also has some of the best beaches in Sweden.

Manchester

‘Simple, fantastic food’: Another Hand in Manchester

It’s six years since natural wine expert Eoghan Neburagho moved to Manchester, in which time he’s seen it become one of the coolest, most interesting places in the UK for food and drink.

“It’s an absolute culinary powerhouse,” Neburagho says. “Mancunians seem to be particularly receptive to the new casual eating and drinking culture. It’s almost like a chip-on-the-shoulder energy, where it’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, London is great, but we can do it just as good, if not better’. For an Irishman, that resonates. I love it.”

Another Hand, in Deansgate Mews, is a case in point, he says: “The head chef, Julian Pizer, decided to ditch the big restaurants during lockdown and start a deli, which he called 3hands. He went back to basics – great bread, the best local meats and cheeses, and simple, fantastic food.”

The business has since morphed into a restaurant, Another Hand. What makes this especially exciting for Neburagho is that it works exclusively with natural wine: “I love this orange pétillant-naturel [naturally sparkling] wine that’s often on the wine list. It’s made by the Durrmanns family in Alsace, who call it Gaz de Schistes [which means shale gas]. It’s so energetic and effervescent. I’d drink it with almost anything on Julian’s menu.”

Athens

There has been a food culture shift in Athens over the past few years, according to David Josephs, CEO of Panzer’s Deli & Grocery in London’s St John’s Wood: “Since the financial crash the Greeks have had to be creative. There has been an amazing upsurge in young professional chefs bringing a new standard of cooking, modernising Greek cuisine without uprooting it altogether. It’s also happening beyond the capital, but Athens is the real hub.”

He recommends getting a flavour of this at Pharaoh, where natural wines are paired with Cretan-inspired cooking, or at wood fire-focused restaurant and bakery Akra.

At The Foundry hotel, Josephs likes to start the day with breakfast in the rooftop garden that overlooks the Acropolis. The hotel “is a great example of how the city’s neglected old buildings are being turned into something modern and hospitable without losing their heritage”.

No trip to the city is complete without a visit to Mandragora, says Josephs: “If I’m taking a ferry to one of the islands, I always stop at this wonderful deli in Piraeus. They make a lot of what they sell on site and everything is exceptional, from the olives to the special caper hummus. The horta [greens and feta] pie is to die for, as is the manouri cheese from Sifnos. The dried vegetables are more niche, but it’s worth trying them.”

Tsaghkunk, Armenia

Making lavash bread in Tsaghkunk, Armenia

Georgia is deservedly popular with holidaymakers looking to pair wine tasting and walking, but neighbouring Armenia also deserves attention, says food and travel writer Caroline Eden, whose latest book, Cold Kitchen, will be published in May. Churches, music, museums, art and trekking (follow a section of the excellent Transcaucasian Trail or find other routes via the Hike Armenia app) are all on offer, she says. So, too, are incredible food and wine.

At the top of Eden’s list of “really atmospheric places to eat” is the tiny village of Tsaghkunk and the restaurant of the same name, which she dreams of going back to. “It’s not easy to say, and not particularly easy to get to, but if you are interested in local flavours, it is a must in Armenia. The chefs are inventive, foraging in surrounding hills for mushrooms and herbs, and there is a traditional bread house attached, with a clay tonir for making Armenia’s moreish lavash flatbread.”

A visit there makes an excellent side trip from Lake Sevan, or it’s an hour’s drive from the capital, Yerevan. However you arrive, make sure you order the savoury ponchik (similar to a doughnut). It’s this speciality that Eden craves from afar. “Filled with mountain herbs and matzoon [yoghurt], they’re crisp on the outside, soft and deeply savoury inside.

Loch Fyne, Argyll and Bute, Scotland

Rumours of a sauna being built beside its bothies and shepherds’ huts are making cook and food writer Tara Wigley even more determined to return to Inver restaurant, on the shores of Loch Fyne, this year. “I’ve been nowhere else like it,” she says. “It’s such a timeless place, looking out at Old Castle Lachlan. With a cold-water swim followed by a sauna, you would add another dimension to what is already a very sensory experience. You feel so connected to the land through the food there.

