Best duck in Beijing? 20 top chefs on food worth travelling for

From Michelin-starred meals in Spain and New York to simple Italian suppers, Irish chefs recommend their favourite holiday meals and restaurants around the world

 

Paul Flynn, The Tannery, Dungarvan
We came across La Campagnola in Salo (lacampagnola1952.it), by Lake Garda, quite by chance – six children, two wives and me. They no doubt thought the absence of the second husband was peculiar, but I left it hang in the air and revelled in the machismo of it all. The food was simple, delicious, and served with that effortless Italian style. We promised to return when the other husband/dad turned up a few days later – for my 50th birthday.

They greeted us like old friends. We ate deep fried courgette flowers and frittata to start, along with a sweet onion risotto, linguini with truffles, a deep and memorable ragu of lamb, roasted bream with garlic and sage, and crispy little rosemary flatbreads to soak up the juices. The birthday cake was summer berries with lemon cream on a crunchy almond sponge.

I’ve made the onion risotto for the girls a few times since, but I have yet to crack it . . . “Daddy,” they say, “yours will never be as good as La Campagnola’s, so stop trying.”

Graham Neville, Restaurant FortyOne, Dublin
I visited Brooklyn Fare in New York (brooklynfare.com) recently, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a tasting menu, in very simple surroundings – you almost wouldn’t believe it’s a three-Michelin star restaurant from the outside.

You sit up at the kitchen counter, which seats just 18 diners, and you have the same menu of 15-plus dishes, a lot of them fish and seafood.

There’s no style over substance – there are very few ingredients on the plate, so this is really precise cooking where balance and taste are all important. It hit the taste notes every time – I thought it was brilliant.

For holidays this year we will be going back to Chicago. I worked there and my wife is from the area, so we love to go back. We are lucky enough to stay with the American relatives, and our three boys get to hang out with their cousins.

Mark Moriarty, San Pellegrino young chef of the year 2015
One particular meal that stands out was in Ester restaurant in Sydney last February (ester-restaurant.com. au). It was the last night of an eight-day trip to Australia that included cooking for 100 people on a rooftop in Melbourne, followed by a cookery class for 40 in Sydney. We were treated to a fantastic meal that included crispy squid dumplings, salt-baked mud crab, Pyengana cheddar pie, kingfish sashimi with mandarin and roasted cabbage with mustard seeds.

I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world in the past six months for work. I’ve been to Melbourne, Sydney, Charleston, New York, Singapore, Amalfi, Alta Badia and Paris so far this year. Before October I will be travelling to Switzerland, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Milan. I’m also looking forward to a real holiday with my girlfriend Gráinne – we’re off to Portugal in August.

Ross Lewis, Chapter One, Dublin
I always look back with fond memories to a visit to La Tupina (latupina.com) in Bordeaux, along with some fellow Euro-toques chefs in 2002. The rustic and often rich cooking of Gascony is at the heart of the restaurant. I vividly remember eating spit-roast chicken with a rich and aromatic bread stuffing and chips cooked in duck fat over an open hearth.

To start I had sautéed wild cep mushrooms with parsley and garlic. Tasty, rustic, honest-to-goodness food in this iconic, old, dimly-lit building, and cooking over an open flame of charcoal and wood – which somehow manages to stitch your stomach to your heart.

This year we are off to Spain where I plan to visit Jerez to further explore sherry, one of my favourite drinks in the world, and I also plan to visit Asador Etexebarri in Axpe (asadoretxebarri.com) in northern Spain, where they also cook over a series of charcoal and wood grills.

Jess Murphy, Kai, Galway
The best meal I’ve had on holiday was in Kobe in Japan earlier this year. I travelled there with my husband Dave, on our way home to New Zealand. We headed straight to Wanto Burger (wantoburger.com), this was a must-visit for me and it really was something. The beef and the burger were unreal.

I am going to Norway in September to see my friend Heidi who recently won best chef in Norway. Going to her restaurant – Restaurant Credo (restaurantcredo.no) – and sampling the food is something I am so excited about.

Neven Maguire, MacNean House & Restaurant, Blacklion
I’ve been very lucky and have had some wonderful, amazing experiences with my wife Amelda and our twins. My favourite has to be San Sebastian. We go there maybe twice a year for a couple of days.

My absolutely favourite restaurant would be Arzak (arzak.info), which is very close to my heart. I trained there as a chef and it’s a three-Michelin star restaurant. They have a generosity there that is unbelievable and a kindness in what they do. But it’s the company that makes it, as well as the ambience, and I am lucky my wife Amelda really appreciates good food, the wine and the service.

