Holiday hot spots: Chefs and food writers share their favourite places to eat
Ruby Tandoh can’t get enough of the sea-salt ice cream at Murphy’s in Dublin
Penang’s multi-cultural food heritage is the attraction for food writer Fuchsia Dunlop
Murphy’s Ice Cream, Dublin
By Ruby Tandoh, food writer
There is no bad time to eat ice cream. I’ve eaten it in blizzards and in cars and on park benches and, more often than I’m proud of, in bed. But some ice creams are particularly special. My favourite was in Dublin, on a particularly dismal day of our “romantic” rainy November weekend away, when we had trudged along the banks of the swollen Liffey and gone on a trip to the wind-whipped Howth peninsula. Back in the city that evening, what we needed was a mug of tea, a pint or a Supermac’s. But, true to form, I insisted on ice cream.
I feigned a perfunctory Google search for “Dublin ice cream” despite already knowing perfectly well the where (a shop called Murphy’s in Wicklow Street, decked out in smart blue and cream) and the what (its Dingle sea-salt flavour). Murphy’s is an old-fashioned ice-cream parlour, with familiar flavours like strawberry and chocolate nestled alongside specialities such as Irish cream liqueur. But the sea-salt flavour, made with salt from Murphy’s original home in Dingle, on the country’s south-west coast, was the most beautiful ice cream I’ve had. It tasted of sea air and the best thick, yellow cream.
Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
By Yasmin Khan, food writer
For the past eight years I’ve been going to Ko Pha Ngan, on the Gulf of Thailand. The dish that I always want when I arrive is pad see ew. It’s made with wide, flat rice noodles; the name means “fried in soy sauce”, because that’s its main flavouring. I always get it from the same place. I don’t really want to say the name of it, I don’t want the whole world to descend … It’s not a formal place, just a little beach hut on a bay. There are always fresh prawns and squid in the noodles, and it’s slightly sweet and you have a bit of chilli and bean sprouts, too. I always get a mint and lemon shake, which is whizzed together with ice so it’s a bit like a slushie. I always sit in the same spot on some rocks overlooking a bay and it feels like you’re in a James Bond movie, one of those picture-perfect shots at the end, and I sit there eating my spicy sweet noodles and drinking my mint shake. Even thinking about it makes me more relaxed.
Restaurant Villa Más, Sant Feliu de Guíxols, Spain
By Monica Galetti, chef-owner, Mere
Five years ago, I went to Spain to eat at one of my favourite restaurants, Cellar Can Roca, and then on to stay in a seaside town near Girona. We went to a local seafood restaurant for lunch and had the simplest thing: a plate of local langoustines seasoned with olive oil and a bit of salt. It was just perfect: by the seaside, beautiful ingredients, a great wine list. It was so good we went back two days later for dinner. It is like that, isn’t it, when you’re on holiday – you find somewhere special and you go back.
Jammal, Batroun, Lebanon
By Anissa Helou, food writer
Jammal is gorgeous, small, right on the water, in the north of Lebanon. It’s one of the best fish restaurants in the country. A lot of people go there by boat, anchoring just outside the creek, and then row over in a dinghy, which gives it a very romantic atmosphere. It’s a limited menu: a few mezze and then the fish of the day, caught by their own fishermen. The seafood is in a cabinet and you choose what you want and how you want it prepared.
The last time I went, we had tiny red mullet, which they fry and bring with fried pitta and tahini sauce. And it’s one of the few places that make tamriyeh: filo rolls with a cream inside, fried and sprinkled with icing sugar.
I like to go just before sunset and stay for two or three hours enjoying the seaside, the food and the people. It’s an absolutely delightful way to spend an evening.
By Olia Hercules, food writer
A 10-day trip to Montenegro a few years ago was the best family holiday I’ve ever had. I had just finished my second cookbook and we hired a house on the top of the mountain near Budva with my parents and some of our best friends. We spent the whole time cooking and eating. The local markets had great tomatoes and yellow beans, loads of watermelons and fantastic crumbly sheep’s cheeses. The fish was good, too. We made garfish egg patties and deep-fried whitebait in fine polenta. That’s what I love about going on holidays: enjoying local produce as it is, without too much embellishment, without overthinking it.
Tiong Bahru Market, Singapore
By Chetna Makan, food writer
We went here on a local tip-off, queueing for a chicken curry that was totally worth the wait. There was also a peanut pancake: a thick fluffy pancake and in between was crumbly, just-broken-up peanuts with a hint of sweetness. Oh, and the coffee! It’s called kopi and is made with condensed milk. It’s so strong and sweet but amazingly tasty. I would definitely go back to Singapore just to eat.