“I remember huge langoustines, cultured butter, a panna cotta pudding scented with gorse, and just generally having that sense of terroir that people always associate with France. If you coupled a swim with a sauna and then hit the homemade gin and tonic, you’d almost feel like you were tripping.”

It also feels “a long way from the laundry and children and daily life”, adds Wigley, author of How to Butter Toast: Rhymes in a Book That Help You to Cook. Over a picnic breakfast in your bothy, “you can sit listening to vinyl and pretend that’s what you do every Saturday morning – listen to jazz, drink coffee and eat freshly baked pastries and potted loch crab. They know what they’re doing, for sure.”

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana’s central market. Photograph: robertharding/Alamy

Ljubljana is the place that recipe developer and writer Fliss Freeborn would most like to eat her way around (again) this year. She describes the Slovenian capital as a mash-up of Stockholm, Berlin and Annecy, and recommends starting in the central market, with its “sprawling stands of fruit, vegetables, meat, jams, preserves, herbs and pumpkin seed oil: velvety, dark green and perfect for dipping and drizzling”.

Other reasons to visit include the city’s status as an International City of Vine and Wine – tastings at wine bars and shops “cost a fraction of their French or Italian equivalents”.

Eating out on a budget is also easy. At Druga Violina, a traditional Slovenian restaurant employing people with special needs, “pillowy potato dumplings, sausages and warming stews with creamy polenta cost around €8 per main”.

Another local “must-try” is prekmurska gibanica, a layered cake made with poppy seeds, apples, raisins, walnuts and quark (a type of soft cheese). “You’ll find it in many local bakeries, but for coffee and cake with a view of the whole city, head to the terrace of the cafe at the top of the Nebotičnik building,” Freeborn says.

Elba, Italy

‘Stunning landscape and cuisine’: Elba Island, Tuscany, Italy. Photograph: Stefano Valeri/Alamy

It may be a bit of a mission to get to Elba – you have to travel to Piombino from Pisa or Rome, then take a ferry – but it’s worth it, according to Sophie Allen, senior commissioning editor at Quadrille, which publishes food and drink books. The landscape is stunning and so is the cuisine.

“We try to buy as local as possible, whether it’s from fruit stalls on the roadside, or veg, honey and olive oil from the man next door who has an allotment,” Allen says. “Last year we found Simone, who sells his local wines and vermouth from a little bar set up in his garden. This year we ventured to a new beach, Barbarossa, and found the buzzy Osteria Moresca, where they serve the best fresh anchovies, mounds of spaghetti vongole and local sparkling wine.”

Other recommendations include beachside Emanuel Bar Enfola, “where you can eat exceptional pizzas beneath a huge fig tree”, and evening trips to Portoferraio for ice-cream at Gelateria Gran Guardia. “The ricotta and fig is my all-time favourite,” Allen says.

Auvergne, France

The Auberge de Chassignolles in the Auvergne sources its ingredients from forests, fields and rivers. Photograph: Anne Claire Heraud

Ever since Bristol’s much-loved Bar Buvette closed in 2019, Kym Grimshaw has been dreaming of a trip to Auberge de Chassignolles, the owners’ sister business in France. “I’m hoping this year I’ll finally make it,” says Grimshaw, a food and lifestyle photographer. “I loved Bar Buvette so much, but I comfort myself with the thought that Auberge de Chassignolles will be even better.”

In a sleepy village south of Clermont-Ferrand, the hotel-restaurant serves a seasonally led menu, with ingredients from nearby forests, fields and rivers, and vegetables from its kitchen garden. If Grimshaw had to describe her fantasy French travel experience, it would pretty much be this – “a simple restaurant with tables spilling out on to the village square, a few little bedrooms upstairs, and bikes you can borrow to pedal off to the market.”

She particularly likes places that aren’t too fancy but still have something special about them: “You can’t always put your finger on what that magic is, but it’s to do with hospitality that comes from the heart.”

A really good breakfast also helps, “with local cheeses, great bread and cherries that taste of the sun”.