Our next trip is to San Sebastian, surprise surprise. I plan to do a stage at a one-Michelin star restaurant in Bilbao and then Amelda and the twins are coming over for five days.

Conor Dempsey, Amuse, Dublin
The most memorable meal I’ve had while on holiday was last year, at Victor’s Fine Dining (victors-gourmet.de) in Perl-Nennig in Germany. The head chef is Christian Bau and it has three Michelin stars. I think Germany is leading the way in Europe at the moment in the restaurant world, and it was absolutely stunning.

I was there with my wife Joanna. We had the 12-course tasting menu. I love Bau’s style of food, with the Japanese influences and the overall precision and execution.

Joanna and I met in France and spent a number of years living there together, so we return for our family holiday every year to Nice on the te d’Azur. We love it there and so do the kids ... which is the most important thing. We have booked a holiday there this year for August.

Barry Fitzgerald, Bastible, Dublin
My fiancée and I used to go on food holidays – to Barcelona, Cartmel (the Lake District in England), Paris, Berlin, San Sebastian and Morocco. However, since we had our little boy two years ago, we drive around Ireland. My fiancée Claremarie is English, so I like showing her our beautiful countryside.

For my birthday a few years ago we went to Padstow in Cornwall. It’s a bit tricky to get to without a car, but the journey itself was a bit of an adventure. We got a train from London then cycled the Camel Trail.

We went to Rick Stein’s seafood restaurant, Paul Ainsworth at No 6, and got the boat over to Rock to go to Nathan Outlaw’s (nathan-outlaw.com) seafood restaurant where we had a gorgeous eight-course tasting menu with wine pairing. We even got to go into the kitchen to meet Nathan himself. The restaurant has moved to Port Isaac now.

Next year we are planning to go to drive to France and Italy to visit some vineyards.

Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House, Wexford
The Le Bristol (lebristolparis.com) in Paris is the most memorable. We were with two very good friends and we laughed all night. We think the staff suspected it was more than just high on life – but it was just one of those nights where everything induced gales of laughter.

Last November we stayed at Per Aquum Niyama resort (minorhotels/en/peraquum/niyama) in the Maldives. It was fabulous and the food was excellent too. The Nest restaurant in a treehouse in the jungle was so good that we ate there more than once. It’s not always that the food is as amazing as the decor and location, but this time it was.

Next up is India, where I’m planning a major spice blitz.

Karl Whelan, Luna and Hang Dai, Dublin
My most recent trip was to China, Hong Kong and Beijing. The stand-out restaurant without a doubt was Li Qun in Beijing. I was there in late January this year with my business partner Will Dempsey and John Farrell, who is co-designing Hang Dai [our new Dublin restaurant]. The restaurant is a hidden gem, down a dark laneway a stone’s throw from Tiananmen Square. We went there searching for the best Beijing roast duck.

Once you navigate the alleyway and walk through the PVC walk-in fridge flaps, you enter the world of wall-to-wall duck. You are greeted by a large, open brick oven with ducks roasting in it. The duck is carved table-side. The owner farms his own ducks. Cracking the technique of whatever he does to them in the cooking process is the current focus of my culinary path.

Garrett Byrne, Campagne, Kilkenny
L’Ambroisie (ambroisie-paris.com) at the Place des Voges, in Paris, has had three Michelin stars since God knows when. I have just “discovered” it in the last couple of years, and have been trying to get over to it as much as possible (when funds allow).

For us – my wife and business partner Bríd and myself – it is everything that classic French haute cuisine and service is all about. My favourite dishes so far are the wild seabass with artichokes and caviar sauce, langoustines with spinach, sesame tuile and curry sauce, and the best roast chicken with white truffles for two.

Our recent travels have been to Paris and London and we are hoping next year for Tokyo or San Francisco . . . negotiations are currently ongoing between us.

Stephen Gibson, Pichet, Dublin 
My top holiday food memory is a place called Castellabate in southern Italy, about an hour from Solerno. The restaurant was a run down old place that looked like it hadn’t been painted since the 1970s, so expectations were not high. We were offered the special local fish – salt-baked seabass and salad – which we went for. It was so simple but so tasty. After our meal, the chef came to our table having found out through the waiter that I was a chef, and wanted to join us for a drink. He was an old Italian man with no English, so communication was tricky but we loved the sentiment.

Kate Lawlor, No 5, Fenn’s Quay, Cork
On a recent five-day break, myself and my boyfriend Dan headed to the Wild Atlantic Way; it was rainy and miserable but we found solace in food. Two highlights were 1826 (adare.ie) in Adare – a short detour off the WAW but well worth it for the warm welcome and superb food – and Cava Bodega (cavarestaurant.ie) in Galway which is full of life.

