Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London
It’s out with the new and in with the old at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. The man who made molecular gastronomy famous has taken inspiration for his new restaurant – which has an enviable position in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, overlooking Hyde Park – from 13th- to 19th-century British cookbooks. The recipes, of course, have all been given a dash of the infamous Blumenthal flair (his Fat Duck outside London was, until recently, the World’s Best Restaurant, and still lingers in the top 10) to make them more palatable to 21st-century tastebuds. A starter of Roast Marrowbone (recipe from 1723, served in a bone) – marrow chopped up with parsley, anchovy, breadcrumbs and mace (like nutmeg) – is kept from being overly heavy with a side of pickled vegetables and salad leaves. The Braised Celery main course (c1730) is rich, filling and extremely umami, thanks to the addition of parmesan and cream, with chopped pickled walnuts, apples and onions giving it texture. Desserts are simply to die for, with Tipsy Cake (c1820, not one for teetotallers) served with spit-roast pineapple, while Brown Bread Ice Cream with salt butter caramel (c1827) is presented on a crunchy, oaty wafer with a sprinkling of pear cubes. What Blumenthal and executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts have created here is a historic royal feast you’re unlikely to ever forget, experimenting with old recipes and new methods. It’s not the kind of place you’d eat often – this is hearty fare, with enough calories in one meal to sustain you for a day or more – but is truly a one-off and a refreshing exploration of Britain’s surprisingly diverse and inspirational historical cuisine. Book far ahead, but if you can’t get a table, just rock up on the day. They save a few seats for walk-ins, so you might be surprised at your luck. The three-course £28 lunch menu is amazing value, considering main courses alone average £30.
66 Knightsbridge, London; +44 (0)20 7201 3833, www.dinnerbyheston.com
Rust en Verde, near Cape Town, South Africa
South Africa’s Stellenbosch wine region, about an hour from Cape Town, now rivals Bordeaux and Napa for its epicurean experience. Vineyards line the Hottentot Holland Mountains, and wineries offer drop-by tastings and pre-ordered picnic hampers for laid-back lunches on their lawns. Set back among rose-filled gardens in the Rust en Vrede (Rest and Peace) estate, the former barrel maturation cellar has been transformed into one of Africa’s most innovative dining experiences. Chef David Higgins presents diners with tantalising menus using local, seasonal cuisine, some plucked from the estate’s own gardens. Springbok (a small antelope – the South African national symbol), kingklip (a white fish) and lamb from the Karoo (the nearby semi-desert biome) are paired with surprising accompaniments, such as parsnip, walnut cream, roasted pear and a cocoa nib and coffee crust, in the case of the springbok. But vegetarians can expect a meal to remember, too, with a pear and Reisling risotto cake surrounded with walnuts, split peas and fresh asparagus, or a verdant green-veg soup (whatever’s pulled from the plot that day) enriched by a tangy, herby gruyere custard. Given the quality, at R440 for the four course menu, this is good value for money compared to most of the world’s destination restaurants, especially for one creating such experimental cuisine.
Rust en Vrede Winer Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa; +27 (0) 21 881 3757 www.rustenvrede.com/
Ubuntu, Napa, California
Even if you aren’t an oenophile, it’s worth the trip to California’s premier wine region to sample one of the world’s only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurants. The creative cuisine of Ubuntu beats that of its overhyped neighbour, The French Laundry, by a long shot. Where The French Laundry produces tried-and-tested dishes at sky-high prices, Ubuntu pulls fruit and veg from its own garden daily, then whips up reasonably priced masterpieces that set the tastebuds tingling. Because the menu depends on what’s been plucked from the vegetable patch, you can never tell what the choices will be, but expect creations like Artichoke and lime vichyssoise, with braised beet leaves and a dessert of Smooth, crispy glazed celery root – surprisingly scrumptious. Main dishes are around $18, making this one of the most affordable Michelin-starred meals you’re ever likely to eat.
1140 Main Street, Napa; (707) 251 5656, www.ubuntunapa.com
Yet again securing the number one spot this year in the World’s Best Restaurant List, chef Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant has never been one for playing it safe. Eschewing the critic-pandering technique of Frenchy froths, foams and foie gras, Noma has brought Scandinavian cuisine to international acclaim. With its position on the edge of Denmark, separated from Sweden by a bridge, Noma has plundered Northern Europe’s indigenous ingredients to produce its inimitable dining experience. Daily foraging for mushrooms and other wild foods, along with the day’s catch from The Sound and hearty animals from the region, provides inspiration for the seven-course tasting menu served to all diners. You might start with Scallops and beech nut served with watercress and grains, followed by Pickled vegetables and bone marrow, rounded out with Jerusalem artichoke and marjoram with apple and malt. To secure a table, you’ll need to book three months ahead, but don’t purchase a plane ticket until you have a definite date. This place is so hot, even A-listers struggle to get in. And at seven courses for DKK1,095, you’ll need to either be on business expenses or save up for a meal here – but it’s sure to be one you’ll talk about for years to come.
Strandgade 93, Copenhagen; +45 3296 3297, www.noma.dk
Forget Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller. The name on every American gourmand’s lips is Grant Achatz, head chef at mega-feted Alinea in Chicago. What Achatz achieves here is no less than dinner theater – minus the hammy acting and bland buffet food. Instead, you’ll be treated to hamachi (Japanese amberjack) bizarrely yet pleasingly paired with banana, ginger and West Indies spices, and wild mushrooms sprinkled with sumac and stabbed with burning pine needles. The multi-course tasting menu is $195, plus taxes and service, this is another one to save up for. If the drama of Alinea isn’t enough for you, try to get your hands on Chicago’s hottest ticket – a date at Next Restaurant (www.nextrestaurant.com), Achatz’s side project, with a no-choice menu and where persistence is key to secure a much-sought-after table.
1723 North Halsted, Chicago; 312-867-0110, www.alinea-restaurant.com