Best cities for food: Chefs pick the hottest new cities for dining

How far would you go for a good dinner? Increasingly, the answer is measured in thousands of kilometres. Many of us have become hungry travellers, planning itineraries in which meals are as important as museums. Until now, foodies have tended to focus on a handful or so of culinary capitals, cities such as Paris, San Sebastian, Tokyo, New York and London. 

However, as our appetites, and culinary knowledge and appreciation, broaden, we are looking further afield. In search of inspiration, we asked a panel of leading and peripatetic Australian chefs to name  the under-the-radar cities that are destined to become foodie favourites, who nominated a diverse range of destinations, from the Americas and Europe to the Middle East. 

Some of the chosen cities have ancient culinary traditions while in others, the gastronomic culture is young and fresh. One thing they share in common is a deep commitment to good food. But it is not just about fine dining, although you will find plenty of good restaurants listed. 

It is also about markets and street food, cinnamon buns in Stockholm and freshly-roasted coffee in Berlin and the local flavours that linger in your memory long after you return home, like the taste of green chilli ice cream melting in your mouth on a hot Indian afternoon.

MEET THE PANEL

CHRISTINE MANFIELD

Manfield is a leading Australian chef and author. Her culinary work draws on the tastes and flavours of many cultures. See christinemanfield.com

BILL GRANGER

Granger has grown his restaurant empire from the original Bill's Café in Sydney's inner-city Darlinghurst. He now has outlets in Tokyo, London, Seoul and Honolulu. See bills.com.au

ANDREW MCCONNELL

McConnell's seven Melbourne venues include Supernormal, Cumulus Inc and Cutler & Co. He was named Chef of the Year by The Age Good Food Guide 2015. See supernormal.net.au; cumulusinc.com.au; cutlerandco.com.au

GREG MALOUF

Malouf is an acclaimed Australian chef specialising in modern Middle Eastern cuisine. He has recently opened Cle Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. See cle-dubai.com

BRETT GRAHAM

Graham is an Australian-born, UK-based chef.  His two Michelin star London restaurant, The Ledbury, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. See theledbury.com

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MUMBAI, INDIA

CHOSEN BY CHRISTINE MANFIELD

WHY MUMBAI?

Mumbai is hotwired. It is an engaging, thrilling city, and its food scene is really vibrant. The street food is really in your face, and everything is so fresh. Each cart has a different offering, and stays there until it runs out of food. Then they pack up and another cart comes in to replace them.

Then you have dhabas​, the workers' canteens, which serve honest, delicious food, and the Irani​ cafes, run by Mumbai's Parsi​ population. Their cuisine is incredibly rich, with lots of butter, eggs and cream. There is a whole gaggle of Irani cafes which serve apple tarts, egg dishes and brun maska, a crusty bread roll with butter which is the benchmark by which Parsi food is judged.

Mumbai also has fantastic seafood, which dates back to the days of the koliwadas, the fishing villages that were here before Mumbai turned into a mega metropolis. Try the koliwada prawns, tiny local prawns fried with Kashmiri chili powder, or any fish served with green masala, which is aromatic, not overly hot.

Mumbai is also home to a lot of people with money. As everywhere else, they want everything at their fingertips, so there are glamorous restaurants of all kinds, from French to Burmese.

THREE MUST-TRY DISHES

Bhelpuri is a Mumbai street food that has spread across India. It is a mix of puffed rice, potatoes, onions, chaat masala and chutney.

Butter-peppered garlic crab is one of Mumbai's signature seafood dishes. The crab is steamed whole, then the meat is taken out and seasoned with garlic and black pepper before being cooked in butter. 

Thali is like an Indian dim sum. You get a tray filled with different plates, rice, bread and pickles. As you eat, they keep topping up each dish until you tell them to stop.

WHERE TO EAT

Soam is an Indian version of Bill's Café, with a funky, contemporary aesthetic. There is always a queue, but it doesn't take long to get in. They had a great menu of chaat snacks. Order them all: they are just tiny bites. 

Masala Library opened about 18 months ago. It is very glamorous, serving Indian flavours with a contemporary, molecular approach. Their dishes are really interesting. They do these tiny lamb racks, perfectly frenched, with maple syrup, tamarind, and kokum, which has a sour flavour. See masalalibrary.com

Bachelorr's​ Ice Cream on Marine Drive in Chowpatty is a local landmark. Their two best flavours are green chilli and ginger. See bachelorrs.com

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES

CHOSEN BY BILL GRANGER

WHY LOS ANGELES?

LA has changed so much since I was there three years ago. It has completely exploded. The local food scene is one of contrasts. You have the very healthy, herbal approach, the food trucks, vegan bakeries. Then you have flavours from around the world. The Mexican influence is obviously big, but people come here from around the world. When acting doesn't work out, they sometimes open restaurants.

Everything is fresh and produce-driven. Lots of chefs are playing with seeds and plant-based foods, using different oils. Chefs are also using a lot of Japanese flavours and techniques like fermenting. Korean food has exploded here as well. 

