Jah Izakaya and Sake Bar, Copenhagen
Japanese and Korean restaurants are taking over Copenhagen at the moment, fusing New Nordic philosophies with the food of east Asia. Opened in 2018, Jah Izakaya, on a street near the meatpacking district, is an unpretentious, fun and inviting Japanese-inspired gastropub. It serves gyoza, tonkatsu, Danish squid and a fabulous beef car
paccio that can be washed down with tankards of lager or bottles of sake, and is soundtracked with reggae.
From about 210 kroner (£25) for three small plates, jahizakaya.dk
Pomle Nakke, Horbelev
Recommended to me by a Danish friend, this airy spot on a clifftop overlooking the Baltic was a traditional family-run restaurant that has been reworked into something more refined by the owners of the Danish chain Sticks’n’Sushi. About a 90-minute drive south of Copenhagen, it’s in an untouristy region that is now coming into its own. After a morning on the fossil-strewn beaches nearby, a lunch of Danish oysters, locally caught scallops, cod and kimchi goes down well under the beech trees.
Set four-course menu 495 kroner (£58), falsterskyst.com LH
La Lanterna di Diogene, near Modena, Emilia Romagna
Named after a Cynic philosopher, this working farm and restaurant in the village of Solara takes locavore very seriously. The pickled vegetables are grown steps from the table, flour for the tortellini in brodo is milled nearby, and pork ribs come from the heritage breed of pigs they raise. Even the balsamic vinegar drizzled over frittatas and ricotta flans is made right here, using centuries-old practices. I always make a detour for La Lanterna when visiting nearby Modena, and ensure I’m not the designated driver so I can enjoy the encyclopedic list of dry Lambruscos, also made locally.
Mains from €15, lalanternadidiogene.org
Katie Parla, author of Food of the Italian Islands
Trattoria Da Cesare al Casaletto, Rome
Cesare al Casaletto is on the ground floor of a residential building a 30-minute tram ride from Rome’s historic centre. The distance does nothing to dissuade devotees such as me, who come for flawless versions of cucina romana, with an elevated yet affordable wine list. My go-to order is a parade of fried starters such as gnocchi on a pool of cacio e pepe sauce, aubergine croquettes and simmered beef meatballs. The half-rigatoni with oxtail sauce and pecorino cheese and fried lamb chops tie for my favourite dishes in town.
Mains from €12, trattoriadacesare.it KP
La Marina, Ponza
La Marina is built into the weathered volcanic terrain of Cala Feola, a natural harbour with a narrow sand beach on the island of Ponza (reached by ferry from Naples or Rome). After a morning swimming in pristine water, I love to cruise over to Cala Feola to tie my dinghy to the rocks beside the restaurant’s shaded terrace then enjoy a lazy lunch of parmigiana made with prickly pear paddles, anchovies spiked with vinegar, linguine with spiny lobster, and mixed fried fish. The food is prepared by a barefoot cook and served on tables overlooking the sea. The best dessert is a nap on the beach among the sunning ponzesi.
Mains from €16, no website, +39 338 648 6110
Antica Trattoria di Pietro Dal 1934, Melito Irpino, Campania
The Di Pietro family cook soulful dishes from Campania’s Irpinia region, a place so ancient the locals call themselves Samnites, after a pre-Roman tribe. My order begins with a huge spread of regional starters such as frittata, salami made from local nero casertano pigs, and fried courgette flowers. I always follow this up with handmade cicatelli pasta with a bright tomato sauce spiked with a minty local herb, then roast grass-fed lamb. I pair it all with an age-worthy white wine like those that have enticed connoisseurs to Irpinia for the better part of two millennia, or a pleasantly fruity red made by the proprietors’ son.
Mains from €13, on Facebook KP
Osteria Il Principe e Il Pirata, Pantelleria
At the eastern edge of Pantelleria, a Sicilian island visible from Tunisia, Osteria Il Principe e Il Pirata serves dishes merging flavours from volcanic land and tumultuous sea in specialties such as spaghetti with tuna bottarga, fennel and pistachio, and busiate pasta with sardines, fennel, raisins, pine nuts and fried breadcrumbs. Set among terraced vineyards cascading to the sea, the restaurant’s dining room in grey stone and powder blue tiles is my favourite place to eat bacio pantesco, the island’s signature sweet of ricotta-filled fried pastry sells.