Vienna and Cobenzl, Austria

A Heuriger (pop-up winebar) near Vienna. Photograph: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy

If you haven’t explored Vienna’s food culture beyond Wiener Schnitzel or Sachertorte, you’re missing a trick says Guardian food writer Felicity Cloake. Visit during the autumn wine harvest and you’ll find the whole city “going mad for wine in a similar way to Oktoberfest in Bavaria”. Street carts sell Sturm, “a still-fermenting grape juice that’s easy drinking”, and Vienna is so small that you can get a bus out to vineyards in the surrounding villages.

“They have these taverns, called Heurigen, that serve special menus during the wine harvest,” Cloake says. “They hang greenery outside to signify that they’ve got the new-season wine in. It’s all very medieval. Quite a lot of the vineyards set up tables among the vines, where you can try the new wines, with cheese and charcuterie and incredible views back across the city.”

In one of the villages, Cobenzl, there’s a design-led cafe, Rondell, overlooking the vines that “has an all-Austrian wine list and a mid-century vibe. If you want something chic, you could go there, but just wandering around Cobenzl and seeing what’s on offer is great. I’d love to go back this year.”

Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

‘What they do is pretty special’: a duck dish at Homestead Cottage in County Clare

“My spiritual food home has always been Italy, but since the pandemic I’ve been looking closer to home for inspiration,” says Aimee Collins, who is co-owner of restaurants Five Little Pigs and The Bear of North Moreton, both in Oxfordshire. This year she’d like to explore Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. “A new place in Doolin called Homestead Cottage, in County Clare on the west coast, is exactly the kind of place I’m searching for now, both in food terms and in what I want from time away.”

What grabs her is how closely the restaurant works with farmers: “It sounds like the simplest way of doing things, but I know from experience that any restaurant that actually manages to make it the backbone of what they do is pretty special.”

The area is also making a concerted effort to bring local food traditions back to life, says Collins. “That’s something I find exciting.”

She is also influenced by Cork-based Max Jones of Up There The Last, a traditional food conservation project. “I’d like to do one of his courses. He does seashore foraging, which I just love as an idea.”

Her coastal road trip would finish with a stay at Native, also in west Cork, a soon-to-open cabin stay linked to a rewilding project. “If you have this farm-first approach to food, you want to stay somewhere with that same ethos,” she says.

Amsterdam

‘Honest plates of the most delicious food’: Restaurant De Mark in Durgerdam, Amsterdam

Iain Ainsworth, founder of food and travel website The Aficionados, has his sights set on Amsterdam, and in particular the Restaurant De Mark, in a new hotel in Durgerdam, on the coast east of the capital.

It may be only 20 minutes from the centre of Amsterdam, but it’s a long way from the starry style of cooking its creators, chefs Richard van Oostenbrugge and Thomas Groot, are better known for, says Ainsworth: “There’s nothing fancy here, just honest plates of the most delicious food.”

Their protege Koen Marees is in charge of an open-fire grill, and he “could get you excited about a tomato. I had one dish called ‘a party of leeks’ and it was a plate of the most gorgeously, delicately charred leeks.”

This is, Ainsworth goes on, the antidote to the kind of dining where “by the time the waiter’s finished explaining what’s on the plate you’re bored and the food’s gone cold. There’s a bit of that Nordic influence – cooking over flame, preservation and pickling put to good use – but also the legacy of the spice trade. The Netherlands has never really been a foodie destination, but that’s changing. Younger chefs like Marees are breaking the mould.”

The misty, escapist setting adds to the magic: “It’s in an old fishing village, close to the water, where the houses were traditionally painted foggy colours so that invaders couldn’t see them.”

L’Etivaz, Switzerland

Cheesemaker La Maison de L’Etivaz in the Swiss Alps

“Visiting cheesemakers absorbs you in local culture,” says cheesemonger Andy Swinscoe, and L’Etivaz in the Swiss Alps is the perfect example: the whole village revolves around the co-operative production of L’Etivaz cheese, using milk from cows still grazed on high-mountain pastures in the summer, following the transhumance tradition. “It’s beautiful,” says Swinscoe, co-owner of The Courtyard Dairy in North Yorkshire. “You can take a scenic train there – the views through the Alps are just amazing – and there’s a little inn in the town, Hotel du Chamois, and you can go hiking, as well as visit La Maison de l’Etivaz to see cheese being made and matured.”

