Authentic European Dishes
From London to Moscow, Anya Von Bremzen tracks down the most authentic dishes across the continent.
These are challenging times for intrepid gourmands seeking the Authentic. Trek halfway around the globe and what do you find?Nobu No. 1,236, or knockoffs of last year’s hits from El Bulli. So where does this leave traditional food—and how are European classics surviving globalization?Hungry for answers, I set off on a grand tour in which culture and scenery would take a back seat to my quest for iconic favorites like bouillabaisse, fish and chips, and Wiener schnitzel. I made it my mission to taste the genuine article in its natural habitat: a working-class chippy in London, a Jugendstil tavern in Vienna. I would not balk at cholesterol counts. What’s a few extra fat grams when you can taste fish and chips fried in beef drippings, as they were meant to be?Nor would I hew to the comfort zone of major cities. Who cares if the road is dusty and drab, when it leads to paella’s Platonic ideal?Not even a two-and-a-half-hour ferry-plus-bus trip could stand between me and Turkey’s most epic kebab. Europe’s classic traditions live on; you just have to know where to look.
- Marseilles: a Bouillabaisse Odyssey
- London: Fish & Chips Beckon
- Alicante: a Paella Pilgrimage
- Vienna: the Schnitzel Revelation
- Bursa: a Kebab Quest
Marseilles: a Bouillabaisse Odyssey
Marseilles has one of Europe’s most picturesque harbors, a vibrant street life, and a pretty cool soccer team. Its number one tourist attraction, however, is a Provençal fish boil teeming with up to six kinds of poisson, served in two courses and enlivened by the garlicky smack of rouille, a terracotta-hued mayonnaise. I mean, of course: bouillabaisse.
The dish has been Marseilles’s edible emblem for a century and a half, ever since the city, flush from its new transatlantic port, became a requisite stop on the romantic travelers’ trail. Much like today, visitors inevitably indulged in a bouillabaisse orgy at posh establishments along the corniche or in the Vieux Port. Stendhal, Zola, and Dumas all smacked their lips. Curnonsky, the king of French epicures, called bouillabaisse la soupe d’or. Although myths of its creation involve florid grandiosities—Venus feeding the stuff to Vulcan to distract him from her dalliances with Mars—the dish probably started life humbly, cooked up on a beach in a rustic fishermen’s cauldron, using scaly rockfish not suitable for market. Since then it has evolved into a ritualized and expensive affair, properly rendered by only a handful of restaurants.
I first schooled myself in bouillabaisse marseillaise a few years ago. I tried the purist version at the rather unwelcoming Chez Michel. I was charmed by the wondrous bouillon at L’Escale, in the Mistral, where the Mediterranean seethed against the windows. I also spent hours chatting with the venerable Pierre Minguella, former head of the Bouillabaisse Charter, an association of local restaurateurs dedicated to preserving quality and tradition. The bouillabaisse at Monsieur Minguella’s timeworn Le Miramar—now under new management—was so copious that after a few slurps I was drowning. "Courage," Minguella had murmured, pushing more conger eel onto my plate. La vraie bouillabaisse, I’d realized, was not for the fainthearted.
It took me months to recover from that first binge. But recently, craving an encore, I boarded the TGV in Paris for a three-hour ride to Marseilles. Following a chorus of recommendations, I booked a table at the Michelin-starred L’Épuisette, half a mile from the center of the city. Situated on a bluff at the mouth of an inlet in the salty fishing port of Vallon des Auffes, L’Épuisette merits a trip for its setting alone. White canvas across its chalet-like ceiling evokes cabanons, those iconic Provençal beach cabins associated with bouillabaisse feasts. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame waves lapping against chalky cliffs and fishing boats bobbing at anchor.
Here, Chef Guillaume Sourrieu prepares a by-the-book bouillabaisse that’s oceans away from our gentrified notions of the Provençal seaside. Like Marseilles itself, it’s brash, intense, and suffused with the briny tang of the Mediterranean. The ritual begins with the broth, a ruddy high-octane potion powered by small rockfish and rascasse, the ugly scorpion fish whose gelatinous scales and bones lend that requisite oomph. Infused with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, fennel, and saffron, the bouillon is vigorously boiled down—bouillabaisse possibly derives from bouille abaisse, or roughly, boil and reduce—until it tastes more like sea floor than soup. Smear a crouton with rouille, float it in the bouillon, and slurp away, gathering up courage for the giant platter of fish yet to come.