Mains from €17, ilprincipeeilpirata.it KP
Au Vieux de la Vieille, Lille
There’s a particular kind of restaurant in northern France, the estaminet, that dates from the days when coal miners would gather for post-shift banter and beer. While the mines are long gone, the estaminets remain, and Au Vieux de la Vieille is one of the best in Lille. It offers a menu of local classics: beef carbonnade, made with beer and gingerbread; potjevleesch (four meats in aspic jelly – better than it sounds); and dishes using the local stinky cheese, maroilles. The decor is as much a part of the experience as the food, with dried hops, shelves of bric-a-brac and rustic wooden tables and chairs. Booking essential.
Mains from €12.10, estaminetlille.fr
In a city known for its carnivorous tendencies, it’s a joy to find a chef who is more in thrall to vegetables than beef. Chef Romain Corbière has worked in some of the best restaurants in France, but returned to Bordeaux to open a bijou restaurant, which he calls an auberge urbaine, with his sister Marie-Zéphirine and her husband, Bertrand Arnauld. The menu reflects the seasonal produce available at markets, with vegetarian or vegan options de rigueur, and all paired with superb regional wines. The relaxed-feeling, wood-floored dining room is adorned with vegetable artworks.
Three-course lunch from €31, dinner from €55, zephirine.fr CB
La Table d’Élise, Noirmoutier, Vendée
For all the flavour and less of the frippery, seek out bistros owned by France’s top chefs. The best I’ve found is La Table d’Élise, from renowned chef Alexandre Couillon, who is passionate about the island on which he grew up. Noirmoutier, off France’s west coast, is blessed with some of the best produce in the country. The menu includes fish landed that morning and vegetables that thrive in the seaweed-fertilised soil. With its wood panelling, fishing nets and ships’ brass, the decor is charmingly olde worlde and its front window opens out towards the harbour, which is surprisingly attractive at sunset.
Mains from €18, alexandrecouillon.com CB
Chez Mattin, Ciboure, Basque Country
Across the harbour from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, one of my favourite food-loving towns, is the village of Ciboure. It’s a warren of sleepy lanes and red or green timber-framed Basque villas. Chez Mattin is an institution in these parts, established in the 1970s, where chef Michel Niquet continues the family tradition and cooks fish caught that morning. The choice of dishes is announced to the dining room at the start of each course by Niquet’s wife, Céline, and the signature dish is Ttorro (€30), a Basque fish stew with juicy langoustines.
Mains from €21, chezmattin.fr CB
A Choumas’, Le Puy-en-Velay, Haute-Loire
Sometimes the best meals come by accident: a late arrival or a hasty dinner at the restaurant next door to the hotel. This was how I came to sit in a corner of the cosy, wood-beamed A Choumas’ in Le Puy-en-Velay, in the Haute-Loire department, where two of its vertiginous volcanic peaks are topped with chapel and another with a statue. It’s renowned for its lentils, so I ordered them as a side dish to steak cooked on a grill fired with volcanic stones. For dessert, I had a semifreddo flavoured with another local speciality, verbena liqueur, topped with a layer of chocolate sauce.
Mains from €19, lepuyenvelay-tourisme.fr CB
To Psaraki, Santorini
Produce from milky-white aubergines to peach-sweet cherry tomatoes flourish in Santorini’s volcanic soil, but good food is not always easy to find on the island. Away from the tourist-heavy caldera area, To Psaraki is a clifftop taverna with a handful of check cloth-covered tables in Vlychada, on the island’s southern tip. It may not have such spectacular views (although there are fine vistas of the tiny fishing port below), but chef Thanasis Sfougaris’s brine-fresh seafood dishes (onion and herb-stuffed grilled sardines; cod fillets steamed in white wine and drizzled with a tangy caper sauce) more than make up for the lack of Insta fodder.
Mains from €12, on Facebook
Few give this hole-in-the-wall taverna housed in what was once Zante town’s bus station (stathmos means bus stop) a second glance, but for hearty portions of luscious home-cooked food served up with a big dose of island colour, it can’t be beaten. Stathmos is justly famed for its kouneli stifado – chunks of rabbit marinated overnight in red wine vinegar, flash fried in olive oil and then slow-cooked in a garlicky tomato sauce. It’s a popular spot with locals, so it’s wise to arrive early and bag one of the wonky wooden tables overlooking the street.
