The restaurant world is stuffed with best-of lists. We don’t need another. What constitutes an amazing meal is different from person to person, night to night, so it’s a bit silly to pronounce one dining room (or 50) the best in the world.
I’ve had very few disappointments among restaurants on those lists, and more than a few meals that were worth a transatlantic flight. I think most of us who are willing to travel for food feel the same way. But the professional class of eaters is likely already onto the next thing. They’re unfurling their napkins in the Middle East, Latin America and even Scotland in search of culinary pleasures.
I asked several highly accomplished eaters about which restaurants they find most interesting—and undersung—right now. Maybe one will become the next Noma; maybe not. But for now, they provide a modicum of bragging rights and, most likely, a great amount of joy. These ten places are where these experts would send their friends in 2017.
Chef’s Bar at Machneyuda, Jerusalem
“If you’re from Israel you know this restaurant,” says restaurateur and sommelier turned professional bon vivant Kristian Brask Thomsen, host of the three-day gastronomic blowouts known as Dining Impossible. But it deserves wider attention. On a steep side street by the city’s bustling food market, Machneyuda is the creation of Israeli Iron Chefs Krav Sakinim, Asaf Granit and Uri Navon, alongside Jerusalem’s “slow food” champion, Yossi Asaf. “They realized a dream of serving guests ‘happy food’ in an extremely fun-loving dining experience, combining seasonal cuisine with a homey interior featuring china from one chef’s grandmother’s house,” says Brask Thomsen, who also provides marketing support for chefs (not these). “Add loud music and staff and guests dancing on tables, and you just might have the most memorable eating experience of the Middle East.” Ask for a bespoke evening at the Chef’s Bar, where one of the principals will curate a custom made tasting menu.
The Dysart Petersham, London
Restaurant critic Andy Halyer, who claims to be the only person to have dined at every Michelin three-star in the world, recommends the Dysart as a hidden gem, thanks to its young chef (Kenneth Culhane), off-the-beaten-track location and quality cooking. In his first review, he praised the place’s transition from “pub that does food” to “restaurant with a bar,” saying his meal was “quite a revelation…. Despite the lack of fanfare, the standard of cooking is extremely high, and there are certainly worse restaurants with Michelin stars. In these days of overhyped central London openings, it is great to find a place quietly turning out lovely food.”
McCrady’s Tavern, Charleston
Southern star Sean Brock’s latest gets raves from James Beard Award–winning journalist Matt Goulding, a chief editor of the influential Roads & Kingdoms and the author of Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture. The new revamp of Brock’s legendary Charleston institution, set in a 1778 Georgian town house, includes a high-end tasting-menu restaurant upstairs and a “more relaxed but no-less-astounding tavern below,” he says. “You’ll find Brock’s obsession with historical cooking filtered through a mixture of familiar flavors and innovative technique—tater tots with sour cream and caviar, Thomas Jefferson’s macaroni (given an umami lift from kombu), bone marrow stuffed with escargot. The new McCrady’s reaffirms Brock’s status as one of the most talented and soulful chefs cooking in the U.S.”
La Docena Oyster Bar & Grill, Mexico City, Mexico
This buzzing Guadalajara import, created by Claudio Javelly, Alejandro de la Peña and cool cat Chef Tomás Bermúdez, has “taken the Mexican capital by storm,” says Brask Thomsen. “High or low, lovers or families, indoor diners or out—all are having a fiesta from 1 p.m. on: drinks clinking, music playing, cigarettes on the sidewalk.” And ice mountains of top-quality shellfish from the Pacific coast, as well as New Orleans–style po’boys, a novelty in the D.F. “Imagine a laidback but upbeat version of Balthazar in New York City, but in Mexico City and way more fun.”