THREE DISHES TO TRY

The crispy rice at Sqirl [pronounced squirrel] is amazing. We drove an hour and 15 minutes to have it for breakfast today. They boil it then dehydrate it and fry it, so the texture is really light and crunchy. They serve it with lots of herbs, such as spring onion and coriander, and green chilli relish. It's gluten free and vegan. sqirlla.com

The chopped salad is the classic LA dish. The Ivy restaurant did it originally, but now every restaurant has their own version. You get a great version at the Malibu Farm cafe on the end of Malibu Pier, which is run by Helene Henderson, the healthiest looking person I've ever seen. Her version has roasted chickpeas and beetroot, sprinkled with radishes and seeds. See malibu-farm.com

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Los Feliz are really grown-up and delicious, not too sweet. Try the wheatgrass, pear and vinho verde sorbet, which is fresh and green and vibrant. The goats cheese and red cherry ice cream is also delicious. See jenis.com

WHERE TO EAT

Gjelina​ is really delicious SoCal cooking. They have just opened a bakery/deli called Gjusta​, where the house-cured pastrami is to die-for. See gjelina.com; gjusta.com

Bar Ama, a tex-mex bar downtown is Gwyneth Paltrow's favourite place in LA. It's a casual, buzzy Mexican, with handmade guacamole and the most incredible margaritas. We had the whole baked fish with orange salad, which was great. bar-ama.com

There are amazing farmers markets all over LA. The produce is top quality, I've never seen anything like it. You eat your way through eight punnets of berries before you leave the markets. See discoverlosangeles.com

BERLIN, GERMANY

CHOSEN BY ANDREW MCCONNELL

WHY BERLIN?

Berlin is a really creative environment, and I found the energy of the arts scene was also reflected in the food. Particularly in neighbourhoods such as Mitte and Kreuzberg, there is a great sense of freedom. Indie operators are doing their own thing, rather than sticking to the high street model and choosing safe locations with lots of foot traffic. They are quietly confident in what they are doing.

THREE DISHES TO TRY

I ate a lot of German pastries in Berlin, and I never had a bad one. They were different to what you would see in a French patisserie, with different fruits used in the strudels and Danishes. There is a big movement of small batch coffee roasters in Berlin. The café I went to every day – sometimes even twice – was called The Barn, in Auguststrasse. Absolutely benchmark coffee. See barn.bigcartel.com You can't leave Berlin without having a schnitzel, preferably with sauerkraut. One restaurant I went to had nothing else on the menu.

WHERE TO EAT

There is a Michelin star restaurant called Pauly Saal​ in an old Jewish girl's school that I really enjoyed. What I enjoyed even more, however, was its sister café next door. Called Mogg & Melzer, it is known for just one dish: pastrami, which they brine, smoke and cook themselves. Their pastrami sandwich on rye is probably better than anything I have had in New York. The building is so beautiful, they have a lovely terrace in the school yard, and a large proportion of the space is dedicated to contemporary art. See paulysaal.com/en, moggandmelzer.com

Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg is amazing. It is 150 years old, with lots of wrought iron and glass in the ceiling, but it has been taken over by young people who have put a lot of artisanal producers in there: cheesemakers, charcutiers, organic growers. There was an amazing smell of smoked meat coming from this stall at the back called Big Stuff BBQ, where they were cooking their own brisket and pork sausages, which were delicious. See markthalleneun.de

The first time I went to Berlin in 1994 I went to Paris Bar, which is a bit of an institution. I went there again this time, and the menu was exactly the same, although the art had changed. It's a great place to enjoy an entrecote or steak frites with a good bottle of burgundy, and it feels quite avant-garde. I went there for a late dinner and didn't leave until one in the morning, and it was full of people. See parisbar.net

BEIRUT, LEBANON

CHOSEN BY GREG MALOUF

WHY BEIRUT?

I'm incredibly biased because of my Lebanese heritage, but something about this city keeps drawing me back again and again. The food culture is steeped in generosity: it is a very social way of eating that draws people together.

Farmers come down from the mountains to sell their produce in the markets: there are amazingly tiny iceberg lettuce available in season, for instance. There is still a tradition of community cooking, where someone makes a big pot of stuffed vine leaves and takes it to the baker, who puts it in his oven to cook for three or four hours. The war destroyed most of the infrastructure, but it didn't destroy people's appetites. Very interesting places have been springing up over the past five years, showcasing regional cooking or twists on tradition. These gems are great to hunt down.

THREE DISHES TO TRY

Try a few different types of kibbeh. Traditionally it is made of ground lamb mixed with spices and burghul cracked wheat, eaten raw with a glass of arak, which probably originated to help kill any bacteria. Now you find all different sorts of kibbeh on menus around town: raw or cooked, made into balls or stuffed with pumpkin and potato, cooked in yoghurt or baked on a tray. During fig season, the little birds that live on the figs [called asafir] can be quite something. They are usually fried or barbecued, drizzled with pomegranate syrup and garlic and eaten whole. In the morning, I love going to the bakery and picking up some fresh manoush, bread brushed with sumac, dukkah and olive oil. 