Mains from €10, Filita 42, tel +30 2695 024040 HFL
This light-filled restaurant in Lisbon’s Chiado district will probably get a Michelin star – I reckon so anyway – so get in there first. Brilliant but super shy chef António Galapito, who worked with Nuno Mendes in London, has gone off the scale with his cooking on his return to Portugal. All the produce is as local as it can be, but cooked with a punky sensibility and deep skill. I come back every time I visit Lisbon and would eat everything on the menu.
Mains from €9.50, pradorestaurante.com Audrey Gillan
Alameda, Faro, Algarve
A love letter to the Algarve is the theme for Rui Sequeira’s tasting menu at this funky restaurant in Faro’s old town. Produce from the coast and the mountains is key to what Sequeira says is “an authentic ode to the gastronomic tradition of our region”, with dishes that hark back to his childhood. I love that this is haute cuisine without the fuss or the wallet-busting prices. There are takes on traditional Algarve dishes, such as cataplana (pork and seafood stew) and piri piri chicken.
Mains from €22.50, 10-course love letter to the Algarve menu €89, (vegetarian option available), restaurantealamedafaro.com AG
Everyone I’ve sent to this little restaurant adores it. It’s stylish and warm, and the dishes do a dance between Portuguese classics and ones with a culinary twist, thanks to the ideas chef João Cura picked up while travelling in Asia with his wife Sofia, the restaurant manager. Main courses include the stalwart goatling oven rice, with giblets bringing an intensity of flavour, and an unforgettable dessert of sweet curry, coconut, mango and lime. The “10 moments” menu offers a taste of the best dishes and there’s a great-value set lunch for €10.50, with bread, starter, main course and a soft drink.
Mains from €18.50, 10 moments menu €80, (vegetarian option available), almejaporto.com AG
Gadanha, Estremoz, Alentejo
My pal, Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes (owner of London’s Lisboeta), sent me to this great wee place years ago. He waxed lyrical about a puff pastry of partridge and a sopa fria – cold tomato soup dressed with strawberry, prawn and basil ice. This is a casual restaurant and shop, but the cooking is among some of the best in the Alentejo region. It’s not fancy, but what it does, it does more than well. Standouts are fried croquettes of veal or lamb and the classic peixinhos da horta “little fish of the garden” – a tempura green bean.
Mains from €14.50, merceariagadanha.pt
De Zuidkant, Damme
Damme is a village on a sleepy-seeming canal lined with windmills, which I discovered when travelling from Bruges to Knokke-Heist on the Belgian coast. It’s renowned for its food, and the medieval high street is lined with bistros, but I always book a table at De Zuidkant, a relaxed diner (though it has a Michelin star). Chef Patrick van Hoorn, cooking in a tiny open kitchen, subtly combines local ingredients – such as smoked eel and white celery with foie gras or line-fished mackerel, swede and strong cheese.Four-course tasting menu €90, restaurantdezuidkant.be John Brunton
De Gebrande Winning, Sint-Truiden, Flanders
Far from the chic, gourmet dining scene of metropolitan Brussels, rural East Flanders offers fruit orchards, vineyards and craft breweries, which partly explains why the market town of Sint-Truiden has a cosy tavern that has become a shrine for lovers of beer and food. Chef Raf Stimorol is inspired by his grandmother’s traditional recipes, using seasonal produce complemented by the beers that he cooks with: hearty dishes like pork braised in rich red-brown beer or North Sea turbot baked with fresh hop flowers. My choice is the beer pairing menu, though there are 600 labels on the brew list!
Two-course lunch €27, four-course tasting menu €55, or €79 with beer pairing, degebrandewinning.be
De Dagvisser, The Hague
The Netherlands isn’t famed for its fine cuisine, but when I moved to Scheveningen (near The Hague) more than a decade ago I was thrilled to find the seafood often excellent. One of my favourite early discoveries was De Dagvisser restaurant, next to where the fishing boats moor. If I’m on a budget, I’ll stick to simple dishes like cod and chips, but pricier options include fresh oysters and mussels from Zeeland. After eating, the lovely beach is nearby for a digestive walk.
Two-course Love of the Sea menu €21.50, dedagvisser.nl
A few years ago, the former shipbuilding area of Amsterdam, known as NDSM, was largely derelict. It has now been reinvented, with new bars and restaurants. I particularly like Pllek, which calls itself “the biggest green restaurant in Amsterdam” and is in a greenhouse-like building on the waterfront. On summer evenings, I’ll take the free ferry over from the centre of town and order something from a menu that is eclectic and hearty, including fried cod salad, vegetable tajine and wild boar stew with gingerbread.