According to the Bouillabaisse Charter, at least four indigenous species must be used for the dish. Sourrieu’s regulation catch included the indispensable rascasse, eel-like vive, galinette (red gurnard), monkfish worthy of its "poor man’s lobster" moniker, and the lightly flaky and noble St. Pierre (John Dory), all of them perfectly poached. Accompanying the meal were terrifically buttery yellow potatoes that had been boiled in the broth. A better bouillabaisse was hard to imagine.
Curious for a taste of the future, the following day I found myself lunching on a deconstructed rendition at Une Table au Sud. At this modern dining room overlooking the Vieux Port, the gifted young Ducasse protégé Lionel Levy creates fireworks with dishes like salmon tartare laced with lime zest and scattered with sweet praline crumbs. "I wanted to lighten up bouillabaisse, make it more interactive," Levy told me later. His new-wave creation was presented with great drama on a black tray. A cloud of rouille-infused mashed potatoes shared a bowl with a loup de mer filet and seafood gelée that dissolved under a stream of hot fennel broth. More fish—a minimalist chunk of roasted sea bream—came on the side; ethereal Parmesan palmiers stood in for the croutons. It was a cool, clever effort, but I rather missed my courage quotient, the sensation of being plunged breathless into the depths of the sea. The drastic overfishing of the Mediterranean might put bouillabaisse on an endangered-dishes list. So catch the real thing while you can.
London: Fish & Chips Beckon
Dah-ling," my chichi London friend kept saying to me. "Why bother with fish and chips?So déclassé. As Britain’s national dish, why not choose...curry?" My response: Bring on the batter!
Trapped in a crisp golden casing that shatters at the touch of the incisors, giving way to moist milky-white haddock or cod, correctly battered fried fish is among the most addictive things on this planet. On the side: those slightly limp chips (fries to you) that come alive with a squirt of malt vinegar. A pickled gherkin (a wally in the chippy vernacular) and peas (mushy, please) complete the picture. Introduced to Britain, it’s thought, by Murano Jews, deep-fried battered fish took off as fast food in the mid 1800’s. The original side was a hunk of bread, later replaced by a baked potato, a gift from the Irish. Soon, chips (a Belgian invention) entered the picture and Britain never looked back. Winston Churchill dubbed fish and chips "the good companions." By the onset of World War II, the staple was so essential to British life that chippy carts fed starving evacuees during the Blitz. Today, according to the National Federation of Fish Fryers, Britons consume over 300 million fish-and-chip meals per year. Take that, tikka masala.
On the issue of cooking style, Britain stands as a country divided, with frying in beef drippings favored by the North. Beef drippings are what makes fish and potatoes so special at London’s Northern-minded Fryer’s Delight, a weathered chippy in Holborn, giving the batter its deep, well-rounded flavor and bringing out the natural sweetness in the moist, thickly cut taters. With its Formica-forever décor and a cult following among cabbies and Japanese hipsters, Fryer’s Delight is a touch grim—but good grim, a reminder that the chip shop is a child of the industrial age, intended to offer cheap nourishment to workers at factories and cotton mills.
Thanks to flowerpots hung above wooden tables outside, my next stop, Rock & Sole Plaice, wasn’t grim in the least—one reason why snobs often dismiss London’s oldest chip shop (it’s been here under various names since 1871) as a bastion for wimps. Wimps would be pleased with the sign proclaiming that the frying here is done in clean-tasting peanut oil. And they would adore the sweet, delicate lemon sole, in puffy ale-colored batter, with a lively, resilient crunch that remains even after the fish has cooled down. A first-hand degustation of the other fish on offer revealed why Northerners are probably right in insisting that haddock is for heroes and cod is for zeroes (never mind that cod is a best-seller throughout most of the country). And while the chips were ghastly, a piercingly sweet-sour gherkin made up some of the lost ground.