WHERE TO EAT

Tawlet​ is a wonderful organic restaurant run by Kamal Mouzawak, a pioneer in bringing regional Lebanese food from the mountains to the city. Each week a different cook presents a serious of regional dishes from their hometown. See oukeltayeb.com/tawlet

Fadel Restaurant in Bikfaya has amazing views overlooking Beirut. It is worth the trip to try the stuffed kibbeh the size of olives.

Em Sherif is a classy restaurant with an endless array of mezze dishes, from meat-stuffed vine leaves cooked on lamb necks to purslane and yoghurt salad with pomegranates. See emsherif.com

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

CHOSEN BY: BRETT GRAHAM

WHY STOCKHOLM?

 I went there between Christmas and New Year last year, and found the restaurant scene was really vibrant. Like all the Scandinavian countries there is lots of foraging, smoked meat and pickled fish, but there are also plenty of traditional restaurants. They still have a really good connection to their old dishes, which you often lose in major cities. For me, it's really important to eat what the locals eat, as well as visiting the top restaurants. I tend to just do a big restaurant every second day, and the rest of the time enjoy the simple places. One of the things I loved about Stockholm was its really cool cafe culture, and the delicious pastries flavoured with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon.

THREE DISHES TO TRY

There are some dishes you just don't get, until one day you are served the real thing, and you understand why they are so famous. Toast Skagen is one of them. This traditional dish consists of just three ingredients – rye bread, prawn, dill – but the combination is magic. Meatballs are another Swedish classic; they are always wonderfully moist. Try them served with lingonberry sauce, pickled cucumbers and potatoes. I had never tried cloudberries before, but I found them appearing on a lot of menus. Working with local produce is really important to Stockholm's chefs.

WHERE TO EAT

At Ekstedt, they don't use electricity; everything is thrown on the grill. Their set menu is six or seven courses, focused on fresh produce treated really simply. Their shellfish is amazing; I really enjoyed the lobster cooked in over juniper branches, served with grated black truffle.  ekstedt.nu/english/

Stockholm has a couple of amazing food halls. I love Ostermalmshallen, although Hotorgshallen is also great. These big halls are packed with one vendor after another, selling all kinds of delicious food, with not a fast food joint in sight. See ostermalmshallen.se/en

I was planning to do a charity event last year at Frantzen, which didn't happen. It's a shame, because Bjorn Frantzen is an amazing cook, very modern. He uses really great ingredients and is into that whole foraging thing as well. See restaurantfrantzen.com/en

SECOND HELPINGS:

THE FOOD CAPITALS THE CHEF CAN'T RESIST

Some of the world's established culinary capitals just keep giving. Our chefs nominate their favourite repeat destinations.

TOKYO, JAPAN

"This city blows me away. I go there three or four times a year, and I have never been to the same restaurant twice. A lot of the restaurants are like private clubs, tucked down three flights of stairs: you would never find them again."  – Bill Granger

ISTANBUL, TURKEY

"With the clash between old and new, east and west, it's the most dynamic city anywhere in the world. i love Kantin, an unpretentious place with a really modern interior but authentic, traditional food. the chef reminds me of  Alice Waters." – Chris Manfield

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

"I love its diversity. You can go to a simple tapas place and drink a glass of local txakoli wine, or eat at one of the Michelin starred places such as Mugaritz." 

– Brett Graham

HONG KONG, CHINA

"Hong Kong is the place to enjoy Cantonese cooking at its best: roast duck and suckling pig and all the delicious dim sum. Having lived there, I know the city well enough to find the obscure places. – Greg Malouf

PARIS 

"I love traditional Paris – the bistros, the Michelin star dining – but the fresh, creative cooking in the newer style bistros, such as Chateaubriand, Septime, Sauternes and Bones, is really exciting." – Andrew McConnell

TAKE ME THERE:

CITIES ON THE CHEFS' RADARS

Which international dining destinations are on our panel's wish lists?

ANDREW MCCONNELL: ROME, ITALY FOR ITS GELATO

"I'm going to be in Rome this summer, and I'm looking forward to eating artichokes in the Jewish quarter, exploring all that history, and just hanging out and eating gelati."

GREG MALOUF:  SHANGHAI, CHINA, FOR ITS HANDMADE NOODLES

"I'm crazy about the use of chilli, spices, handmade noodles and of course duck. I spent three years in Hong Kong and never once visited this city in my own backyard."

CHRIS MANFIELD: LIMA, PERU, FOR ITS CEVICHE

"I will be there later this year to explore its Nikkei style and indigenous Amazon produce. Lima has some of the coolest emerging chefs and restaurants, plus streets dedicated to ceviche bars."

BILL GRANGER: COPENHAGEN, DENMARK, FOR ITS FORAGING

"I'm dying to go to Copenhagen to see where the genius of Noma was hatched and to see its influence on the ground. I hear only extraordinary reports and its influence is everywhere I go: foraging, pickling, ferments, truly indigenous and seasonal foods and even juices."

BRETT GRAHAM: MADRID, FOR ITS CREATIVE CUISINE       

"I still haven't made it to Madrid or Barcelona. There is a young chef in Madrid at a restaurant called DiverXo that a lot of people are talking about who is doing really interesting stuff; I'd love to eat there."

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