Mains from €20.50, pllek.nl BC
Oh Panama, Berlin
As the swish, art-filled interior suggests, this Berlin spot is not in thrall to tradition. The creation of entrepreneur Ludwig Cramer-Klett, it’s a concept restaurant that draws inspiration from a 1970s German children’s travel-themed book, the menu taking German cuisine on a journey to exotic places. Familiar ingredients such as Arctic char, saddle of lamb and goulash are remixed into a changing carousel of fusion dishes elevated by creative sauces and sides such as ember-roast potatoes, chicory with hazelnut, and fermented vegetables. Artworks are by Alicja Kwade, Kerim Seiler and Julius von Bismarck, and there are cocktails at the restaurant’s Tiger Bar.
Mains from €23, set menus from €65, oh-panama.com
Obere Mühle, Bad Hindelang, Bavaria
In a mountain setting in the Oberallgäu region, near the Austrian border, the “Upper Mill” is in a former saw mill and manages to be both rustic and refined. The restaurant (and guesthouse) opened in 1989 and has been the domain of head chef Oliver Egger ever since. Bavarian and German classics, with ingredients hunted in forests and plucked from gardens are traditional and elegant, much like the interior. Tasteful antiques mix with dilapidated walls and a mesmerising painted ceiling. Every dish is worth trying, but the three kinds of organic lamb: roast, oriental, and with creamy polenta (€34), are memorable. There’s also a museum and organic cheese dairy on site.
Mains from €19, set menu from €60, obere-muehle.de PS
La Fresca, Kroměříž, Zlín
Kroměříž, a baroque castle town in the Zlín region, is a gem in the south-east of the country. Its main square, a cobbly quadrangle of pastel facades, is delightfully Czech, and is best viewed from the terrace of the town’s flagship restaurant, La Fresca. The menu is big on traditional hunting plates, such as venison served with chanterelle mushrooms and fallow deer leg in creamy sauce with a dollop of cranberry. The restaurant is also a swish-but-cosy hotel, so it can be just a short trudge from dining room to bed.
Mains from 230 koruna (about £9), lafresca.cz
Aiyanna, Playa de Cala Nova, Ibiza
Turquoise sea and wafting palms, sofas and laid-back tunes, beautiful people and food made of leaves and flowers and fish … if AI designed an ideal Ibiza lunch spot, it might be Aiyanna, on a fairly wild beach near Santa Eulalia. With a wide variety of greenery from their organic garden and sharp flavour pops, the food is fresh and healthy. Lunch might be artichoke flowers with feta and mint, or mussels in lemongrass, and a few mojito sorbets. Great location plus excellent food is never going to be a budget option on Ibiza, but with mains from about €20 this place is worth it.
Fuentelgato, Huerta del Marquesado, Castile-La Mancha
On a foodie pilgrimage to Cuenca, Spain’s Capital of Gastronomy for 2023, it’s worth going go the extra mile (well, about 40 miles through the rocks and pines of the Serranía de Cuenca) to this outpost of alta gastronomía. Young chefs Alejandro Paz and Olga García, both in their 20s, offer imaginative tasting menus in an old-fashioned family bar with seating for 12. Expect the unexpected: artichoke in game and coffee consommé, pigeon in garum sauce, aubergine ice-cream with chocolate, and milk ice-cream with caviar have all featured. This is special. Book ahead – and fight not to be the designated driver: there’s a cellar of 400 wines you probably won’t have heard of, and a long drive back.
Seven-course tasting menu from €50, restaurante.covermanager.com SD
Espacio Eslava, Seville
I’ve never been less than deliriously happy here, sitting at an outside table with a view of the church, a chilled manzanilla to hand, working through creative and affordable tapas and raciones with friends. This place is an institution in the San Lorenzo district: the modern feel belies its 35 years, and it’s the weekend venue of choice for ebullient sevillanos. There are ribs, carrillada (braised pork cheek) and beef tataki with ginger for meat-lovers, but the seafood dishes – razor clams in lemon, fried sea anemones and boquerones (anchovies) – are the star attraction.
