1. Dos Palillos, Barcelona
A bizarre experience. We stood outside for ages trying to decide if we were in the right place. In the Camper hotel building just to the left, is a retro, bar frontage. Not at all the recommended restaurant we were expecting. We wandered in to ask in broken Spanish, nobody came to rescue or reassure the confused tourists. Awkwardly we walked through a chain-mail veil into a back room. Two perturbed waiters came rushing over to interrogate our trespassing. Behind the curtain was a very cool red and black haze of a sexy Asian tapas fusion. We’d found it! Clearly a bit bemused that the tourists had managed to penetrate their hidden haunt, they asked if we had a booking. Nope, we didn’t. The place was empty, did we really need a booking? They hid is in a corner despite us being the only diners at 12.30pm. How insulting! Perhaps we were not the glam Catalan clientele they were catering for. Then, as we sank our aperitifs, the locals swarmed and the place hummed with chinking wine glasses and animated conversation. The food was tremendous, a tapas tasting menu. We had no idea what we were eating until the detailed explanation by a different member of the kitchen came, narrating each plate with pride and conviction.
Sitting on high stools watching five chefs cower around one plate with the precision of a surgeon with a scalpel was utterly hypnotic.
Carrer d’Elisabets, 9, 08001 Barcelona
2. Anahi, Paris
Squirreled away in my hold hood (Marais) is this sexy little steakhouse. Once again it masquerades as low-key and ordinary but it is anything but. Bohemian yes, ordinaire? Mais non! Luckily I was fashionably late for my date, google maps and heels proved a tricky combination.
At my time of visiting it was full of English fashion buyers on a school trip, boisterous and inebriated they taunted the waiters and slurred their speech to order yet more steak and vin rouge. There was only one solution. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I couldn’t really give you a run down of the menu because the wine and conversation was flowing. I remember the meal being just what you’d expect from it’s chic surroundings, small portions and rustic taste combinations. I have a distant recollection of octopus cerviche but I can’t be sure. For atmosphere alone, this place is worth a visit.
49 Rue Volta, 75003 Paris, France
3. Trussardi, Milan
A street style Bistro in the heart of the city. We sat and watched silver haired design mavens drift in to the terrace brandishing little dogs and air kissing bright red lipstick adorned Milanese women during Salone del Mobil – a week long furniture festival. A writer’s people watching dream date.
The Maitre D strutted like a confident cockerel with sharp reactions as he worked the room like an auctioneer on acid. We were clearly nobody’s, so were ignored for an uncomfortable few minutes. A cream, golden cafe of the city’s casual style-setters. We were eventually seated next to a famous product designer and his partner and we whispered our order in hushed tones. You might think it was an awkward, unpleasant experience. It was at first. We ate a satisfyingly filling meal with a glass of wine. I think having to undo your trousers top button is the sign of a good meal. This one ticked that box. Traditional and experimental is always a tough combo but Trussardi nailed it.
Piazza della Scala 5 • 20121 Milano
4. Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds
We’d been trying to book for an eternity and I was always cynical that the demand couldn’t be so high for a restaurant in Leeds. Michael O’Hare’s prized Michelin Star and a long wait-list inevitably set our expectations high. The experience did not disappoint. We were a table of four for lunch and the theatrical dishes and the creative taste combinations were out of this world. Think ink squid linguine on a charcoal plate, little washing lines with consumable plastic bags pegged to a wire bursting like bubbles of taste sensations – it was like sexy space food. The passionfruit bomb I ate in one, oozed with flavour and I practically had to lick the thick trickle of sweet, nectar rolling down my chin. Lush. The service was faultless – attentive and informal. The art and graffitied walls mirrored the dishes. Urban works of art with a serious injection of creativity. The view of the city’s rooftops and nice loos became an interesting combo when I was practically greeted by a construction crane driver at the window whilst I washed my hands! It was at times, weird taste and texture combinations. I wouldn’t say it was delicious but I would say it was unusual and different and an experience full of surprises and intrigue.
If you’re planning a special meal in Leeds, make a booking now for 2018. Highly recommended.
68-78 Vicar Lane, Top floor Flannels
5. Paustian, Copenhagen
You don’t expect to find a restaurant experience in a furniture store unless of course you’re in Copenhagen. We ate a late lunch and the kitchen was about to close but they squeezed us in for some pickled cod and a glass of crisp white wine. The cleanliness of the menu mirroring the minimalist Scandi decor. An extension of the Paustian brand experience, dining was simple, fresh and for want of a better word ‘nice’. If Paustian were a person she’d be Danish, with a blonde plait and ride a bicycle with a chunky knit scarf. Even the cooking was done in a Nordic, neutral palette. Predominantly seafood, dishes were poached and pickled with touches of green via asparagus, peas, lemon thyme and spearmint. The dishes were white and dainty with fresh flourishes of natural produce. It was all very Danish and delicious. It’s a bit off the beaten track, down by the harbour but well worth the visit.
2100 København Ø
A plan B: Standard, Copenhagen
The most amazing Indian food I have ever eaten was in Copenhagen at “Verandah” and I was going to tell you all about the experience but it seems to have closed. Gutted. Although it was one of three restaurants in the same building known as The Standard so I imagine the other two: Almanak and Studio offer modern Danish dishes to please your palette, both seem to deliver Nordic gastronomy in sexy, Scandi surroundings. My suggestion is to cycle there to work up an appetite, there’s a bike park directly outside as well as an intimate jazz club to drink whisky and close your eyes in. Aptly named Jazz Club it does what it says on the tin.
Havnegade 44, 1058 København K