Da Adolfo, Amalfi coast, Italy
By Sabrina Ghayour, food writer
In 2005, I went to the Amalfi coast for a cousin’s wedding. A couple of days after the wedding, we took a boat to Capri and stopped off for lunch along the way. A little rowing boat picked us up and brought us to a restaurant on the shore – you can’t get there by road. Everything was picked out of the sea right in front of us. They took really fresh sea bass and baked it in salt crust. They cut spiny rock lobster in half and pan-fried it. We had amazing clams. It was nothing swanky, it didn’t cost us loads of money, as everything on the Amalfi coast tends to, but it was just the most mind-blowing meal.
Spaghetti Jazz, Dhaka, Bangladesh
By Asma Khan, chef-owner, Darjeeling Express, London
In Dhaka there’s an Italian restaurant called Spaghetti Jazz, which has the most beautiful food. The owner, Shaheen Khan, has a great passion for Italy and she brought it to Dhaka at a time when there was absolutely no food from the west available in the city. Last summer, I went there just after filming my episode of Chef’s Table for Netflix and had the best lobster in my life, served very simply with fresh spaghetti and garlic butter. It’s a fabulous place. Dhaka is a very changed society now, but what Shaheen did 25 years ago, by starting that restaurant, was really radical.
By Angela Hartnett, chef-owner, Murano, London
A few years ago, my partner, Neil [Borthwick], and I went to Tokyo. What stood out were two amazing tempura places. At Mikawa Zezankyo, the whole menu was just pictures of the dishes and we were blown away by how simple and incredibly delicious everything was. The second place, Miyagawa, was a really old tempura bar with 10 seats. The guy who ran it must have been 70 and did everything himself. I’ve never had better tempura. There are brilliant places in New York and London that do it, but nothing compares with Tokyo.
Mother’s Kitchen, Naivasha, Kenya
Claire Thomson, food writer
Earlier this year, my family had a really memorable meal at Mother’s Kitchen. We had the local dish of githeri, a beany casserole, and ugali, a maize porridge which soaks up the stew. There was also amazing plantain cooked with tomato and ginger and a pile of chapatis and samosas. It was a bare-bones restaurant with Formica tables and a dinner lady who piled a mountain of food on to your plate, but so delicious. It was a special trip for me because I was born in Africa, living in Zimbabwe and then Botswana, and this was the first time I’d gone back with the kids.
By Sam Evans, co-founder, Hang Fire Southern Kitchen, Barry, Wales
I was absolutely blown away by eating in Edinburgh, from street food to fine dining. El Cartel is a taco joint with amazing vegan and vegetarian tacos. L’Escargot Bleu is everything you want in a classic French bistro: Le Creuset, vintage posters, pots simmering away for hours. We heard that Ondine did the best seafood: it’s quite swanky, very decadent and a little bit expensive. It was out of this world. At the Edinburgh Food Studio I had probably the best brunch of my life of slow-cooked scrambled eggs, and homemade chocolate spread with buttermilk brioche and gorgeous marmalade.
Peace Palace Chop Bar, Osu, Ghana
By Zoe Adjonyoh, chef-owner, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, London
On holiday last August, I went on a two-day walking tour of Accra with my wife, Sara, to find the best places for local food. Peace Palace Chop Bar in Osu isn’t much from the outside – a rickety affair as most chop bars are – but backstage is a full production of maybe a dozen women toiling over huge vats of stews and soups, or thumping fufu into shape, or churning banku out of its dense porridge-like state into perfect rounds.
After investigating the various vats, I sat down to eat a huge bowl of goat “light soup”, a clear, spicy broth popular in Ghana. I finished it in minutes. My face was covered in soup, my lips and tongue were stinging, but my belly was full and my smile was wide. It was insanely delicious – the goat so tender, the broth addictive in its depth of flavour, yet incredibly light. I found a new standard for light soup at Peace’s chop bar and a new level of respect for its preparation.
By Fuchsia Dunlop, food writer
Penang is a famous centre of street food. I stayed in George Town, which was the first British settlement in south-east Asia, and it’s a mix of colonial architecture, mosques, Chinese temples. Culturally, it’s a fascinating mix, so the food is like that, too: a mash-up of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai and Peranakan, which is Straits Chinese – a mix-up in itself of Chinese and Malay influences. For me, it was particularly interesting because they’ve got Chinese food – mainly from the south: Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien, styles from Guangdong/Fujian – mixing up with all these south-east Asian influences and then some Indian spices as well.