Tapas from €3, raciones from about €12, espacioeslava.com SD
Vista Alegre, Colunga, Asturias
A table shaded by a white umbrella on the terrace of a laid-back, child-friendly restaurant above sandy La Griega beach and close to dinosaur stuff in the Jurassic Museum? Yes please. Add an ice-cold glass of cider and it doesn’t matter what’s on the menu, but the chipirones fritos (battered squid) seafood on the grill, paella, and fish straight from nets hauled into neighbouring Lastres are consistently good and fairly priced. In colder months, savour its award-winning fabada (pork and bean stew) in the elegant sea-view dining room. It’s open for lunc h only until July.
Mains from €16, restaurantevistaalegre.com SD
Casa González, Madrid
A more vivacious sister to the old ultramarinos (grocery shops) with their barrels and bacalao, this glorious 1930s glass-fronted deli in Las Letras district (open till 11pm) has tables tucked into corners, a good-natured lively bustle and exceptional wines. There are many variations of French and Spanish cheese and charcuterie plates to share, from €13, along with toast and patés, salads and stews (just the cheese is irresistible).
Small plates from €7, casagonzalez.es SD
Casey’s Baltimore Room, County Cork
With its scrubbed timber flooring, nautical decor and ocean breezes, the Baltimore Room has a quarterdeck vibe that offers commanding views over Roaringwater Bay, which is home to the restaurant’s own shellfish farm. Despite the pared-back, easygoing elegance inside, owners Dominic Casey and the family work hard to make sure their food is in season and fresh. Scallops are farmed early in the season, while summer brings mussels and prawns. Other offerings include sirloin steak, black sole, crab claws and a seafood tasting plate. An onsite micro-brewery keeps craft beer aficionados (and lesser species like me) happy with Sherkin Lass pale ale and Roaring Ruby dark red ale.
Mains from €18, caseysofbaltimore.com
JP Clarke’s, County Clare
Despite its strawberry and butterscotch painted rendering, there’s a distinct flavour of Aspen inside JP Clarkes in Bunratty, with its high ceilings, cream joists and logs stacked by the brick fireplace. It started life as a seafood restaurant and still keeps one oar in the water, with pan seared sea bass or a tasting plate of rock oyster, salmon and crab, but it also offers pork, beef and daily specials. Yes, I’m probably a biased local– JP Clarke’s is close enough to my home for me to hear the changeover of kegs, but it’s the friendly, unflappable service from Barry, Kieran and the team that has brought three generations of my family to their door .
Mains from €14, jpclarkes.ie VOS
25 Ante’s Place, Mljet
Of all of Croatia’s islands, I love the mellow mood of Mljet – and it’s at its friendliest at Ante’s Place, a family-run restaurant overlooking Saplunara Bay on the island’s eastern side. Ana and Ivo Dabelić are the cheerful hosts and cooks, specialising in freshly caught seafood and carrying on the tradition started by Ivo’s father, Ante. With a bit of notice they also serve slow-cooked ispod peke – under a bell-shaped iron pot – and Ivo makes sublime lobster spaghetti. The setting is magical: the sheltered bay is right in front of you and I’ve seen some spectacular sunsets. They’ll offer a free launch service for those arriving by boat.
Mains from £29, pinetreemljet.com
Konoba Šešula, Šolta
Sailors looking for a sheltered mooring will have noticed deeply indented Šešula Bay on the west side this Dalmatian island. And, in particular, the welcoming Konoba Šešula – less than a 15-minute walk from the pretty port of Maslinica, and which offers free moorings. The giant outdoor grill is the star of this laid-back restaurant, where the daily catch, langoustines or squid – and meats are prepared over a wood fire. With a couple of hours’ notice they’ll also do lamb or octopus slow-cooked ispod peke.
Mains from £27, on Facebook MN
26 Concordia Taste, Poznań
At the end of my most recent visit to Concordia Taste, I was so smitten that I was tempted to “do the Poznań” –turn my back on the kitchen and bounce up and down, which is what the local football fans famously do when their team is playing a blinder. Here’s why: the marinated walnuts. And the smoky potato soup. And the quince ice-cream with elderflower vinegar (trust me). And the truffle mayo with toadstool crisps. And the blueberry mustard. And the parsnip flan. And the truffle sauce that pimped up the venison. I’m frothing in remembrance! A bright and airy space with a Scandi-chic vibe make for a very memorable setup. I’ve heard on the grapevine that Poznań has aspirations of becoming the food capital of Poland. It’s going the right way about it. Smacznego!
Mains from 41 zloty (£8), two-course lunch 41 zloty, concordiataste.pl