Dishes may be a mere moment on the lips, but the tastes, smells, flavour combinations and textures – like those of Proust’s madeleines – are stored in our memories for years to come. One mouthful of pesto takes me straight back to the Piazzetta in Portofino, watching the chic set moor their yachts in the harbour. The pungent aroma of truffles transports me to Piemonte, sitting among the red-leaved vines under a crisp, autumnal, blue sky. When eating grilled fish, I can almost hear the trams of Lisbon rattle past. All of these foods evoke layer upon layer of happy memories and sensory nostalgia.
As the best chefs on the planet celebrated after this month’s San Pellegrino & Acqua Panna World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony, we food-centric travellers diligently took notes, then plotted and planned our holiday routes and our weekends away based on the winners. Some restaurants truly are worth the journey.
Of course, not all the crème de la crème restaurants are within reach. Waiting lists and high price points are barriers – but those willing to go on a culinary adventure will be rewarded with dozens of award-standard meals that fly under the radar at a fraction of the price. Plenty of esteemed chefs have opened more affordable spin-off restaurants in pretty locations, where you can taste their trademark flavours and understand their skill set. And culinary greats, such as Franco Pepe, can transform an inexpensive slice of pizza into a gourmet experience.
Read on for our list of the top 10 affordable destination restaurants to check out this summer…
Auberge Du Cep
Situated among the picturesque, rolling hills of Beaujolais, the pink-walled, green-shuttered, Michelin-starred Auberge du Cep offers a daily Market Menu that is well worth a detour. Chef Aurélien Mérot skilfully draws upon the rich bounty of the surrounding terroir to offer the very best of the French kitchen. Traditional sweetbreads, foie gras and pistachio mustard pâté en croûte might be followed by chicken cooked in Fleurie wine – and the cheese trolley’s treasures can be paired with local wines if you wish. For an amazing epicurean experience, try the set Market Menu for £23 (00 33 4 74 04 10 77; aubergeducep.com).
How to do it: Stay at nearby Auberge Les Hauts de Chénas, with a pool and a wine museum, from £85 per night (00 33 4 74 06 76 31; hautsdechenas.fr).
The only representative from Portugal on this year’s 50 Best Restaurants list, José Avillez’s Belcanto restaurant has two Michelin stars – but here at Mini Bar you get a flavour and feel for his cuisine without the cost. You can create your own meal from the wide variety of “acts” on the menu (the restaurant was previously housed in an old theatre) but for me it is the little things that say the most. Try the Algarve prawns marinated in lime, the roasted chicken with avocado cream, smoked cottage cheese, piri-piri and lemon, and beef croquette with truffle Dijonnaise, priced at £10, £5 and £6 respectively (00 351 21 130 5393; minibar.pt).
How to do it: Stay at Teatro B&B, maintaining the theatrical theme, for £147 a night (00 351 213 472 024; teatrobbb.com)
Seven thousand light bulbs illuminate the walls of three-star Michelin chef Dani García’s BiBo, which sits in the heart of the Spanish capital. The lighting is a nod to the radiance of the Málaga Feria street party, while the food pays homage to García’s homeland. This brand is a conscious decision by García to democratise fine dining and while the vibe is casual, the dishes dazzle. Try the oxtail ravioli, the chef’s zingy white shrimp crudo with garlic chips or his creamy ink croquettes made from squid ink stew, and you will be dancing the flamenco. Dishes are priced at £19, £16 and £10 respectively (00 34 918 052 556; grupodanigarcia.com/bibo).
How to do it: Stay at CR7 Madrid, the Madrid outpost of footballer Ronaldo, from £92 a night (00 34 917 717 035; pestanacr7.com)
Gourmets flock to the Canton of the Grisons and the smallest town in the world to try the dishes of chef Andreas Caminada. Casa Caminada, housed in old stables which have been converted into 10 rooms, an organic bakery and a restaurant, sits directly opposite the renowned three-Michelin-star restaurant Schloss Schauenstein. Caminada’s food is just as spectacular as that served across the road. The dining experience is an immersive homage to the area – try the traditional pizzoccheri made with buckwheat flour and served with chanterelles and bacon, for £25 (00 41 81 632 30 50; casacaminada.com).
