The world is full of fantastic restaurants. One could never list let alone experience all of them. There are chefs who are geniuses producing dishes and meals that are revelatory, in places that are magnificent. This planet will not wither or go dark from lack of great restaurants.
But they’re not all interesting. Most of them are simple and fun and maybe convenient, and maybe just comfortable and reliably always a treat. Eleven Madison Park in NY for instance, not long ago ordained as the world’s best restaurant, a rare honor for an American establishment, is superb and flawless, and the food is invariably innovative, but, to be honest, it’s a bit boring. Worthy with a capital W. Great meal but a bit stuffy, a bit precious.
The following is a list of restaurants that are thrilling and unique. We say 10 of the most interesting because obviously there are more than ten, and we don’t, can’t, know all of them.
And anyway, we want to hear from you! We want your experiences — what unique, interesting/startling restaurant have you been to that belongs on a sequel list? We love sequels! Please tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fervor Wherever they set up for the night, Western Australia
Who knew that Native Australian ingredients are some of the oldest foods on earth? And who’s ever heard of these wonders? Paul Iskov, with his middle-of-nowhere Western Australia pop up Fervor, is bringing Kakadu plum, Quandong, and muntrie berries to a new audience. Plus, it’s safe to assume, not many diners have had grilled crocodile head. “Fervor is a roaming restaurant, which logistically is a lot harder for us, but some of these places are just so amazing. But those are some of the best dinners we have, so we can really treat diners to a special evening” says Iskov, a young, long blond haired man, who looks like one would imagine Jesus Christ might as a chef.
Wondrous things are foraged and brought to the large tent or long outdoor tables they set up, depending on where they stop. “We’re out in nature, so it’s so inspiring. We have all these great ingredients, so it’s easy to cook great food,” he adds. “The Traditional Owners have used these ingredients for thousands of years, with over 5000 edible plants, there is so much for us to learn from the Aboriginal people about the amazing foods we have here in our backyard, as well as how we should be treating the land, animals and plants in a respectful manner, to make sure that we have these foods available for many more generations.”
Le Suquet à Laguiole Laguiole, France
Ever thought anyone would return a Michelin star? A very few do and recently some chefs are jumping ship, so to say. Notably earlier this year, French chef Sébastien Bras decided he prefered to give the heavy stars back. According to Bras, who maintained three Michelin stars with his father at their restaurant Le Suquet à Laguiole in the French countryside for 18 years, he no longer wanted the pressure and the stifling expectations. He felt the stars were inhibiting, given all the requirements, forcing his restaurant to be a certain way, and not necessarily what he wanted for his patrons. The restaurant, nestled in the welcoming bosom of the family’s beautifully designed hotel, is gorgeously modern, light and airy and one of France’s most cherished culinary altars.
We applaud him! Now we’ll go eat without those Michelin prices. Thank you.
Gustu La Paz, Bolivia
Claus Meyer, known for his meticulous involvement in places like Agern in Grand Central Station, NY, and Noma in Copenhagen, has a sleeper restaurant in Bolivia — with a focus on products from the Amazon. The river, not the online grocer. “It’s the biodiversity, the politics, the people, the economy – Bolivia just made sense from every perspective,” says Kamilla Seidler, once the head chef at Gustu and now an advisor. “People think the Amazon is just a green spot but it has so much potential from fish to wild meats to all the crazy plants.” The Amazon, with all its mystery, can be sustainably harvested and thus improve the lives of indigenous people and bring awareness to the real fight – protecting the lungs of the world.
Imagine this. Each morning a chef goes into the Amazon and forages plants and proteins most people outside of the area have ever heard of. This is Jungle to Table rather than the suddenly-more-quaint-sounding Farm to Table.
Neolokal Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is in many ways the middle mark of the world. Turkey’s most famous city stands as a beacon of Asia, or Europe, both of which it literally straddles, and leads the Middle East in pretty much all things culinary. But at Neolokal forget Turkish food as you know it, because this restaurant has restored the ancient and combined it with the modern for a gorgeous new contemporary cuisine. And that is exactly in its very simplest essence what makes it special – it’s also on the rooftop of one of the city’s best art collections right in the heart of where the city’s cosmopolis live.
“As a restaurant we consider ourselves timeless. Being timeless gives us the opportunity to constantly renew ourselves as we continue our path and learning from our past. This past includes our traditions and lost cultures,” says chef Maksut Askar. “We feel it is our duty to reserve it for the future and for the future generations.”
Roches Armed Armed, Morocco
At the top of the Atlas mountains, about two hours outside of Marrakesh, follow the road past the glorious Kasbah Tamadot luxury hotel, up to the village of Imlil. From there take an off-road track to the highest village in North Africa -– Armed, 2000 meters above sea level . You’ll have to walk this rest of the way, or rent a ride by mule. An excellent traditional Berber lunch is served on the roof of their Inn, the highest terrace in the village, with stunning views across and down the mountains.
