Beach Shack In Thailand
On each of our trips to Thailand, we seek out a family-run restaurant near our hotel, which is usually right on the beachfront. On one of our first trips, we would walk down the beach from our hotel twice a day, for lunch and dinner, to this shack. It was plastic garden furniture covered in a roof of tarpaulin, with a tiny little hut in the corner for a kitchen. It was run by a really lovely family; the mother was the cook, the father would mostly by lying in a hammock and the two teenage daughters would serve the customers. Each year in the rainy season their restaurant would be destroyed by waves and then in high season they would build it again. The food was superb. For around €2 we got the most amazing pineapple curry, chilli and basil stir fry or deep-fried fish, usually a red snapper bought from the market that morning, with three-flavour sauce. Each day she would make my curry a little bit hotter, or as they said 'Thai style', to see if I could handle it. We would sit down on the beach to eat stunning Thai food, cooked by a lovely family, with a local beer, watching the waves lap in and life was pretty good.
Shrimp Cakes & Fish Amok in Phnom Penh
We fell in love with Cambodia the moment we arrived there on our honeymoon. It is a country that has had gone through recent tragic hardship, but despite being still extremely poor with very little in the way of infrastructure, there is a real sense of enthusiasm and opportunity from the friendly and hospitable locals. A five-minute walk from the hotel in the capital Phnom Penh was a restaurant called Sugar Palm. The first time we went we were the only customers and we ordered the most amazingly addictive shrimp cake; flat sheets of crunchy small shrimp, shell on, with the customary dipping sauce made with the indigenous Kampot pepper. For mains, possibly the most famous dish of Cambodia: fish amok. A steamed fish with eggs, that souffles up when cooked, served on a bed of amok leaves. The food was as amazing as the city and the people. The perfect restaurant after a sombre morning touring the Killing Fields and a terrifying trip along the bumpy roads in the back of a tuk-tuk.
Hawker Centres in Singapore
We have been to Singapore twice and each time we spent our days seeking out the best Hawker Centre. One day, we got into a taxi and told the driver to take us to his favourite hawker centre. He headed to a food hall in China Town. It was after lunchtime, so all the stalls were closing, but one still had a huge queue of around 40 people. We joined the end of it, without knowing what the stall was even selling. It turned out to be Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle which serves exactly what the name suggests. For a few euros, we got the most amazing dishes. Singapore is full of amazing hawker centres. Just ask the locals what to eat. A few months later this stall was awarded a Michelin star.
Jetlag in Hanoi
We arrived in Hanoi late after connecting flights in London and Hong Kong. We were exhausted, especially after a hair-raising taxi ride through the streets of Hanoi to our boutique hotel in the old quarter. We threw our bags in the room and went straight up to the restaurant on the top floor and took a seat overlooking the city. This wasn't a chain hotel so the food was local and cooked by locals. We had bun-cha and pho, with 2 local beers, and it was restorative. invigorating and delicious. The perfect introduction to our time in Hanoi. They also gave us a bottle of Vietnamese red wine in our room, it was a Bordeaux blend, and it was truly terrible, but you don't go to Vietnam for wine.
We have written many times here about our love of Noma and the fantastic experiences we had there, so we won't bore with it again.
All there is to say is that Noma gave us the best two food experiences of our lives, they were flawless. We will never forget them and we will never stop talking about them. The perfect restaurant in our book. See our thoughts on Noma here.
The Humble Brasserie in France
We have had some amazing and memorable meals in France in high-end establishments, places like Arpege in Paris which served us a 16-course lunch without any meat or fish - it was superb and the cooking was masterful. But we still talk about a little brasserie in Bordeaux called Du Loup. This place doesn't have any stars, or bibs, or accolades and I would doubt you would find it in any guide. It was (it has since got a refurbishment) just a simple old fashioned brasserie with a menu du jour. The food was excellent: pink lamb cutlets with dauphinoise, strawberry tart, some local cheese, ile flottantes. Three courses of classic French dishes. It was full of locals on their lunch break enjoying a quick lunch and a bottle of wine. We got a decent bottle of cru bourgeois (which was served in a decanter that we couldn't pour without it spilling all over the table, much to the amusement of our server and the chef) and relaxed for a lovely lunch with simple French fare.
First London Trip
Our first trip to London had a rather stressful beginning. Because of heavy snow, our flight was cancelled and we were hastily put onto an earlier flight that was leaving just a few minutes after we arrived at the airport. After sprinting through the airport, we just made it on, then the plane waited for 2 hours on the tarmac, got de-iced three times and it took off just before they closed the airport. Oh, and when we got to Heathrow we discovered that our luggage didn't make the journey with us. Worse than that we only had around 40 minutes to get from the airport to The Dorchester for a lunch reservation at Alain Ducasse, so we had to go straight there. But we had an excellent lunch, with three beautiful courses and terrific wine pairings. (It was such a nice experience we went back a few years later, but sadly on that occasion it was terrible). The next day, still wearing the same clothes as our luggage was still en-route, we went to Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road for lunch. It was snowing again when we got in but were given a fantastic amuse bouche of langoustine in a ginger consomme to warm us up. A quail pithivier was another amazing highlight of what was a fantastic lunch with first-class service, cooked by Clare Smyth, who is one of the best chefs cooking anywhere at the moment. We ended our trip the next day with lunch in Marcus Wareing and the best part of this meal with a grouse dish that we will never forget that we ate while watching the snowfall outside.