"A true chippy should be a dive with a line out the door that leaves your hair smelling of grease," Charles Campion, the cheap-eats guru at the Evening Standard, pronounced to me over the phone. Then he sent me on my way to the Golden Hind, tucked away on a Marylebone side street. Though not quite the working-class dump I expected, this 1914 institution has virtues aplenty. Gorgeous Art-Deco Bakelite frying equipment is still proudly in use; glowing-fresh fish arrives daily from Grimsby, on the western coast; and Maris Pepper potatoes are twice-fried and yield resolutely unsoggy and habit-forming chips. The key to perfection here is the proportion of batter to fish, explained Anthone Christou, the Cypriot owner—adding that overpuffed batter is a cheap ploy used by unscrupulous chippys to make servings look larger (now you know). Discreet, with a soft springy crunch, his batter concealed a nugget of haddock so fine it would do any Gordon Ramsay establishment proud. No, I didn’t wake up the next day with the lingering scent of fried grease in my hair. But that doesn’t make me love the Golden Hind any less.
Alicante: a Paella Pilgrimage
Perhaps you’ve tasted soggy long-grain rice overloaded with chicken, chorizo, and lobster?If you thought this was paella, please, banish that image.
Spain’s culinary calling card, paella is a dish as misunderstood and abused as it is exalted. To get the real stuff you need to travel to its source—the rice-growing provinces of Valencia and Alicante along Spain’s east coast. Arroz was introduced here by the Romans, but it was the Arabs who later perfected its cultivation with an ingenious network of waterways that continue to irrigate local rice paddies. In this lush agricultural region, rice flourishes as something of an edible life force. Yet among the myriad preparations, paella stands out as a singular and strictly codified dish.
Purists—admittedly a militant bunch—insist that rice be cooked to a dryish consistency in a flat carbon-steel pan called a paella, the name deriving apparently from patella, a Roman ceremonial plate; that the cooking be performed outdoors over sarmiento (vine cuttings) or citrus branches; that those who load up their paellas with shellfish and chicken deserve to be burnt at the stake, because the only permissible ingredients are rabbit (or duck), snails, and a handful of vegetables—plus a simple broth bolstered with tomatoes and saffron. Rice and rice again is the star of the dish, and it had better be a native short-grain variety, such as senia or the squat heirloom bomba.
More than simply a dish, paella is a ritual, associated with countryside outings. Sure, you can find a good one in the cities of Valencia and Alicante, but your chances of encountering greatness increase in proportion to your distance from civilization. One popular paella excursion from Valencia leads to Casa Salvador, in Estany de Cullera, a stately place as famous for its lyrical lagoon setting as for its soupy lobster arroz and a paella studded with wild duck and artichoke hearts. Further still is Casa Paco, a rice citadel out in the sticks, discussed by paella junkies in the same conspiratorial tones that wine geeks reserve for certain vintages of Vega Sicilia Unico. It seemed worth a trek.
After a 35-mile drive from Alicante City though dust-covered hinterlands, my boyfriend Barry and I arrived at the featureless concrete hamlet of Pinoso and entered a featureless concrete restaurant. Inside, craggy wine growers and farmers were all having identical starters of grilled snails, and eggs scrambled with blood sausage. We followed suit. Eager to interview the owner, Paco Gandia—reportedly quite a character—I inquired about him from the cranky waiter. A shrug. But I was welcome to follow him to meet Josefa, Paco’s wife and the cook. Upon entering the kitchen, I gasped. Hunched over the stove, a tiny woman tended to three titanic paella pans. Leaping flames stoked by sarmiento encircled her in a scene suggesting a Zoroastrian fire ritual. Not a talkative type, Josefa tersely explained her secret: layering the rice extremely thin in the pan—paella for two is easily the diameter of a bicycle tire—and cooking it over demonic flames. True to the inland tradition, she adds nothing more than rabbit, tomatoes, saffron, and snails, called vaquetes, that feed on wild herbs.