The journey exponentially increases the expectations, but the payoff is a gastronomical orgasm. The food is magnificent and perhaps the most authentic you will find anywhere in the country, sensual and unadulterated, even though the Inn of course hosts tourists.
KOKS Leynavatn, Faroe Islands
We all know that Michelin can sometimes have their head up their sunless place (awarding a star to a food truck somewhere — Brooklyn, LA? whatever…) and are not averse to an attention-getting, guidebook-selling gimmick, but there’s nothing gimmicky about giving one to a restaurant in the Faroe Islands in the far north Atlantic. You have to mean that one. And in mid February 2019, they got a second star, becoming only one of 10 Nordic restaurants to be awarded two Michelin stars.
KOKS, Michelin recipient first in 2017, in that insanely exciting Nordic tradition of sweeping sea beds and crannies in mountains for ingredients, then producing breathtaking culinary art with them, is a revelation. 27-year-old Faroese chef Poul Andrias Ziska concentrates on traditional Faroese dishes, local produce and techniques of drying, fermenting, salting and smoking, but reimagines it all with modern possibilities and innovative combinations. The tasting menu, at appx. $215US, is worth crossing the world for.
“Our aim is to create the ultimate dining experience, strongly influenced by our deep-rooted Faroese traditions and the remarkable local produce found at our doorstep. This is our strength, and often our job is simply to let the extraordinary produce speak for itself,” says Ziska, who got the Young Chef Award from Michelin this year too.
Andres Carne de Reyes Chia, Colombia
If completely over-the-top bonkers, sensory assaulting overload and koo koo bananas audio and visual anarchy counts as interesting, you’ve got to consider this eccentric Colombian establishment. The original one in Chia, outside of Bogota, not the newer one in central Bogota. Chris Johns, our roving, mostly MIA, Senior Contributor (which is fine, because he is himself foraging the best places on Earth) highly recommends this informal wooden-tabled, hoarder-cluttered from the ceiling to the floor hallucination of a dining emporium. The menu is a mash up of a steakhouse and a diner, with an alternate universe juice bar meets Tiki Bar blended in, offering the exceptional meat you’d expect in South America, and great fish, and local comfort food, like Arepas.
Yeah, it’s on the list.
Etxebarri Axpe, Spain
Another of our globetrotting Senior Contributors, Darren Humphreys, claims the best meal he have ever had was at Etxebarri, in a tiny village called Axpe in the Basque region, in the Atxondo valley. The restaurant is a simple old building and the village is set in glorious forest at the foot of the Anboto mountain.
“The chef/owner is a really enigmatic guy, Victor Arguinzoniz. He purposely designed a grill system that can be raised and lowered by a series of pulleys. This system helps him regulate the heat in the kitchen — everything, and I mean everything is cooked over open flame that is wood fire. All of the wood is rootstock from different indigenous trees or old gnarled vines from the surrounding wine region,” reports Darren, who “regrets” it has been discovered and is a huge gastro destination now. “When I celebrated my 40th there a decade ago, it was a complete hidden gem…” he trails off wistfully.
The Source Hobart Tasmania, Australia
The Source, whose enigmatic slogan is ‘The Very Best Regrets’, is a restaurant in the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), a truly strange but strikingly beautiful institution run by an eccentric gambling millionaire who is, apparently, not shy about his love for and advocacy of group sex. The restaurant’s site teasingly calls itself the scene of “infamous MONA lunches and grubby after parties” and proudly claims to be where “rogue musicians, artists and museum owners go to inject Bloody Marys into their veins for breakfast, or get chatty over a long lunch of wallaby tartare.” This is a place, it must be pointed out, that makes lunching on raw wallaby comparatively sedate. (And this is the second time WONDERLUST has extolled the virtues of eating wallaby…)
On top of all this hinted hedonism, the restaurant is outstanding and a foodie destination in Hobart. Today for instance, the wallaby is prepared with beetroot, hazelnuts, wattle seed, kunzea, and shallots, and the kingfish with gin. There’s lamb shoulder done middle eastern fashion, and fried chicken with fermented cabbage. And there is, according to The Source themselves, “the mythical wine bunker.” Bunker… personally, I only do sieges where there is excellent and plentiful wine involved, and whatever else makes it mythical seems only a plus to me.
The Grey Savannah, Georgia
A dramatic bus depot from the 30s setting is where chef Mashama Bailey is the one to finally evolve southern food — at her restaurant The Grey.
We’ve had it with all the same ‘new’ southern food — Charleston and Nashville I’m speaking to you. At the Grey it’s flaired with Italian savoir and that is actually new…
Think of this as your favorite place to come from this moment on. It’s home comfort, with a little extra finesse for your delight. Bailey is New York City Prune trained and the food is, on all accounts, better than Prune. The setting is magical — not in that Harry Potter way, in that Gothic Noir way that only Savannah could conjure up.
I won’t tell you too much about the food. I’ll let you find yourself in a booth as if you’re waiting for a bus, wondering which fascinating life changing person is going to roll in.