Bodega 1900, Barcelona
We go to Barcelona quite a bit and we will always visit at least one Albert Adria restaurant as he is undoubtedly one of the best chefs in the world and everything he does is just magic. We have been to the ridiculously fun Tickets a couple of times and to the brilliant Enigma, which serves over 40 courses in five different rooms. But there is one Adria restaurant that we will always go back to every time we go to Barcelona. After we book the flights, the next to do is book a table at Bodega 1900. The first time we went there we didn't know to expect. We knew it was going to be the most laid back and some may say the least creative of the Adria restaurants. However, it was unforgettable. We were told by our server that we could order off the menu or just let them bring a selection of their best and seasonal dishes, which is what we did. For the next two hours, we had around fifteen delightful dishes. The thing about Bodega 1900 is that you will get traditional servings like tomato bread or some clams in vinegar, but it is the best tomato bread and the best clams you will have ever had. If you love food, you could not help but love this place. The produce is second to none and it is prepared with great skill. Our three-year-old Emma loved it last time we went and scoffed all her meatballs. It is one of our favourite restaurants in the world and is our first stop on every visit to Barcelona. It is the sort of food you crave every day.
Sea Urchin in Sorrento
Sorrento is beautiful but it is full of tour groups sheepishly following a tour guide into terrible "tourist-menu" restaurants. But there are some gems. In the old port there is a restaurant called Bagni Delfino and it so marvellous we went several times during our week on the Amalfi coast. The restaurants juts out into sea - on one side you can see Mount Vesuvius in the distance and on the other the colourful old fishing port. The food was simple, but just perfect. The dish that will always stick in my mind was spaghetti with sea urchin. Emma, 11 months old at the time, went crazy for it and our favourite photo from that holiday is her with a sea urchin sauce all over her smiling face.
San Sebastian Pilgrimage
We try to go to San Sebastian every spring (we missed it last year because we were buying a house and COVID-19 has cancelled our trip this year). It is almost a cliche to say that San Sebastian is a food Mecca, but it is. The standard of food is insanely good from most of the pintxos bar and quite cheap too. Even the wine lists are top quality in many of the bars now. Our first trip there started with a little bit of disappointment. We arrived late into the city and went to the first pintxos bar we came across which turned out to be one of the few terrible ones. We should have known because there were absolutely no locals in there at all, which is never a good sign. The next day we had a fabulously unforgettable meal in Arzak and they gave us a printed guide to the best pintxo bars in the town, so we were sorted. The rest of the week we had a wonderful time going from bar to bar, having a little bit in each of them and moving on. Since then, each time we go away we have been building up a list of the best places to eat. In San Sebastian, you can spend a lot of money in some of the world's best restaurants, like Arzak, but if you stick to the pintxo bars, it can be quite cheap to eat and drink your way through a day. The city is relaxed, there are no stag or hen parties, no drunk eejits, the pace of life is slow, so it is the perfect places to relax for a week or two. One of our best trips there was our first with six-month-old Emma. She ate and loved every bit of food we gave her, from kokotxhas to sweetbreads, to urchin. She went the whole seven days without crying once. See our guide to San Sebastian.
Engagement In Paris
We got engaged in Paris in 2012, with a proposal in Montmartre, overlooking the city (I know I am very romantic, right?). That lunchtime we went to a simple brasserie for moules frites. The next day we went to an outdoor market near Bastille and got a baguette, 24-month-aged comte and a nice bottle of Bordeaux. We sat in our rented apartment near Gare du Nord, ate and drank while watching TV and it was perfect.
Koffmann's in the Storm
We had been for lunch in L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon and, despite losing their 2nd star just a few days earlier, it was an excellent meal with superb wine pairings. After lunch, we were walking through Knightsbridge and decided to call into Koffmanns, which was in the Berkeley Hotel, and book a late supper for that night. That evening, there was a biblical storm with torrential rain and gale-force winds. There were warnings on the news to not go out. But, we ran out to a taxi and went to Koffmann's. We were going down Park Lane and the roads were empty, which was a bit eerie. We were the only guests in the restaurant, everyone else had cancelled. We had a three-course meal that included red leg partridge with cabbage and apple tart. It was classical French dishes and it was a perfect supper.
Ischia on the pier
In 2015 we went to Ischia for a few days to stay in a fancy spa hotel - this was before we had children when we allowed to stay in such places. Each day we used to go into the main town and walk down the pier to the last restaurant, get a table outside overlooking the water and eat classical dishes of the region. Ceps were in season and we can remember a simple cep and pasta dish that was delightful. But the dish that lives the most in the memory is spaghetti vongole. This is a simple dish, only a few ingredients, but when its right it is just perfect. Eating this, sipping a glass of local wine, watching the boats come in and out, was just magical. On another night we went to this tiny, local restaurant near our hotel called Cantinando, which was run by a young couple. Our host told us the specials of the day from ingredients they got from the market that morning, so we went with them. We had the famous dish of the island, rabbit cooked in wine and another dish of paccheri pasta with boar. Just brilliant.