Food & Drink

The coolest food holidays in the world (according to top chefs)

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Chris Sayer
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The coolest food holidays in the world (according to top chefs)

You’re thinking about food, aren’t you. We are. Always are. Today’s thought track, so far: is £8 a bit excessive for a midweek lunch (it is); are those sausages we took out of the freezer for dinner tonight gonna be nice (they’re not), what is the best cheese (all of the cheeses).

You’re also thinking about booking a holiday too, aren’t you. We are. Always are. The rest of today’s thought track, so far: who do we know in California who owns a $10million beachside duplex that we can stay in (nobody); are we “beach body ready” (hahahahaha); how can we be friends with someone in California with a $10million beachside duplex that we can stay in (you can’t and never will).

Makes sense, then, to clobber together the two things you give most thought to - eating and holidaying - to create this: a powerlist of the world’s coolest food holiday destinations, as recommended by top-tier and mad respected chefs who’ve been there, dined it, and got the stains down their t-shirts to prove it.

From a pizza pilgrimage on the streets of Naples to fresh-as-heck fish on the beaches of Jamaica, these are the professionally picked getaways that the always-hungry should book immediately…

1. Naples, Italy

Recommended by Thom and James Elliot, founders of Pizza Pilgrims

The pitch: “Oh, it’s a mad city. It’s not geared up for tourism in the same way that Rome is, which makes it a much more authentic Italian experience. Eating pizza here, you’re usually shoulder to shoulder with the locals, and they’ll be more than happy to tell you exactly what to order.”

Find this food: “Pizza, obviously. The best in the city is the Salsiccia e Friarielle at Concettina Tre Santi. The pizzaiolo there, Ciro Salvo, is the rising star of pizza in Naples, and he uses coarse ground fennel sausage and sauteed local wild broccoli. It’s a knockout.”

Book this restaurant:Trattoria Da Nennella is great for classic southern Italian cooking. Go for the seafood pasta - it’s pretty much perfect. It does have a reputation for rude staff. We didn’t find them rude though, just great examples of the ‘unique’ southern Italian hospitality!”

Prop up this bar: “You’ve got to check out Cammarota Spritz. It’s a hole-in-the-wall where the young locals drink, and serves 1€ Aperol Spritz. That’s it.”

Crash in this hotel: “We like Una Hotel Napoli. It’s good value, a little slice of peace when you need to recharge, and the rooftop breakfast in front of Mount Vesuvius is awesome.”

2. Goa, India

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Recommended by Surender Mohan, culinary director at Jamavar

The pitch: “It’s blessed with history, culture, architecture, beaches and, of course, incredible food. There’s this calmness in the air wherever you go, so much so that the locals refer to their lifestyle as ‘susegad’, which simply means ‘quiet’. You’ll immediately feel relaxed, no matter what you left behind at home.”

Find this food: “I’d say Goan Fish Curry. Wow, the flavours. There’s fresh coconut, green chillies, ground spices. Make sure you add the local fruit, kokum, for a touch of sourness that balances the whole dish.”

Book this restaurant: “Chef Fernando’s Nostalgia. It’s the coolest spot I ate in, and with the most relaxed atmosphere. You have to try their Goan Fish Curry, Xacutis, Cafreal and Caldeirada.”

Prop up this bar: “The White House Bar is on top of a hill with amazing views of the sea. Crack open a cold beer at sunset, and watch lights from passing ships sparkle in the distance.”

Crash in this hotel:The Leela. It’s India’s only beach and riverside resort, and the hospitality is second to none.”

3. Stockholm, Sweden

Recommended by Oliver Gladwin, owner-chef at The Shed, Rabbit and Nutbourne

The pitch: “It’s beautiful, it’s romantic, and it’s perfect for a long weekend, and the Nordic food scene is so brilliantly simplistic, creative and precise.”

Find this food: “On every road you walk down, especially in the old town, you’ll find French-influenced Swedish brasseries. Grab a light lunch of rollmops with cream, fresh dill and boiled potatoes for a proper introduction to life as a resident Stockholmer.”