Was her paella good?More like mythical. Fire lent the rice its profoundly smoky inflection; the al dente grains were at once spongy and so lively they seemed to jump in my mouth. Chewing on sizzled nuggets of country rabbit, I understood why a couple next to us had driven all the way from Madrid for a taste. And I still wanted Paco. Another shrug from the waiter. Paco now loomed in my imagination as the Wizard of Oz of paella—or perhaps its fat impresario withdrawn into pompous privacy. Disappointed, we scraped off the last bits of the soccarat—the addictively crusty bottom layer of rice—and headed for the door. Glancing back over my shoulder, I saw the small waiter again. He had a strange grin on his face.
"I am Paco," he informed us nonchalantly, from across the room. Then he waved us adios.
Vienna: the Schnitzel Revelation
Some people come to Vienna to linger over Sacher torte at Belle Époque cafés. More cultured types bustle straight to the Museum Quarter. Me, I came to nurse my addiction to Wiener schnitzel, a fried cutlet so simple, satisfying, and eloquent that it restores your faith in old-world cuisine. A great Wiener schnitzel is to any old breaded fried cutlet what foie gras is to chopped liver. And like any regional masterpiece, this culinary souvenir from Mitteleuropa relies on its own set of rules and techniques. There is little argument as to the preferred meat: thin, pounded discs of veal, cut from the leg, loosely coated in flour, eggs, and white bread crumbs, then gently pan-fried—never deep-fried—in that glorious fat known as butterschmalz, a.k.a. clarified butter. (Alarmingly, chefs these days are switching to healthier oils). According to Viennese schnitzelmeisters, final perfection rests in a crucial trick called soufflieren (from the word soufflé), achieved by splashing hot fat over the meat while it cooks, which causes the breading to puff up in spots like whitecaps on a merry sea.
A compromise between heft and weightlessness, an echtes schnitzel is at once enormous and whisper-light with a color that has been likened by the Viennese violinist-gourmet Joseph Wechsberg to the burnished gold of a Stradivarius. (Wechsberg also insists that the dish should be so greaseless that a man could sit on a schnitzel—oh, those Viennese—without getting grease stains on his pants.) The accoutrements?A wedge of lemon, a salad of potatoes and/or cucumber, and a fried parsley garnish, perhaps.
Armed with this knowledge, Barry and I set off for Vienna to taste-test the best examples in town, and, like all other tourists, quickly found our way to the wooden benches of Figlmüller, a folksy Viennese shrine to the dish. Whoa, their schnitzel was huge, with edges that hung over the plate and a thick, clingy breading that would please the heretical crumbs-over-meat school of schnitzel enthusiasts. I asked Barry to take the Wechsberg trouser test. He sneered. That he valued his Agnès B pants over my research came as a blow. And anyway, why was he so smitten with Figlmüller’s kitschy shtick?It must have been the Prälatenwein, an aromatic, compulsively drinkable white plonk served in cheesy green goblets.
The following evening we dined in style at Korso Bei Der Oper, the formal restaurant at the Hotel Bristol. Sautéed in vegetable oil, then brushed with butter, the schnitzel presented by an elderly waiter had the brownest, crispest, most supernaturally brittle breading of all (their secret: a quick stop under a heat lamp before serving). Small boiled potatoes and a refreshing green salad dotted with crunchy radish curls made a welcome addition, and the veal—saddle steak instead of the usual shoulder—was a cut above the rest, with a particularly plush, aristocratic texture. Korso also scored high for the grand old-school service and the long-live-the-Habsburgs opulence of its 1895 dining room, a sumptuous orchestration of dark walnut wood. That, and the inspired renditions of such anachronistic Viennese specialties as beuschel. Who knew that veal lungs stewed in wine could be so transporting?
Ultimately, though, we found our grail at Zum Schwarzen Kameel, a place that would still be my favorite restaurant on the planet even if they served jellied scorpions. We loved the Jugendstil room, with ornate chandeliers suspended on beaded strings and weathered ceramic tiles offset by polished mahogany wainscoting. We adored the maître d’s operetta muttonchops and Kaiser Franz Josef outfit. We could have lingered forever in the tiled front bar washing down dainty open-faced ham sandwiches with flirty Gelber Muskateller (yellow muscat). As for the schnitzel, it was a spectacular specimen: succulent veal in a particularly loose, floppy breading that owed its crunch and complex, faintly sour nuttiness to the authentic frying medium. Behold the butterschmalz!