The Cellar, Anstruther, Scotland
The young chef (Billy Boyter) at this longtime restaurant has been operating for two years with just one person helping him, and he’s already won a deserved Michelin star, notes Hayler. In his recent review, he summarized the best dishes (crab with heritage carrots, hand-dived scallop with duck ham and kohlrabi) and the small, relaxed dining room’s charms: “Service was friendly…and the wine was left within reach,” which “felt entirely in keeping with the environment. Overall, the Cellar was a most enjoyable experience.”
Bros,’ Puglia, Italy
“Floriano and Giovanni Pellegrino have done what many young chefs do these days—they’ve wandered the culinary world, doing stages everywhere from Noma to Martin Berastegui in northern Spain,” says Goulding. At Bros’, “they’ve synthesized their diverse experiences and filtered them through the ingredients and traditions of their native Puglia to create one of Italy’s most ambitious and important young restaurants. (The fact that it’s in Lecce, a limestone city of knee-trembling beauty, doesn’t hurt.) Everything they serve is smart, mature and deeply delicious. Linguine with pistachio butter and colatura (Italian fish sauce) is the best dish I’ve eaten all year.”
Back Kitchen Table at Osso, Lima
“A butcher shop with no intention of becoming a restaurant became a restaurant because of a wooden table in a back kitchen with walk-in freezers,” marvels Brask Thomsen. The front restaurant now is “atmospheric,” with a wide range of dishes, from a 240-day dry-aged Kobe beef to a full meat tasting menu, and an impressive wine list with many “pearls” by the glass. Still, “it’s what’s happening in the back of Osso that should have your attention. This is where Renzo Garibaldi has for the past two years been holding clandestine dinners around a single large wooden table for no more than eight guests at a time.” Initially, they were his friends, including Peruvian stars like Gastón Acurio and Mitsuharu Tsumara, but within weeks, Garibaldi began getting calls for reservations. “When someone like Gastón pushes you in this direction you have the responsibility to try.”
Tempura Matsu, Kyoto
“Michelin may have shunned this restaurant, but I liked it more than some of the grand three-star places in the city,” wrote Hayler of this family-owned establishment a 30-minute taxi ride from central Kyoto. Now run by the son, who worked with Alain Ducasse and Grant Achatz, it has transcended its roots as a simple tempura shop and become a destination for kaiseki kappo with premium ingredients like Tsuiyama snow crab, line-caught tuna from Aomori and lobster from the Seto Inland Sea. “This was an impressive meal, a modern take on kaiseki dining that is not afraid to break with tradition yet still respects it.”
La Nave de Sake, Barcelona
“This is a very cool concept that will continue to evolve,” says Goulding, who is based in Barcelona in part for the dining scene’s high quotient of amazingness. “In a city that has seen it all, La Nave de Sake is a truly unique dining experience. Run by heavyweight Argentine chef Sebastian Mazzola, the former creative director of Albert Adrià’s restaurant empire in Barcelona, and sake whisperer Sussie Villarico, it has turned an old industrial space into one of Spain’s greatest clandestine dining experiences. Mazzola is a master technician capable of concentrating outrageous amounts of flavor and texture into tiny packages, which he rolls out in nightly tasting menus matched to Villarico’s collection of rare and esoteric sakes. It’s less a formal restaurant than one of the world’s greatest dinner parties thrown for locals and out-of-towners alike.”
AOC—Aarø & Co, Copenhagen
“It’s not often you walk into a mansion with two Michelin stars and find that it smells just like home,” says Brask Thomsen. (Full disclosure: He has represented the restaurant for several years.) “But walk through the doors of AOC and the smell of wood smoke and reduced bouillon of Jerusalem artichokes hits you like a double shot of aquavit; a hunger-rousing welcome for anyone who loves good food.” Rather than dragging guests on his own ego trip, chef Søren Selin creates “artistic, curious and playful menus while always maintaining a high comfort and yumminess that keeps your palate safe,” and champion sommelier and restaurateur Christian Aarø’s superior knowledge of wines results in “tantalizing flights that embraces the old, young, conservative, edgy, conventional and organic wines in great storytelling.”
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