Leading culinary figures share their favourite places to eat while away on holiday
Picture the scene. You’re on holidays abroad and want to go for a really nice meal, but you aren’t sure where to go. We asked some of our talented Irish chefs to tell us about their favourite restaurant or the best meal they’ve ever had abroad. Here’s what they had to say.
Proprietor, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud
Favourite restaurant: La Bouitte, Savoie, France. la-bouitte.com
“Skiing is the ultimate escape and, to me, the perfect holiday. We try to go every year to Les Trois Vallées in Savoie, where La Bouitte is a real treat. It’s a three-star Michelin restaurant and the chef, René Meilleur, is entirely self-taught, which is a remarkable achievement. The dining room is alpine with a warm ambience and has a rustic feel, and the chef focuses on local ingredients, such as lake fish and game.
“The best meal I’ve had there was La Soupe de Truffes Blanches (white truffle soup) followed by veal sweetbread with Agria potato slices, horseradish cigar and beech smoke. The flavours are earthy, yet pure and subtle – perfect wintry delights that reflect the region.
“The restaurant is special because you’re in the Alps, surrounded by these majestic mountain peaks and tall pines. Then you come in from the snow and cold to logs crackling in the fireplace, and are served gems of dishes that feel just right for the place, time and provenance. The experience stays with you.”
Proprietor, Myrtle Restaurant, London and Anna Haugh at Conrad Dublin
Best meal: Casa Tua, Marbella, Spain. casatuamarbella.com
“I remember getting the feeling that we were in for a treat when we walked in the door of this wonderful restaurant, Casa Tua, in Marbella. It’s run by Italian chef, Adriano Visentin, and his Irish wife, Catherine Guilfoyle, who looks after the front of house. Sometimes the atmosphere and vibes from the staff give you enough information to know that whatever you have will be wonderful.
“The food is heavily Italian-influenced, and although I wouldn’t always think of lamb when it comes to Italian food, the lamb rack I had was incredible. I can taste the pistachios and cherries now. There is one dessert that I would walk over hot coals for and it’s Adriano’s tiramisu.
“Our meal went on well into the evening and we ate like kings and drank like there was no tomorrow. The air was light and smelled of summer, and we walked home arm-in-arm feeling we’d just had the meal you always hope for when you eat somewhere new on holidays.”
Director of Culinary, The Club at Goffs
Best meal: Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain. asadoretxebarri.com
“I went on a weekend trip to San Sebastian a few years ago with my chef pal Paul Flynn and two friends. We dined at Asador Etxebarri, located in Axpe, a small idyllic village about 90 minutes away from San Sebastian itself, nestled in the mountains of the Basque Country.
“The restaurant has a Michelin star and has gained prominence through the work of its creator, 62-year-old chef Victor Arguinzoniz. Victor uses local vegetables, magnificent local beef and fresh fish from the sea nearby. They only do tasting menus and everything is grilled over wood, using different types of wood for different dishes.
“We had a spectacular lunch and the service was excellent. It was a special treat and we all loved it. The restaurant is booked out months in advance and has been consistently voted one of the top three restaurants in the world. It is highly recommended, in my opinion.”
Best meal: Belcanto, Lisbon, Portugal. belcanto.pt
“The best meal I’ve ever had abroad was in Belcanto in Lisbon, which has two Michelin stars. The owner and chef of Belcanto, José Avillez, was heavily involved in the famous El Bulli restaurant run by Ferran Adria, which opened in 1964 and closed in 2011. El Bulli inspired me to become a chef and I always wanted to eat there, but I was too young and never got the opportunity.
“I had the Classics menu at Belcanto, which is inspired by El Bulli and includes sea bass with avocado, suckling pig and Caesar salad. Even though those dishes would be seen as old-school today, I really loved every minute of the meal. I highly recommend it to anyone who loved that era of food.”
Proprietor, Ballyknocken House & Cookery School
Favourite restaurant: Baglio Carta, Sicily, Italy. bagliocartaruffino.it
“Sicily stole my heart over 20 years ago and we usually stay in a local seaside town called Balestrate, not too far from Palermo. And on the outskirts of the town as you head into the countryside is a lovely farmhouse – on the posh side – called Baglio Carta. We discovered it by accident many years ago when we booked a Sunday lunch there that was a feast to behold.
“We started with amazing antipasti – in particular local aubergine and tomato-based caponata, local meats, fresh juicy olives and caciocavallo cheese. Then the primi arrived. There was pasta with pesto alla Trapanese – an almond and fresh tomato pesto from Trapani – and delicious herby risotto. The highlight was the traditional baked maccheroncini pasta with ragu, cooked with local Nero d’Avola red wine and ricotta salata.
“For secondi, there was the freshest of sea bass and delicious local pork, and dessert was made up of a selection of fresh cakes and fruit platters. You could wander over to the coffee counter and help yourself, and beside that was complimentary limoncello. As self service, that could be dangerous!
“Needless to say we have returned many times since then. The food is very authentic and they grow so much on the farm. You really feel like it’s a taste of true Sicily. The farm itself is beautiful and the outdoor dining area really makes it feel like a holiday.”
Executive chef, The Condor, Château du Coudreceau, France
Best meal: Four Seasons Hotel Ritz, Lisbon, Portugal. fourseasons.com/lisbon
“The most memorable meal I’ve ever had was when I went on a trip to Lisbon with my best pal Frankie Fish [Mallon], who owns An Port Mór restaurant in Westport. We were staying at the Four Seasons, where they had an all-you-can-eat lunch thing going on.