One of the classic Penang street food dishes is char kway teow, stir-fried rice noodles with seafood and beaten duck egg and bean sprouts. Another famous one is Assam laksa, made with mackerel, tamarind, pineapple, chilli and mint, so you get this amazing spice, fruitiness and sourness. Peranakan food is from these mixed families with Chinese and Malay influences. One of the most delicious things I had of that cuisine is called otak-otak. It’s sort of a fish mousse that’s seasoned with makrut lime and chilli and then steamed in banana leaves.
By Ramael Scully, chef-owner, Scully, London
The last holiday I really enjoyed was in Lisbon because I didn’t go to any cheffy restaurants. It was just nice to eat sardines on the bone, grilled with a bit of lemon on the side. When you’re dealing with crazy flavours all the time, sometimes you need some classic cooking in your life. Lisbon is beautiful – I started thinking, this could be my retirement plan right here. I went with an Australian friend, who I catch up with once a year in a different city. We stayed in Alfama, the old part of Lisbon, and didn’t go to any posh places, just little dinky restaurants such as Taberna Manuel da Gorda and Casa da Tia Helena.
By Alison Roman, food writer
Last year, I went with a friend to Sicily and we rented places in Palermo and Salina, one of the Aeolian islands off the northern coast. We didn’t eat at restaurants all that often; it was more that they had incredible markets and I was able to do so much excellent cooking. I grew up in California, which I felt had the most perfect produce, but Sicily might have it beat – the tomatoes, the garlic, the capers and the seafood, which was so fresh and cheap. On Salina, we stayed near the harbour in the town of Santa Marina. Down the road, a woman ran a tiny fish counter called Pescheria a Lampara and she sold beautiful squid, shrimp and swordfish. I’d never seen anything like that seafood.
By Chantelle Nicholson, chef-owner, Tredwell’s
I went to Sardinia with a good friend in 2010 and we stayed at a little hotel right on the beach in Pittulongu. It was in the middle of nowhere, not very touristy, but we discovered a little food shop about 20 minutes’ walk away which had the most incredible produce: cured ham that they sliced to order, beautiful cheese, and tomatoes that were perfectly ripe and super-sweet. It was so simple but delicious and we lived on it for the next few days, going back to the shop a couple of times in the hot beating sun to stock up. That holiday really stays in my mind because everything we ate was so good.
San Sebastián, Spain
By Nuno Mendes, chef-owner, Mãos
I love San Sebastián. My first ever holiday with my partner was there and I’ve probably been back five or six times. It has lovely beaches, it’s affordable and the food is outstanding.
On my most recent visit, I went to a restaurant called Ibai and it was the most inspiring meal that I’ve had in years. It’s an old-school Basque restaurant in a little basement room that’s only open during the week for lunch. Everything we ate was incredible: the lobster salad with citrus dressing, the teardrop peas, the St George mushrooms. The sole was hands-down the best I’ve ever had in my life, but the highlight was the kokotxas, or hake throats, which were so good we had to order seconds. There are very few really old-school restaurants like that around any more. We should treasure them.
Ming Fu, Taipei
By Erchen Chang, chef-owner, Bao and Xu, London
Ming Fu does classic Taiwanese cuisine. It’s very small – a husband and wife team, with six tables. You need to pre-book their really famous dishes: crab glutinous rice and Buddha jumps wall, a soup with amazing stock (you can have it made not on the traditional shark’s fin base) in which they cook loads of delicacies. My favourite thing was the grilled baby abalone with soy-glazed mayo – perfect in terms of texture, so tender. The cooking and thinking behind the dishes are the kind of things that inspire me for Xu.
Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain
By Ana Gonçalves, chef-owner, Ta Ta Eastery
Asador Etxebarri, in the Basque Country, is probably my favourite restaurant in the world. My partner Meng and I went for my birthday in 2017 and we went back for his birthday this year. The location, about an hour outside San Sebastián, is amazing and the products and the way they cook them is, for me, close to perfection. It’s a family-run restaurant that focuses on cooking with fire, although it’s done much more gently than you’d expect. My favourite dish is the grilled whole squid, served with caramelised onions and black ink sauce. They also do a reduced milk ice-cream using smoked milk. Meng and I always joke that if we ever get married, we’ll get married at Etxebarri. – Guardian