The 2023 restaurant news: old school and French food are still, thankfully, on the rise, as are identikit natural-wine-led bistros. Caviar and gold leaf are being thrown around like snuff at a wake. NYC remains in flux and Copenhagen keeps the friendliest staff award. Lisbon is ruined by tourists. Paris is forever, but our nearest neighbour rules for restaurants.
Sitting in a decent diner in NYC, the Times as my bib for eggs, home fries and diner coffee, is my happy place. Yes to them all – forever diners like La Bonbonniere, my uncooI but beloved Hector’s, the diner-adjacent swish of Russ & Daughters Café – but it’s hard to imagine New York now without Ann Redding’s bamboo jewellery box, Thai Diner. From early morning egg sandwiches to som tum salad to spicy chopped chicken liver with pineapple, or disco fries – honestly it’s a menu that reads like fusion car crash. Nobody should have the right to house that level of all-day deliciousness under one roof. thaidiner.com
Koloman is living proof of what spendy Manhattan does best – cramming a room full of electricity and energy, creating a sense of date-night anticipation every night, with no expense spared. There isn’t a moment in Koloman – in the room or on the plate – where you wonder where the money went. Austrian-born chef Markus Glocker’s diamond-cutter level of detail delivers old Europe on the (elegant, emblazoned china) plate in the new world. Koloman is as grand as it is cosy, a dreamy, swish, low-lit setting where everyone looks great but nothing looks as good as their chicken in a copper pot with spaetzle, or the sexiest schnitzel in NYC. kolomanrestaurant.com
Musso & Frank Grill
You’ve seen Hollywood’s oldest restaurant on big and small screens, even acting itself as Manhattan in Mad Men. Diners don fewer hats now but Musso’s remains a precious time tunnel to the Tinseltown in our heads, from Welles writing Citizen Kane in his booth to the ghost of every star passing through since. I first ate in Musso’s in 1988 and my post-long-haul tummy-collywobbles settler is sipping warm consommé paired with an iced carafe of martini, perched at the bar, still watching the elderly grill and the skill of the whites-clad grillmaster, like a movie that has never gone out of style. mussoandfrank.com
Sarah Cicolini runs the Fori Imperiali daily before Rome wakes up, so she already has a head start on most chefs. You could easily miss SantoPalato from the outside. Through the doors, though, SantoPalato is a one-off – popping orange walls, pristine table settings and seemingly vintage posters that are in fact considered commissions made for and about the restaurant today, each as precise as it is playful. None of it is trendy, all of it will age well. Cicolini’s cooking is the same, a respectful remix of Roman pasta and offal classics with a brave simplicity that leaves nowhere to hide. Her extra yolky carbonara started SantoPalato’s diminutive empire but it’s Cicolini’s guts that will make her a household name. santopalatoroma.it
Pepe in Grani
In Michelin parlance, when you’re talking Italian, Dan Richer’s Razza in Jersey is worth the detour, Gabriele Bonci’s eponymous gaff worth a visit when in Rome, but Pepe in Grani is a destination. Franco Pepe’s pizza-palooza in the hills in Campania is a pie pilgrimage to top all others. Franco’s origin story, the spiel behind his craft and hyperlocal ingredients, is lovely, but dishes like Ciro – a cone of thin, fried pizza with creamy aged Grana Padano, pesto and olive powder – wouldn’t be out of place in any three-star dining temple. pepeingrani.it
If my last lunch was in Noble Rot, Neil Borthwick’s French House or a double dip at the single address of Quo Vadis and Barrafina, I’d be grand. All are as good as anywhere, except for maybe Bouchon Racine. Over the Three Compasses pub, Henry Harris and David Strauss’s Insta-institution came from keeping the pilot light on in the soul of Knightsbridge’s dearly departed Racine. Racine might have the best French food in London but the joy is the latent positivity of two pros at the top of their game. Instead of consulting somewhere, they are on show, busy executing the most thoughtful food and service. bouchonracine.com
Midland Grand Dining Room
Leaving Paris can be miserable. Leaving by train to arrive into St Pancras for lunch is an acceptable exception. Too many dining spaces in train stations and in hotels are woeful, with menus of cookie-cutter, cold-room, combi-oven classics. The Midland Grand Dining Room is a railway station hotel game-changer. Finally there’s worthy aesthetic magic for the Hogwarts glory that is St Pancras and Irish chef Patrick Powell and manager Emma Underwood are the magicians. Powell’s flagship Allegra is brilliant, contemporary and deserves more from the Michelin Guide. In the Midland Grand Dining Room he is applying that same skill in delivering French classics that have been around since long before the Eurotunnel was an engineer’s eye-twinkle. midlandgranddiningroom.com
You can get by handsomely without a reservation in Paris. Play bistro bingo with reassuring haunts Paul Bert or L’Epi d’Or. Take an edible history lesson in La Poule Au Pot. Squeeze behind a table in Brasserie Lipp where the cast of grumpy men with the pallor of undertakers will deal you something decent in a glorious room. If hungrier, wrap your arms around Bofinger’s choucroute garnie and a bottle of dry bubbles, God’s bacon-and cabbage walk-in heaven. The chicken or duck at table nine in Allard under chef Lisa Desforges is as comforting as ever. If old hat isn’t your bag then Les Enfants Du Marché in the Marais is as new school as it gets.
One newcomer, a short stroll away, does require a reservation. Parcelles bistro à vins does what the finest in hospitality do – makes everything effortless. The beaming staff look like they haven’t a care in the world, except for your happiness, which Parcelles delivers in spades. It took me five minutes chatting to a waitress who seemed like she’d just won the lottery to realise this was the owner, Sarah Michielsen. Within Parcelles’ honey-hued walls, you’ll choose from the classiest home-made pâtés and rillettes to kick off, perfect sweetbreads with golden mash or creamy polenta and desserts for grown-ups, all crowned with a genius and generous wine list and the best people to deliver it. Michielsen has created a laid-back masterpiece in the northern Marais. parcelles-paris.fr
Masala y Maíz
Often across Mexico or Japan there’s little need for box-ticking guides that corral you to queue with other tourists, while missing where and for what the locals are lining up. Saying that, there isn’t another restaurant in CDMX or anywhere on the planet like Masala y Maíz, Norma Listman and Saqib Keval’s wild but authentic fusion. Mexican-born chef Norma and her husband, chef Saqib – US-born to Indian farmers from Ethiopia and Kenya – blend their different food cultures and politics together in their tiny, electrifying little spot in Mexico City’s posh Polanco district. Some of their food is so delicious it is antisocial. With a larder of dreams, Masala y Maíz conjures up one chitchat-stopping dish after the next in a restaurant that couldn’t be replicated anywhere else. masalaymaiz.com