Bursa: a Kebab Quest
It can be said that I owe my career as a food writer to an Iskender kebab, one I devoured in Istanbul nearly two decades ago. The restaurant was Liman, an old place overlooking the port, where the waiters creaked with the floors and a matron sprayed your hands with rosewater as you emerged from the bathroom. My main course arrived—a steel plate holding squares of toasted pide flatbread nestled under thin shingles of meat. Crusty around the edges and subtly infused with a-thousand-and-one unknown seasonings, the meat came smothered in a blanket of lightly warmed yogurt topped with tomato sauce. The waiter anointed it all with melted butter. Gazing out at the Bosporus, I suddenly felt intoxicated with pleasure, besotted with Istanbul, and hopelessly in love with Iskender. Over the last square of yogurt-drenched bread, I contrived to spend the rest of my days eating and wandering.
What exactly is this Iskender kebab, you might be wondering?Well, you’ve probably had doner or gyro or shwarma—meaning slices of compressed meat shaved from a cylinder cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Authentic Iskender kebab is doner with a difference. Instead of industrial-grade meat, you get slivers of quality lamb and beef pressed into a cone and spit-roasted over live coals. Both the vertical grilling method and the ingenious serving style—with those crucial flatbread croutons, tomato, yogurt, and butter—were invented by a man called Iskender (Alexander) Usta in 1867 in Bursa, a city 155 miles southeast of Istanbul. That Bursa has always ranked at the top of my food pilgrimage sites goes without saying.
When I finally made it to Bursa last fall, I discovered an early Ottoman capital chockablock with enticements, among them historic mausoleums and mosques, thermal baths, plus a silk bazaar stocked with colorful bolts of ethereal fabric. Still, the only thing on my mind was my midday rendezvous with the kebab. I met the dish of my dreams at Uludag Kebapçisi, a ramshackle storefront with three rickety tables outside on a traffic-choked sidewalk. Prepared by a septuagenarian chef, the kebab was daunting in its deliciousness. The yogurt tasted like it was made by an Anatolian shepherd from an ancient starter. A smoke-tinged sauce of grilled chopped tomatoes and eggplants accentuated the meat’s deep, lasting savor. The grilled pide squares underneath seemed especially engineered to soak up just the right amounts of sauces and juices. Alternating bites of my deconstructed sandwich with sips of Sira—the slightly fermented raisin drink traditionally served with the meal—I felt the same giddy pleasure that had gripped me in Istanbul 20 years ago. Iskender kebab had become my private madeleine, except Proust’s paltry cake never tasted that thrilling.
The next day I repeated the experience at Iskender Efendi Konagi. Less a restaurant than a kebab theme park, this $4 million extravaganza was conjured up in Bursa’s botanical gardens by Yavuz Iskenderoglu, the great-grandson of the Iskender Usta who invented the dish. Iskenderoglu greeted me, larger than life and bursting with pride. Immediately, he gave me a tour of the 19th-century kebab paraphernalia and the sepia-toned ancestral photos arranged icon-like on the turquoise-blue walls of the front dining room, a replica of the family’s original kebab joint. Lunch awaited in an upstairs chamber that could be mistaken for a grand vizier’s reception hall. There, I was once again struck by the perfection of each element: the house-made butter and pide; the grass-fed meat reared on a hilltop farm. As I ate, Yavuz-bey talked at a rapid-fire pace. Onion juice is the only permissible seasoning—spices only serve to cover up inferior meat. The mese (oak) wood that fuels the grill should be left to dry in the afternoon sun. The family did manage to trademark the term "Iskender doner kebab," but every restaurant in the country is shamelessly knocking off the dish anyway. Yavuz-bey, who already owns six other Iskender restaurants, concluded by confiding his grand ambition: to open a branch at Harrods. What was that we were saying about globalization?At least London’s an awful lot closer to my home in New York than Bursa.
Anya von Bremzen is a Travel + Leisure contributing editor. Her latest cookbook is The New Spanish Table.
