Europe New Twists in the Old World
It’s the fuel for our adventures and, for many of us, the sole motive for our travels. Cuisine is most captivating when it conjures a story; imparting a glimpse into another narrative entirely. The most inspiring dish is one that progresses beyond an investigation of its flavors to unearth the traditions that inspired it, appreciates the indigenous natural elements that birthed it, and witnesses the art of the process by the people who crafted it. From modern spotlight affairs of artful presentation to the simple beauty of authentic longstanding staples, here are four cities that exemplify this elegant intersection of cuisine and culture.
In French culture, enjoying fine food and wine is not reserved for celebratory occasions, nor is it considered an occasional luxury, but the primary benchmark of an abundant life itself. This is evidenced by the French term for an epicurean, le bon vivant, directly translating to “one who lives well.”
With restaurants boasting over 140 Michelin stars, living well is easy in the city of Paris, perhaps most notably at the establishments of Alain Ducasse. Among the most esteemed chefs in the world, Ducasse holds a total of 19 Michelin stars across 23 restaurants in seven countries. His flagship Parisian eatery, Restaurant le Meurice, is a beacon of epicurean fortitude, crafting unexpected combinations such as Brittany langoustine in lemon cream alongside golden Iranian caviar, Groix Island sole filets with héliantis roots and black truffle, and a dessert of Landes apricots with avocado and fresh almond tofu.
The French tradition that inspired Julia Child and countless others is known for marrying opposing flavor profiles and textures—like the pairing of a salty Roquefort with a glass of sweet Sauternes or the brittle caramelized crust atop a smooth crème brûlée. Part of the beauty of the Parisian experience is that hints of this ubiquitous tradition show themselves in subtle ways, both in swanky restaurants and modest local cafes alike. Witness it firsthand with the obligatory visit to a local fromagerie like Androuet or Laurent Dubois. For dessert, be sure to grab a pastel-colored box of goodies from Ladurée.
Whether you speak the language or not, your best attempt at simple French pleasantries will go a long way in receiving stellar recommendations—and it’s often these authentic interactions that are most telling of the culture.
“Paris offers a huge variety of places to eat, from haute-cuisine restaurants to all-day cafés, wine bars, vintage bistros, and the new ‘bistronomiques.’ The best advice must come from a true Parisian. That is why we encourage our clients to get in touch with our Concierge before their stay. This allows us to recommend the best places according to our clients’ desire, but also to book the very popular ones frequently full months in advance.”
– Zeina Georges, Hotel San Régis
Some of the world’s most inventive and influential culinary techniques were born from hardship, as is the case for the most pristine expression of the Mediterranean diet: southern Italian cuisine. Lacking the metropolitan infrastructure of the north, southern Italians cooked with what was available. They substituted labor-intensive products like butter, cured meats, and other staples of the wealthy north with the south’s abundant seafood, fresh olive oil, and local produce. Today, northern Italians still love their rich cream sauces and stuffed meats, but it’s the minimalist southern approach that has informed the evolution of popular Italian gastronomy.
In Rome, these roots have long since advanced beyond their poverty-born beginnings at the city’s first and only three-star Michelin restaurant. Perched atop a panoramic rooftop garden, a table at La Pergola comes with a breathtaking view overlooking the Eternal City, about a mile from the Vatican itself. Try the licorice-crusted John Dory with black truffle and parsnip puree or the red shrimp with white melon, herb pesto, and hibiscus—both part of a tasting menu that is modern while still exemplifying the traditional Italian philosophy that the best flavors start with the highest quality ingredients.
These quintessential Italian tastes aren’t limited to Michelin-rated restaurants, either. The city is just as easily appreciated from the patio of a humble neighborhood trattoria. And however touristy they may seem, don’t skip fundamental Italian fare: pizza, espresso, and gelato. For the latter, order the Nocciola (hazelnut) at Giolitti, Rome’s oldest gelateria just steps from the soaring columns of the Pantheon. With an Art-Nouveau style marked by emerald marble accents and retro mint-colored seating outside the blush stucco exterior, it’s just as charming as it is delicious.
Inspired by its ample shoreline as much as its mountains and nearby fertile pastures, the gastronomy of Barcelona is a graceful expression of geographical biodiversity. Perhaps it was this exact combination that set the stage for the explosion of the tapas movement. These small plates have become Spain’s means of exhibiting their culinary aptitude in a course-by-course award ceremony showcasing the region’s ecological forte complemented with its most flattering flavor siblings and dished up like tiny works of art.
If you’re familiar with only one name in the Barcelona tapas scene, it is most likely Adrià. Brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià were responsible for the famed restaurant El Bulli, which closed in 2011 after having gained global recognition as one of the most influential restaurants in the world. Today, six restaurants bear the illustrious Adrià name. Crafting everything from Nikkei cuisine at Pakta, the only restaurant in Barcelona serving this distinct Peruvian-Japanese fusion, to high-end tapas at the (literally) flashy epicurean amusement park Tickets, the brothers Adrià have forged a culinary empire.
The newest Adrià venture might be the most curious one yet. Already joining the Michelin ranks the year of its debut, Enigma stays true to its name, requiring patrons to enter a secret code to unlock the front door to the restaurant. What awaits (after agreeing to the strict photo policy, of course) is a dining experience shrouded in mystery, rumored to comprise of over 40 dishes on a dreamlike four-hour journey advancing through seven surreal chambers, each with its own distinct theme. For those who have experienced it, their reviews are incredible, but the details remain elusive.
If modern mystery isn’t your style, try El Xampanyet, a nearly century-old family-run bodega near the Picasso Museum. The space is small, and they don’t take reservations, but the prices are so reasonable that you can order two of everything. Be sure to try the boquerones and a glass of the house cava (after which the restaurant is named). Wherever you find yourself in Barcelona, the breadth of choice is wide. You’ll quickly learn that the mealtimes come often, run long, and continue late into the evening—giving you plenty of time to experience the multifaceted tastes this city has to offer.
“The best way to discover the culinary heritage of Barcelona is by experiencing some of our exclusive gastronomic tours escorted by our local expert host. We offer a wide variety of guided routes through the city’s finest hotspots, such as gourmet markets and hidden foodie temples. In these tours, guests will learn about Barcelona’s medieval past, its bohemian and cosmopolitan present, and its rich offerings of gourmet products. Along the route, guests will have the chance to taste the delicious local tapas and learn how to pair them with Catalonian wines and cavas.”
– Alfonso Carvajal, Tailored Spain