Oliviero Olivieri

Our food critic uncovers six authentic family-run restaurants where—believe it or not—Mamma is still calling the shots in the kitchen.

May 19, 2009

See our slideshow of Europe’s Top Family Run Restaurants.

Running a restaurant is truly a labor of love, so it only makes sense that some of Europe’s purest and most soulful dishes come from a family hearth. Fortunately, of course, kin cooking is a way of life across the Continent, from Wales to Istanbul.

And the flavor combinations that these clans concoct is causing a culinary commotion. The mother-daughter team at Oeteria di San Cesario outside Rome, for example, has drawn the praise of Rome’s food critics. And the husband-and-wife duo at Le Baratin in Paris’s 20th Arrondissement turns out globally inspired dishes every night, paired with wines from one of the city’s greenest cellars.

We’ve rounded up six of the most authentic family-run spots, but no matter where your travels take you, be sure to search out your own piece of household-restaurant heaven.

Osteria di San Cesario

Frustrated with their city’s banal offerings, Rome’s food critics often head out of town. Their grail? This cult osteria, some 20 miles south of the city, presided over by the larger-than-life Anna Dente. Descended from many generations of butchers, Dente is the reigning queen of quinto quarto (offal, in the local vernacular), turning tripe in salsa verde into a refined treat and performing delicious miracles with sweetbreads and spleen. Still, the reason to come here is the pasta made by her 88-year-old mamma, Maria. When sauced with classic carbonara and amatriciana (both bolstered by dusky house-cured guanciale) the fettuccine and gnocchi restore your faith in la vera cucina romana. Over ciambelle al vino (doughnut-shaped pastries), listen to the ebullient Dente spin tall tales about her adventures in Hollywood.

Nikolaihof

At Austria’s most historic estate, in the idyllic Wachau Valley (just over an hour from Vienna), the Saahs family pioneered biodynamic viticulture back in the 70’s. These days, while Nikolaus Jr. and Sr. attend to wine matters (restoring a 300-year-old grape press, for instance), family matriarch Christine Saahs channels her obsession with organic local ingredients into an extravagant buffet of rustic Austrian specialties. The winery’s tavern, decorated with antlers, sets the über-gemütlich scene for Frau Saahs’s free-range goose terrine with green walnuts; plump wild-nettle dumplings; and toothsome salads of biodynamic lentils or corn. To drink?Splurge on a bottle of Nikolaihof’s limited-edition Vinothek Riesling or Grüner Veltliner—complex aromatic beauties aged in giant wood casks for more than a decade but bottled only recently. Bring home: the matriarch’s lyrical elderflower syrup and apricot jam.

Restaurante Túbal

Atxen Jiménez, the gorgeous sixtysomething grande dame of Spanish gastronomy, is the magnetic star of this busy, clean-lined dining room on the main square of Tafalla, a town in Navarra, in northern Spain. Though she still runs the place like a tight ship, Jiménez has largely surrendered the kitchen to her gifted son Nicolás—a former student of the legendary Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak. Nicolás upholds Navarra’s reputation as Spain’s Eden for vegetables while adding discreet modern flair to the region’s famous asparagus, cardoons, and scarlet piquillo peppers. Assembled into a colorful bouquet scented with olive oil, garlic, and Ibérico ham, his menestra de verduras is the best thing to happen to fava beans and artichokes. Not that you’d want to miss the delicate stew of silken pochas (white beans), fresh off the vine.

The Foxhunter

After working in some of London’s best kitchens, Welsh-born celebrity chef Matt Tebbutt returned home a few years ago. He and his wife, Lisa, took over an old stationmaster’s house in the adorable southern Wales village of Nantyderry, on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park. Here, in a cozy-chic gastropub setting—flagstone floors; wood-burning stoves; leather sofas—carefully sourced local ingredients turn up in delicious, unfussy dishes such as wild-garlic soup with poached egg or John Dory with hop shoots and pickled tomatoes. Curious about local bounty?Tebbutt will happily arrange a foraging expedition for sorrel or elderberries, then create a menu based on your trophies. There are a couple of cottages for staying overnight, too.

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