Possibly the most iconic Gallic dish, cassoulet is a rich casserole slow-baked in earthenware that layers tender haricots, various bits of pork, and duck or goose confit. This specialty of southwestern France is claimed by three cities: Carcassonne, Toulouse, and Castelnaudary, each offering its own twist on the theme. Try it at The cozy Le Colombier (14 Rue Bayard; 33-5/61-62-40-05; www.restaurant-le colombier.com; dinner for two $120) in Toulouse, where it’s prepared from a 150-year-old recipe.
To taste pizza as it was meant to be—uncorrupted by fancy toppings and centered on a supple, blistered crust flash-baked in an 800-degree wood-burning oven—you must travel to Naples, its birthplace. Local purists normally frown at any pizza that isn’t a classic margherita or marinara, but a few arugula leaves or prosciutto petals don’t hurt. Try it at Di Matteo (94 Via Tribunale; 39-081/455-262; lunch for two $40), a battered shrine to the pie in the picturesque Spaccanapoli quarter.
Belgium’s signature dish consists of a big iron pot of plump mussels—connoisseurs insist that those from Zeeland’s North Sea are best—steamed in a broth traditionally perfumed with onions, celery, black pepper, and wine. On the side, a pile of crisp, slender frites for which the country is famous. Try it at Brussels’s Aux Armes de Bruxelles (13 Rue des Bouchers; 32-2/511-5598; www.armebrux.be; lunch for two $80) which is equally well-known for the vintage Art Nouveau interior of its front room.
Fondue (which means "molten" or "blended") is Switzerland’s great contribution to the world table. A rich amalgam of cheese, white wine, and a splash of kirsch—plus a small mountain of bread cubes for dunking—it’s the ultimate comfort food. Classically either Gruyère or Vacherin can be used for the dish; if you want both, ask for it moitié-moitié (half and half). Try it at Geneva’s Les Armures (1 Rue Puits-Saint-Pierre; 41-22/310-3442; www.hotel-les-armures.ch; dinner for two $105), a venerated institution that serves up the smoothest, most flavorful rendition.
These colorful open-faced sandwiches are a centuries-old Danish tradition: herring, tiny shrimp, cold cuts, pâtés, and more, piled on pieces of dense buttered bread and festooned with anything from dill sprigs to lemony mayo to crispy fried onions. Three—or seven—make a great lunch. Try it at The 16th-century classic, Slotskælderen Hos Gitte Kik (4 Fortunstræde; 45-33/111-537; lunch for two $40), across the street from Copenhagen’s Christianborg Palace, where the Danish parliament convenes.
Originally concocted by wandering Magyar shepherds and cattlemen, goulash is the quintessential old-world stew that marries hunks of long-simmered meat, carrots, and onions with a generous lacing of paprika. Dumplings are optional, as is a dollop of sour cream, and goulash—which Hungarians tend to call pörkölt or paprikás—can also take the form of a soup. Try it at The homey Borbíróság (5 Csarnok Tér, Budapest; 36-1/ 219-0902; dinner for two $60) near Budapest’s Central Market, which also offers one of the city’s best selections of Hungarian wines.
Meat on a stick doesn’t get better than Greece’s signature pork or chicken brochettes marinated in lemon juice and oregano, sizzled on skewers, and folded into a thick bready pita along with crisp veggies and garlicky tzatziki (yogurt dip). Think of this dish as the Hellenic answer to the hamburger. Try it at The perpetually crowded O Thanassis (69 Mitropoleos St.; 30-1/324-4705; lunch for two $10), in Athens’s hopping Monastiraki district. To souvlaki junkies, this is the Parthenon of fast food.
Though Spanish regional specialties like gazpacho and paella might seem more familiar, cocido is truly the country’s national dish. A multi-meat boil served in two courses (broth followed by carne), it features chicken, beef, vegetables, and charcuterie like chorizo and blood sausage, plus a big fluffy meatball called la pelota. Try it at Madrid’s Lhardy (8 Carrera de San Jerónimo; 34/91-521-3385; www.lhardy.com; lunch for two $95) where a textbook-perfect version is ideally matched to the burnished 19th-century ambience.