I am just back from a weekend break to see the other half in Worcester. We headed to Daylesford Farm in the Cotswolds. It is an amazing operation; farm, cookery school, shop and restaurants. Next up is the north of Majorca for five days. It’s an island that is famous for its food and wonderful red wine which is rarely exported.

Garrett Fitzgerald, Brother Hubbard, Dublin
Marrakech is just a few hours away, but it feels like not only have you changed culture and country, but also time-travelled to boot. The best food experience I had there was joining my friend, Youssef, who runs a walking food tour of the city. In one evening, we covered six eateries – all packed full of local people – enjoying samples of the best of Moroccan cuisine.

One of my favourites was the tiny Restaurant Naima, run by three generations of women, cooking everything directly in front of their guests, including preparing couscous by massaging it, as is tradition there and which gives the most wonderful results. There were just three dishes on their menu, but how spectacular those dishes were. The food tour is available at marrakechfoodtours.com

Ciaran Sweeney, Forest & Marcy, Dublin
Last year while on holiday in Lisbon, we came across two really interesting and different places. Leopold is a very small restaurant run by a husband (chef) and wife (front of house), and that was it. There was a one-choice menu, of four courses, for €32, and the food was modern Portuguese. Also on that trip we visited the very modern tapas place Mini Bar (minibar.pt). The chef was formerly at elBulli and the food was quite playful and exciting.

Two years ago myself and Mary went to an island off the coast of Italy called Ischia and ate at a two-star restaurant called Il Mosaico. It was one of my best ever meals.

After the birth of my daughter in April, if we do go away this year I think it will be a driving holiday to the Cotswolds in England. It is a beautiful part of the world, with lovely little restaurants. One in particular is a little-known Michelin one-star called 5 North Street in Cheltenham (5northstreetrestaurant. co.uk).

Wade Murphy, Restaurant 1826, Adare
Two meals we had on holidays really stand out. One was Alinea in Chicago a few years ago (alinearestaurant.com), when we went back to visit friends. Myself and Elaine met in Chicago before returning home in 2007. That was a meal experience beyond anything I’ve ever had before.

In January, Elaine and myself had an amazing meal in Irish chef Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse & Canteen in Cape Town (chefswarehouse.co.za). It was so tasty, fresh and full of amazing flavours. Tapas-style menu for two, no choice, served three dishes at a time.

Next January we are going back to Cape Town, but this time for 10 days. We just love it over there. Good food, great wine, sunshine and lovely people.

Grainne O’Keefe, Pichet, Dublin
One of the best restaurants I have been to is De Locos Tapas (de-locos-tapas.com) in Ronda, Spain. It is a small tapas restaurant run by a husband and wife; the wife is the chef and the husband is the front of house.

The service here is the best I have encountered but it is the food that sets this place apart. The menu is handwritten daily and has a wide selection of tapas dishes, each more satisfying than the next. I have visited this restaurant twice and will be making a return trip next year.

Damien Grey, Heron & Grey, Blackrock, Dublin
Jock Zonfrillo’s restaurant Orana in Adelaide (restaurantorana.com) is the place I would keep going back to, or Biota in Bowral, New South Wales (biotadining.com), which is where I’m from. Those lads are really approaching food in Australia in a way that has not been seen.

I intend to visit Frantzén in Stockholm (restaurantfrantzen.com) this winter as it is a must for me at the moment. The concept, the approach to food and the elegance of this restaurant make it into my top three restaurants in the world to visit today.

Danni Barry, Deane’s EIPIC, Belfast
Myself and my friend Monto Mansour (pastry chef at Harry’s) took a trip to Girona to eat at El Celler Can Roca (cellercanroca.com). This is the most memorable meal I’ve ever had. The restaurant is in an industrial estate and the entrance is unassuming, but once you go through to the room and the conservatory, it’s stunning. The cooking is very technical but a lot of the flavours are rooted in the Roca brothers’ Spanish upbringing.

My last holiday was in Copenhagen, where I ate in the most amazing restaurants both casual and high-end. A real standout was Geist (restaurantgeist.dk).

This year I’m off to Valencia in Spain. I lived here for a while, so it will be good to catch up with some friends in the chilled-out old town. I’m also looking forward to eating in El Poblet, ran by Quique Dacosta (elpobletrestaurante.com).

Dave Coffey, The Sussex, Dublin
My wife and I took a trip to Seville last year and had lunch in Restaurante Abades Triana (abadestriana.com) on the river. We sat on the terrace and the view of the city was stunning. My wife was pregnant with our second daughter; that was our last trip away without kids.

We’re just back from a family trip to the Algarve in Portugal and we’re talking about taking a weekend in Lisbon. I’d also be interested in seeing Reykjavik.

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