Book this restaurant: “Everything at Ekstedt is cooked over open fire. I went on my birthday, and they surprised me by inviting me to cook an oyster over fire, with beef dripping. It was such a treat.”

Prop up this bar: “Get a private table and take all the recommendations that the staff at Meltbar throw at you. It’s a 1920s speakeasy with free entry and hidden burlesque.”

Crash in this hotel:The Victory Hotel has a great location in the old town, and has a really fun boat-themed interior.”

4. Hong Kong, China

Recommended by Z He, founder of Bun House

The pitch: “Standing at street level in Hong Kong and looking up is like transporting you to a film set. And depending on where you are, that film could be a period drama, a dystopian sci-fi, or an adventure movie. If you want somewhere where you’ll never run out of food options, this is it.”

Find this food: “Every time I return I search for something that’s out of my comfort zone. On my last trip, I tried Big Eye Fish. The fish is marinated in salt and ginger, steamed, and then chilled. Just go, and find something you’ve never tried before.”

Book this restaurant:MOTT 32. It’s designed by one of my favourite interior designers, and it’s sophisticated but rustic, and really cool. Order the Crispy Char Siu - it’s like eating crunchy caramel with a BBQ flavour.”

Prop up this bar: “The Bloody Mary at VEA Lounge is one of the most full-flavoured I’ve ever had. Sit at the bar and get friendly with the bartender, so that he offers you one of their off-menu aged Negronis.”

Crash in this hotel:Fleming Hotel Hong Kong is the definition of an urban boutique. It’s right in the heart of Wan Chai District, another food heaven.”

5. Queenstown, New Zealand

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Recommended by Masha Rener, head chef at Lina Stores - 51 Greek Street

The pitch: “Aside from the food? I’ve never seen such an amazing landscape. The people are absolutely lovely, and so open too. Their kind and positive approach to life has definitely stuck with me.”

Find this food: “It’s a meat lover’s heaven, especially the lamb. Look out for ‘Cardrona’ in particular - it’s a free-range, mountain-bred lamb with the most incredible flavour.”

Book this restaurant: Rata, by Josh Emett. It’s a little off the beaten track, but the relaxed neighbourhood feel, Cloudy Bay Storm Clams with Seaweed Butter and Buckwheat, and Merino Lamb Rump with Crispy Sweetbreads and Capsicum make it more than worth the hunt.”

Prop up this bar: “If you can find the small chic wine place next to the harbour, the one with the incredible gin list and the beautiful views, please tell me its name. I honestly can’t remember what it’s called, but I can definitely remember the gin and tonics!”

Crash in this hotel:The Rees. It stole my heart.”

6. Tokyo, Japan

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Recommended by Scott Hallsworth, former head chef at Nobu and founder of Freak Scene

The pitch: “Food and culture is entwined here. It’s just everywhere. It’s permeates society. Just go and eat.”

Find this food: “One of the greatest things was eating Chirashi Sushi on a bed of warm rice, with fish from the Tsukiji Fish Market I was standing in. The fish was so fresh that it hadn’t even been refrigerated, which took the whole experience to another level.”

Book this restaurant: “Don’t book, just find as many izakayas as you can. The coolest one I got - and the name escapes me - was a pork-based one, in which we had robata-grilled pork neck with kinsanji miso - an orange-like barley miso. I loved how they passed food to hard-to-reach areas of the restaurant on a long paddle. I want to steal that idea.”

Prop up this bar: “I’m sorry, but you have to hit New York Bar at the top of the Hyatt. It’s the one from Lost In Translation, and has views of Mt. Fuji - a peak only surpassed by the prices of the drinks.”

Crash in this hotel: “One of the funniest things I’ve ever done, by mistake, was to stay in a Japanese ‘Love Hotel’. The rooms are themed to the clients’ fantasies, the TVs only play porn (with all the good bits pixelated), and there are vending machines full of sex toys beside the bed. I only booked because it was the cheapest place I could find.”