More than simple delivery systems for caviar, these delicate yeast pancakes are an ancient Slavic treat that goes back to pre-Christian rites. Symbolically, the flour and eggs in the blini represent the fertility of Mother Earth. Great blini should be plate-sized (never mini), simultaneously fluffy and thin, and good enough to hold their own even without osetra or beluga. Try it at The opulent Yar (32-2 Leningradsky Prospekt; Hotel Sovietsky; 7-495/960-2004; dinner for two $175), an 1826 Moscow landmark.
L’Épuisette Anse du Vallon des Auffes; 33-4/91-52-17-82; www.l-epuisette.com; dinner for two $160.
Une Table au Sud 2 Quai du Port; 33-4/91-90-63-53; www.unetableausud.com; lunch for two $155.
Fryer’s Delight 19 Theobald’s Rd.; 44-20/7405-4114; lunch for two $23.
Rock & Sole Plaice 47 Endell St.; 44-20/7836-3785; lunch for two $35.
Golden Hind 73 Marylebone Lane; 44-20/7486-3644; dinner for two $55.
Casa Salvador L’Estany de Cullera; 34/96-172-0136; lunch for two $70.
Casa Paco 2 San Francisco, Pinoso, Alicante; 34/96-547-8023; lunch for two $55.
Figlmüller 5 Wollzeile; 43-1/512-6177; www.figlmueller.at; lunch for two $50.
Korso bei der Oper Hotel Bristol, 2 Mahlerstrasse; 43-1/5151-6546; dinner for two $190.
Zum Schwarzen Kameel 5 Bognergasse; 43-1/533-8125; www.kameel.at; dinner for two $140.
Uludag Kebapçisi 12 Garaj Karsisi Sirin Sok; 90-224/254-7264; lunch for two $14.
Iskender Efendi Konagi Soganli Botanik Park; 90-224/211-2690; lunch for two $25.
Lhardy is a grand 19th-century museum piece famous for its burnished interiors and cocido (boiled dinner). To start, a smoky beef consommé, followed by impeccably cooked meats and vegetables (jamón, chorizo, blood sausage, and amazingly creamy garbanzos as weightless as popcorn).
Just a 15-minute walk from the Acropolis, this small, often crowded eatery is home to what many consider the best (and cheapest) souvlaki in the city. Set on the northeast corner of Monastiraki Square, the casual restaurant contains little more than an open charcoal grill, a handful of tables, a takeout window, and an adjacent outdoor patio, which provides great people-watching. The signature souvlaki consists of lamb, chicken, or pork kebabs on warm pita, topped with grilled tomato and onion, and dipped in homemade tzatziki (garlicky cucumber-yogurt sauce). The dish is typically paired with French fries and local Mythos beer.
This popular wine restaurant adjacent to the Central Market Hall is known for traditional Hungarian fare and a super-sized cellar. Spanning across three floors, Borbíróság evokes an industrial feel with its brick-and-wood décor. Nearly 100 indigenous wines are offered — by the glass and by the bottle — along with refined cuisine heavy on Hungarian ingredients. Under the supervision of an in-house sommelier, Borbirosag 's wine cellar and gallery are available for private wine tastings and wine dinners. There is also a daily wine happy hour from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. that includes half-priced wine by the glass.
Slotskælderen Hos Gitte Kik
Smorrebrod (which translates as "bread and butter") is the classic Danish lunch, consisting of a piece of bread with a variety of toppings—essentially, an open-face sandwich. Slotskælderen, housed in an 18th-century building and run by the same family since 1910, serves up what many locals consider the consumate Copenhagen smorrebrod lunch. The decor of the rustic restaurant includes several framed photographs depicting historical figures and city scenes, and the centerpiece is a large wooden table set with pieces if Danish porcelain that contain self-serve toppings such as marinated herring, smoked salmon, and vegetarian options. Along with the meal, servers offer traditional Danish coffee (brewed in a cotton 'sock'). There's no menu or pricing: the bill is tallied and presented after the meal.
