Favorite Restaurants

Crudite with whipped Brebis at
Blackberry Farm
Food as gorgeous as it tastes
Fresh grilled seafood
Truffle risotto – a true delight
Food art
Zass
Darren and Caitlin with long time friend Chef Alois of Zass at Il San Pietro

Favorite Restaurants

Around the World

by Darren

My stock standard response when I am asked about any ‘travel favorites’ list is, ‘If I had 5 cents for every time I was asked this I’d be a retired, wealthy man’. That does not mean that I don’t love devoting thought to showcasing truly meaningful experiences that have been ethereal game changers for me, it’s just that I am not naive enough to believe that these lists aren’t sometimes redundant before they are used (or in some cases before they are read!).

Notwithstanding this preamble I’ve been reflecting on some gastronomic experiences from across the globe, and in no particular order here are some truly exceptional experiences to hopefully incorporate into your next trip:

The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Tennessee

Maybe it was the wine list, which could have doubled as a bible, that was the first indication of how good the experience was going to be (it lists wines from the 5th largest wine cellar in the world, which is on property). Or it might have been the serene corner table where ceiling to floor barn windows revealed the evening thunderstorm and sheeting rain. Either way, as soon as the food service commenced it rounded out the trifecta, and at one point I glanced at the open kitchen and smiled appreciatively at the staff whose return knowing smiles said it all.

Le Toiny, St. Barths

Sometimes you just want to let life experiences flow over you and that is exactly what you experience here. The light ocean breeze, a cult Burgundy and absolutely on-point cuisine combine to personify elegant island intimacy. Jimmy Buffett owns the private beach directly below and at one point I was sure I spotted him gazing longingly up at our table.

St. John Restaurant, London

Fergus Henderson pioneered the resurgence of ‘nose to tail’ gastronomy in the UK and St. John is ground zero to experience unusual cuisine, cooked and presented in a masterful way. I started with the bone marrow and quite honestly I could have ended there and been immeasurably satisfied. Set within the legendary Smithfield market this stripped down restaurant is all about the food. I came away feeling very much more educated about the provenance of all components of the animals that comprised my meal, which is an oddly satisfying thing to say.

Zass, Il San Pietro, Positano

It is quite a task to convey just how special it feels to dine in this kitchen. Yes, IN the kitchen. Every night two lucky souls have a front row seats at a pop up bar in the heart of the kitchen to watch as the evening unfolds. There is no menu. Chefs from every station surprise you with the very best of what they are preparing that evening, a true case of sous chef ‘one-up-manship’. It was unsurprising to hear that the construction price tag was 3 million Euro as most components had to be helicoptered to the clifftop location. Likely the only restaurant in the world where you have enough technology to launch the Nasa Space Shuttle.

Extebarri, AXPE, Spain

Victor Arguinzoniz (yes, try and say that 3 time in a row after a couple of glasses of Txakoli) is my hero of Basque cuisine. One of the most unassuming, brilliantly gifted chefs in the world. To date the meal I had here is the meal by which I judge every other culinary experience. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is cooked on an open flame on a grill system of mechanical pulleys and racks, all custom designed by the chef. A walk through the kitchen is akin to a visit to a culinary ballet. A trip to Basque Country is worth it even if only for this meal.

Wolfgat, Paternoster, South Africa

A restaurant that combines three of my very favorite things: a table that showcases the very best of the Atlantic & Indian Oceans that meet nearby, the bounty of ingredients foraged from the Cape Peninsula and a casual, relaxed vibe as you sit on the beach gazing at the Atlantic Ocean. Such stripped down simplicity, inventive preparation and presentation…along with excellent local wines …well, say no more.

Estancia Vik, José Ignacio, Uruguay

Elevated above a meandering river that leads into the Atlantic Ocean in the distance, the Estancia is set on a stately polo farm. At it’s heart is an indoor grill that is effectively part of an art installation. Complemeting the restaurant and grill space is the owners private’s collection of contemporary art, renowned as one of the most thoughtful in the world. Abundant meat dishes, grilled vegetables and distinctive Uruguayan specialties abound. The good news is that after a chukka and a kayak you can indulge in anything on the menu and stumble upstairs to step in the lap of luxury.

The Chop Shop, Arrowtown, New Zealand

This postage stamp size restaurant punches hugely above its weight. Fabulously fresh ingredients are lovingly prepared in a style best described as Kiwi-Asia fusion. Wine pairings from local cellar doors are hugely accretive to the dining experience and you will, no doubt, leave on very friendly terms with fellow diners after dinner at this hidden gem.