“The hotel is stunning with amazing works of art and we dined in this most elegant room. There were so many different classics on that day – asparagus soup, duck a l’orange, braised veal, lobster thermidor. We went up and took a wee bit of everything and it was all really beautifully presented.
“Like myself, Frankie is classically French trained, and there were so many dishes that triggered memories for us about the places we cooked around the world. We had great fun and craic and there was a fantastic ambience in the room. We just got transported to a different world.
“It’s been at least five years since we had that meal, and it comes up again and again in conversation. I can’t wait to go back as it’s high time we made that pilgrimage again.”
Proprietor, Pink, Bon Appetit, Beef and Lobster, Cleaver East, Donnybrook Gastropub, Social Bar & Restaurant, Ribeye Steakhouse
Favourite restaurant: Vila Joya, Albufeira, Algarve, Portugal. vilajoya.com
“My favourite restaurant abroad has to be Vila Joya in the Algarve. Sitting high up on a cliff face overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the setting is simply stunning. It has two Michelin stars and is a tasting menu restaurant. Chef Dieter Koschina’s Signature Menu is served for lunch and dinner, and the food is world class.
“Having said that, my fondest memory of this restaurant isn’t the food or the setting. When my four-year old-son Evan (now 17) asked the manager for McDonald’s nuggets, my wife and I quickly looked to the floor with embarrassment. Cool as a cucumber, the manager replied, ‘no problem, sir’.
“The chef recreated a McDonald’s nugget meal that looked identical to the real thing. Evan was made up, grinning from ear to ear, and after he ate the nuggets he fell asleep in his buggy, as happy as Larry. We couldn’t believe our luck, and the food, wine and view just got better and better from that minute on.”
Co-founder, Ballymaloe Cookery School
Favourite restaurant: The River Café, London. rivercafe.co.uk
“It’s not far to travel and not the most exotic location, but my favourite restaurant abroad is The River Café in Hammersmith in London, which has a Michelin star. If I can manage to get a table on the outside terrace on a warm and sunny day with the Thames glistening in the background, I truly feel like I’m on holiday. I adore the room itself with its frosted stainless steel, glass and chrome finishes - the work of the late, great architect, Richard Rogers.
“The eye-popping pink colour of the wood-fired oven is a joy. Young men and women in pristine whites work behind a counter that runs almost the full length of the restaurant. It is theatre.
“What to eat? I remember a torn fillet of beef with pappardelle noodles being outstanding. The totemic dish of grilled squid with chilli oil and rocket leaves served with a huge piece of Amalfi lemon is essential.
“Sea bass cooked in a parcel with a little orange is a revelation. Buttery noodles with shaved white truffle is a week’s wages and a lifetime’s memory. A sticky caramel ice cream and a little of that most copied of cakes, Chocolate Nemesis, to finish and I’m swooning.
“The food is deceptively simple but don’t be fooled – it is precise and skilled cooking. The ingredients are beyond reproach and the flavours just hit you in the gut in the most pleasing way. Can I go right now?”
Best meal: The Meat & Wine Co, Mayfair, London. themeatandwineco.co.uk
“I saw The Meat & Wine Co on social media and thought it looked very nice, so I went there recently with two friends, Michelle and Laura. I thought it was amazing from the minute I walked in the door, from the food to the service and atmosphere.
“We had tuna carpaccio to start, which was really beautifully done, and the pièce de résistance was the steak. Now I know it’s hard to get a bad steak unless the meat is of poor quality, but this was incredible. The meat was griddled and caramelised with little black bits on the outside, and tender and juicy on the inside. I had the regular rib-eye and it was incredible and came with beautiful hand-cut chips.
“For sides, we ordered an Asian-style tenderstem broccoli with XO sauce and crispy shallots, which was amazing. There was an incredible Caesar salad and a creamed mash with roasted, caramelised sweet garlic on top that was so decadent.
“We shared a four-layer chocolate mousse with hazelnut praline gelato for dessert because we were so stuffed, and had cocktails with blue curacao that were done really elegantly.
“The service was incredible and the wait staff knew their stuff and you could see that this was their passion. The food was just so exciting and it was definitely the best meal I’ve ever had.”
Proprietor, MacNean House & Restaurant, Cavan
Best meal: Ocean Restaurant, Vila Vita Parc, Porches, Algarve, Portugal. restauranteocean.com
“We really love going to Portugal as a family, and have been lucky enough to go to the most beautiful restaurant called Ocean twice in the past few years. It has two Michelin stars and only seats around 30 people. It’s not pretentious or snobby at all – it’s creative and delicious and a real treat.
“Ocean is owned by Austrian-born chef Hans Neuner. The restaurant closes for a couple of months every year and Hans’s innovative menu is influenced by his travels to the colonies that Portugal used to own, like India.
“There’s a lot of fish on the menu – langoustines, oysters and crab, and he does lovely tiger prawns in XO sauce from Mozambique. There’s quail peri peri and Pyrenees lamb with moth beans, mango achar and purple curry, so it’s very different.
“The food is absolutely stunning and fun to eat, and I really like the service as the staff are very friendly and kind. Going to Ocean is just a fantastic experience – it’s very special.”