7. Tel Aviv, Israel

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Recommended by Josh Katz, chef-owner of Berber & Q and Shawarma Bar

The pitch: “The outdoor lifestyle and beautiful weather means there’s a really buzzy energy everywhere you go, and a thriving cafe culture. It’s a city that never sleeps.”

Find this food: “For hummus, you’ve got to get yourself to Abu Hassan in Jaffa. It’s perfect, I could eat it every day. I often go there for breakfast, to get my early morning hummus fix.”

Book this restaurant:Port Sa’id. Everything on the menu is outstanding, and it’s full of young hip people until late, spilling out onto the street. It’s always packed, because it’s so good.”

Prop up this bar: “Go find the really nice wine bar tucked away in Par Derriere Bistro. It’s well worth a trip.”

Crash in this hotel:Hotel Montefiore is right in the heart of the city, and only has about 12 really great rooms to offer.”

8. Seminyak, Bali

Recommended by Cam Emilali, chef at 10 Greek Street

The pitch: “It’s surfing, it’s nightlife, it’s food. It’s kinda like Ibiza, in that you’ve got two very different sides: you can go party hard, or you can escape to serene, tranquil and beautiful beaches.”

Find this food: “A truly traditional bite of Bali is Babi Guling - suckling pig. I always go to a restaurant called Sagsaka to eat it, where they cook everything on a coal BBQ. The smoky flavour that they manage to get in their food is amazing. I’ve not had anything like it anywhere else.”

Book this restaurant:Merah Putih is my number one. The chef, Kieran, makes a great lobster dumpling with freshly caught fish cooked on the BBQ. The spices they use there - fresh turmeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves - are next level, and unlike anything you find in the UK.”

Prop up this bar: “I always recommend Potato Head. The infinity pool overlooks the Indian Ocean, and has one of the best sunset views in Bali. I also got taken to a place called Jungle. It’s in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by paddy fields, and only opens once a week as a bar. They play banging tunes though, and the cocktails are great.”

Crash in this hotel:The W Hotel. It’s right on the beach.”

9. San Francisco, USA

Recommended by Rose Mann, co-founder of Farm Girl

The pitch: “It’s just a must-see. I stopped here on my way to Burning Man one year, as it had always been on my bucket list. There’s so much to do, some incredible beaches, and insanely cool restaurants.”

Find this food: “The Mexican food is awesome, and you’re gonna be totally spoiled for choice. The no-frills Taqueria in the Mission District has such a wild reputation that it will have a queue, but it’s absolutely worth it for the burrito you get at the end. Find Cala for delicious tostadas too.”

Book this restaurant: “Definitely The Slanted Door in the Ferry Building. Hands down, the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had. Ever. The Gau Choy Gow dumplings were heavenly, as was the spiced cauliflower with chilli and mushrooms. It has huge windows that look out onto the bay, and the atmosphere is so chilled. If I was ever to have an Asian restaurant, this would be my goal.”

Prop up this bar: “The very best Negronis are at Wildhawk, in the Mission District. Grab one of the zebra-print stools at the bar - they’re the best seats in the house, as you can gaze on the staff working their boozy magic.”

Crash in this hotel: “I’d Airbnb it, actually. You’ll find some gems, and save yourself a load of cash - the prices of hotels in San Francisco can be spicy.”

10. Buenos Aires, Argentina

Recommended by Jamie Robertson, chef director at Gaucho

The pitch: “Every day of the week feels like a Saturday night in Buenos Aires. There’s such a buzz. There are so many food influences here too, from Italian to Japanese, and even Welsh. Go in February, and you’re hitting it right in the sweet spot of beef season.”

Find this food: “It’s all about beef and Malbec. They always cook their meat over charcoal, but don’t age their beef like we do in the UK - they use different cuts that don’t necessarily need to be aged. They appreciate the whole animal, which is great. I suggest you get ready to gnaw your beef right off the bone.”

Book this restaurant:Parrilla Lo de Chuni. It’s tucked away in the back streets, and serves the best street food I’ve ever eaten, Choripan, which is grilled chorizo and crusty bread. Sensational stuff.”