How to do it: Stay at Casa Caminada itself, in one of the charming rooms, from £180 a night
El Bar De Paco Morales
History and heritage are the pillars of Paco Morales’s menu at the two-Michelin-star NOOR. Morales is dubbed the “Indiana Jones of cooking” for his ability to recover the past and bring it in culinary form to the 21st-century table. At his centrally located, buzzy and fun El Bar, his trademark originality and freshness come in different forms. Try his mini sandwiches filled with squid and a lemon mayonnaise, or his signature soup of orange salmorejo, with smoked cod and cheese snow, followed by beef bone marrow with spicy raw tuna and mustard grains for £3.80, £7 and £10 respectively (00 34 957977421; elbardepacomorales.com).
How to do it: Stay at the Moorish Hospes Palacio del Bailío from £140 a night (00 34 914 363 478, hospes.com/en/palacio-bailio)
The renovated, art nouveau Samaritaine building was one of the hotel openings of 2021 under the auspices of LVMH and its Cheval Blanc brand. While the Plenitude Restaurant shot straight to three Michelin stars, another culinary highlight is Limbar on the ground floor. The fresh-faced pastry chef, Maxime Frédéric, a rock star in the world of patisserie, can talk yoghurt and chocolate, flour and pastries until the cows come home. Indulge in his sublime lunchtime tart of Beaufort cheese, confit egg yolk, oak leaf lettuce and roasted corn in a very crunchy maize pastry for £20 (00 33 1 40 28 00 00; chevalblanc.com).
How to do it: Stay at the bijoux Hôtel Sainte-Beuve for £182 a night (00 33 1 45 48 2007; hotelsaintebeuve.com)
A welcoming sight on Copenhagen’s waterfront, BARR (which was the original venue of legendary restaurant NOMA), serves impeccably presented North Sea cuisine. Think salted sea bass with white currants, parsley cream and grilled peas, or an oyster mushroom schnitzel with brown butter sauce, capers and lemon; choose something from the outstanding beer menu to accompany it. Rustic wooden interiors enhance the casual dining atmosphere where the chefs bring out their own plates and customers are allowed to linger. Dishes £24 and £28 respectively (00 45 3296 3293; restaurantbarr.com).
How to do it: Stay at First Hotel Mayfair, in fashionable Vesterbro, for £154 a night (00 45 70 12 17 00; firsthotels.com)
Mauro Colagreco, who runs the three-Michelin-star Restaurant Mirazur in Menton (number one on the San Pellegrino list in 2019) hasn’t forgotten his Argentinian roots. Alongside his gastronomic offering, Mirazur, and his recently opened restaurants in the Maybourne Riviera, he has also opened Casa Fuego, a family canteen that revisits Argentinian classics, based around a wood-fired oven. Not far from the Italian border, with beautiful views over the old town of Menton, you can enjoy empanadas with a llajua sauce, yellowtail ceviche with coriander, jalapeno and sweet potato and grilled squid served with Patagonia potatoes. Dishes cost £9, £14 and £22 respectively (00 33 4 93 17 13 15; casafuego.fr).
How to do it: Stay at Hotel Napoleon for £156 a night (00 33 4 93 35 89 50; napoleon-menton.com)
Pepe in Grani
Franco Pepe is probably the most famous pizzaiolo in the world. He has forged a link between pizza and haute cuisine that has earned him a wide following and many awards. His restaurant, in an old 18th-century mansion not far from Naples, has become part of a pilgrimage for pizza lovers. He has an outpost at L’Albereta in Franciacorta, in the north of Italy, where he crafts light dough covered in rich cheese topping, cut through with lemon zest, elevating the simple into the sublime. Pizzas from £10 (00 39 0823 826 718; pepeingrani.it).
How to do it: Stay at the art-rich Atelier Inès, in Naples, from £160 a night (00 34 94 433 422; atelierinesgallery.com)
An offshoot from the three-Michelin-star Da Vittorio restaurant, this tie-up with the Belmond group has resulted in a pitch-perfect restaurant which opens out on to Portofino’s charming Piazzetta. Grab a table and watch the world go by: the stylish shoppers with their bags from neighbouring Loro Piana; the yachts bobbing on the water. Order the trofie with homemade pesto, a Ligurian speciality which the chef serves in front of you, tossing the short, thin, twisted pasta through the dense, green basil sauce to release its aroma. This unforgettable experience costs £29 (00 39 0185 2678 531; davmare.com).
How to do it: Stay at the tiny B&B Tre Mari Portofino, which overlooks the bay, from £182 a night (00 39 185 044434; tremariportofino.it)