Located within the Hotel Les Armures in the city’s historic Old Town, this restaurant serves traditional Swiss fare in a two-story space that dates from the 17th century. A full suit of armor marks the entrance to the tavern-like dining room, which also contains wooden ceiling beams, white tablecloths, and stone walls hung with real muskets. Outside, additional seating is available on a cobblestoned terrace, sandwiched between the Old Arsenal and the Maison Tavel. Complemented by Swiss and French wines, the menu includes dishes like air-dried meats, cheese fondue, and chopped veal with cream sauce and rösti (fried grated potatoes).
Aux Armes de Bruxelles
Iskender Efendi Konagi
Korso bei der Oper
Inside the century-old Hotel Bristol next to the world famous opera house, Korso bei der Oper draws after-opera crowds by night for formal, elaborate dinners—and those in search of a more casual lunch, by day. Crystal chandeliers and rich wood paneling juxtaposed with modern furnishings and an illuminated onyx wall create a seamless blend of traditional and contemporary elements. Chef Christian Krumpholz has been in charge of the kitchen since March 2010 and successfully combines local and international dishes to create an innovative menu. His standouts? Lobster and foie gras with asparagus and herb crusted saddle of lamb.
Dapper in black tie attire for more than 100 years, the famous tuxedo-clad waiters at this legendary Fourth District restaurant have been serving Austrian specialties — in high style — since Johann Figlmüller opened for business in 1905. Of the 12 main courses on an old fashioned chalkboard menu, Wiener Schnitzel is the top draw. Tourists make a beeline to Figlmüller for breaded pork which is pounded thin, fried, and served with one of several popular salads (potato is the traditional favorite). Trademark oversized portions are larger than plates, typically hanging over the edges. There is no beer in sight; instead, wines take the spotlight.
Casa Paco Gandia
In a sleepy hamlet 35 miles west of Alicante, the chef at Paco Gandía layers rice in a pan the size of a bicycle tire, along with rabbit, tomatoes, saffron, and snails that feed on wild herbs. Licked by flames from an open fire, the paella is not just good—it’s near-mythical.
When it comes to fish and chips in London, locals and in-the-know tourists agree: the Golden Hind does it best. Set in the quaint neighborhood of Marylebone, this charming, family-owned chippery has a history dating back to 1914 and a menu that reflects years of tradition. Surrounded by rustic wooden tables and twinkling lights, patrons munch on decadent fried feta before diving into the house specialty: huge portions of fresh fish fried in a light, non-greasy batter and paired with chunky chips and delectable mushy peas. Diners can also BYOB and end their feast with heavenly bread and butter pudding.
Rock & Sole Plaice
Set in the bustling Covent Garden district, Rock & Sole Plaice delivers everything one could desire in a traditional chippy: enormous filets of fresh cod fried in a light, crispy batter and thick chips that are crunchy on the outside and bursting with fluffy, buttery potato on the inside. Top that with an ice-cold lager and what many regard as the best tartar in town, and it’s little wonder tourists and Londoners alike are vying for a spot in the cozy main dining room or outdoors at the sidewalk picnic tables. Succulent steak pies and perfectly spiced saveloys satisfy non-fish eaters, as well.
Satisfy guilty cravings at this quick, old-school chippy in Bloomsbury where all the fresh fish and thick, slightly tender chips are fried in savory beef drippings. A longtime favorite of local cabbies, Fryer’s Delight is an unassuming hole-in-the-wall that houses a few small tables atop a black and white tile floor, although most patrons prefer to take their indulgent treat to go. If you do prefer to dine inside, feel free to start a party in the chippy by bringing your own drinks, and don’t overlook the rest of the menu which includes tasty fish cakes and mouthwatering meat pies.
Une Table au Sud
In the fishing port of Vallon des Auffes, the idyllic L’Épuisette serves a proper Provençal bouillabaisse that’s oceans away from all others—brash and intense, rich with saffron and garlic and tasting unmistakably of the sea.
Tuck into pizza-fritta magnificence. A giant golden-fried crescent, oozing ricotta and provola cheese dotted with ciccioli (cracklings), marries pizza-like chewiness with fritter-like fluffiness. A cult of Clinton has reigned here since the ex-prez famously stopped in for a bite in 1994. Other than Bill photos, Di Matteo is a well-lit neorealist dive with a thronged take-out counter and—it goes without saying—mementos of local soccer deity Diego Maradona.