Prop up this bar: “The bar at the Alvear Icon Hotel. There’s a glassed-in terrace with the most amazing panoramic view across the city.”

Crash in this hotel: “Same place! Enjoy your booze and views then just fall into bed when you’re done.”

11. Jamaica, Caribbean 

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Recommended by Ryan Matheson, head chef at Florentine Restaurant and Bar

The pitch: “It’s my homeland, a real island paradise! Amazing culture, great people, and it’s always summer… outside of the September to November hurricane season, obviously.”

Find this food: “Ackee and Saltfish is the national dish (even though ackee is actually an incredibly poisonous fruit, until it’s prepared correctly). I remember once heading home from a nightclub with some friends, and stopping at a small breakfast shack in Kingston for it. It was simple, delicious, and I ate it as the sun came up.”

Book this restaurant: “Go to Hellshire Beach and have the Escovitch Snapper with Fried Bammy. There’s a few places to eat, but Bev & Sons is right on the sand, and the fish is prepared as soon as it’s brought in by the fishermen.”

Prop up this bar:Triple Century Sports Bar is owned by cricket hero Chris Gayle, and Track & Records by Usain Bolt. Both are in Kingston, both are all about sports, and both serve a mean mojito.”

Crash in this hotel: “Hedonism II in Negril is a clothing-optional resort and it’s, er, quite the eye-opener.”

12. New York City, USA

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Recommended by Marcus Eaves, executive chef at Oblix

The pitch: “I mean, it’s just phenomenal isn’t it. The sheer scale of it, it’ll blow you away. There’s so much to do, so much to take in, and if you like living in the fast lane, you’ll love it.”

Find this food: “The best $20 I ever spent in NYC was on a Reuben sandwich. We’re talking a ridiculous amount of pastrami, sauerkraut, and melted Swiss cheese.”

Book this restaurant:Momofuku Ssam Bar changed the way I look at eating out. Up until that point, I’d only really eaten at refined, high-end restaurants. This is a place with an open kitchen, super loud music, a funky setting and a focus on showcasing seasonal produce. I’d never come across anything quite like it. The menu changes, but if you get a chance to try the Bo Ssam or Rotisserie Duck, you’re in for a treat.”

Prop up this bar: “Situated in an old car garage in Brooklyn, Fette Sau is a BBQ restaurant using heritage breeds, and a bar that focuses on local craft beers and spirits from small American producers. Some say it has the best whiskey menu in New York, and I say it has the the best Manhattans and Old Fashioneds I’ve had to date.”

Crash in this hotel:The Royalton, just off Times Square, is a cool boutique hotel. In the evening, the lobby is pumping with live DJs.”

13. Seoul, South Korea

Recommended by Joo Won, head chef at Galvin at Windows

The pitch: “When people think about traveling to Asia, they think India, or Thailand, or Vietnam. Not South Korea. But it’s a leader in culture for younger Asian generations - everything from K-Pop to B-Boys, movies to tech, video games to food. And its capital city is open all night long.”

Find this food: “Head for Galmegi Golmok - it’s a narrow street absolutely filled with Korean BBQ, and tables made from drum barrels with people grilling their own meat over hot charcoals. You need to try the Galmegi Sal. It’s pork diaphragm, a cut that would usually end up in the bin in the West, but it’s full of flavour and great texture. It’s a chef’s snack in our kitchen!”

Book this restaurant:Mingles is one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, and the one I like the most. Squid Ink Capellini Pasta with Sea Urchin, Lobster and Seaweed Sauce is one of their signatures. I so wish I could cook in the UK with all the Korean ingredients I tasted there.”

Prop up this bar:Zac (meaning “pour” in Korean) is in the Gangnam area and serves some brilliant Korean craft beers. Order a portion of the octopus too - it’s a perfect booze snack.”

Crash in this hotel:The Conrad Seoul is absolute luxury, and it overlooks the Han River. And the breakfast is so good that you won’t want to leave.”

Main image: Lisheng Chang