The inn also serves a 100% Etivaz fondue. “After visiting cheesemakers, the last thing you usually want for dinner is a fondue. You’ve been eating cheese and talking about it all day: you don’t necessarily need a big bowl of cheese for dinner.” Swinscoe makes an exception for Etivaz, though: “It’s such a special Alpine cheese.”

Don’t pass up the chance to try the rösti while you’re there, he adds: “It’s a hard thing to beat.”

Brasov, Romania

If people are looking for new flavours this year, they should consider a trip to the Romanian city of Brașov, says food writer Irina Georgescu, whose latest book, Tava, celebrates Romanian baking and desserts. She particularly likes a restaurant called Pilvax, which is run by a Romanian-Hungarian family and brings together all the culinary threads of Transylvania. They work with a community of local artisan producers to reintroduce traditional dishes and ingredients.

“The communist regime really impoverished Romanian cuisine,” Georgescu says. “We ended up eating just pork, polenta and rice. So when a restaurant like this champions these regional and historical recipes, in a modern way, it’s very exciting. Putting these dishes back on the menu starts a conversation about our past and generates a sense of pride that we really need in Romania, especially when it comes to food.”

She describes chef-owner Emese Gábor’s menu as “honest home cooking made at the restaurant level”, and recommends starting with one of the duck dishes – duck leg with red cabbage cooked with sugar, vinegar and bay leaves, perhaps, or an “amazing” soup with duck and tarragon. “When you see tarragon you know that you are in Transylvania,” she adds. “Cross the Carpathian mountains into the south and nobody cooks with tarragon.”

Rhubarb is another very Transylvanian ingredient. When it’s in season from the end of April to the end of June, Pilvax serves a rhubarb cake made with layers of sponge, rhubarb and crisp meringue. “It’s very light and absolutely delicious.”

Puglia, Italy

‘Delicious, fun food, with sustainability at its heart’: the vegetable garden at Masseria Moroseta in Puglia

Puglia’s Masseria Moroseta, just outside Ostuni, is in Xanthe Ross’s sights this summer. The cook and food sustainability advocate heard about the six-bedroom hotel surrounded by an organic olive grove by word of mouth.

“It calls itself a restaurant, kitchen, lab and garden. That piqued my interest,” says Ross. “The kitchen serves a set menu using what it has in the garden, what the chefs are experimenting with and what’s in the bakery. They’re driven by ingredients and sustainability.”

The friend who recommended it to Ross told her to expect the unexpected. “Apparently, you don’t know what you’re getting until you sit down to eat, and the menu changes every day. I really like the fact it relies on daily inspiration. Going to places like this refuels you. It inspires you to be a bit more creative with your shopping, eating and cooking back home.”

The simplicity also appeals: “They have probably been cooking like this for generations, and proving that delicious, fun food, with sustainability at its heart, doesn’t have to be pretentious.”

Lewes, East Sussex, England

Cafe Vegu in Lewes serves vegan versions of Korean dishes

She may be more associated with plant-based Caribbean food, but Esme Carr has a growing passion for Korean cuisine. “Over the past five years I’ve been learning how to cook it, so I’m dreaming of visiting somewhere that makes the real thing,” she says. There’s little chance of a trip to Seoul this year, however, with the demands of her busy Peckham restaurant, Deserted Cactus. Instead, her sights are set on Lewes. “This year it’s all about quick trips where I can get a change of scene and, ideally, try some Korean food. Cafe Vegu in Lewes is right at the top of my wishlist.”

Open for just over a year, the cafe and bakery is part-Korean owned. As well as coffee (which they roast themselves) and Korean-inspired baking, Vegu serves vegan versions of Korean dishes such as bibimbap, bokkeumbap, bulgogi deopbap and manduguk. “They’ve also just started doing evening pop-ups, which makes it a bit easier for us out-of-towners to visit,” says Carr.

Rhiannon Batten is co-author of Rustle Up: One-Paragraph Recipes for Flavour Without Fuss, available from the Guardian Bookshop for £14.95





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