​Fish, glorious fish, Catalan style

This is a version of an article also published by the Financial Times. There is no better harbinger of culinary pleasures to come than watching a heavily laden fishing boat heading for port. Ideally, this should be somewhere in the Mediterranean with the sea and sky the same deep blue. Most of these conditions were fulfilled as we drove along the beach at L’Escala, 150 kilometres north of Barcelona on the Costa Brava, except for one. We were lost. The modern buildings around us bore no resemblance to the unspoilt…






Food, drink and fun in Ireland

A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Food and drink, and not necessarily in that order, have long been two very particular reasons for visiting Ireland. And whichever of these two you may prefer, the ensuing craic, the Gaelic expression for ‘fun’, is an added and inevitable bonus. A weekend around East Cork left me with the strong impression that there are now even more distinctive reasons to relish Irish hospitality. Part of this is naturally connected to returning economic confidence as restaurants the world over…






Paris: great value, great cooking and a great Tavel

This is a version of an article published by the Financial Times. Although the analysis of any restaurant experience can never follow a simple mathematical model, I have, when pressed, confessed that any weighting of marks follows this rough breakdown: 40% is devoted to the menu and what we eat; a similar amount is devoted to the style and manner of how we are looked after; the balance revolves around the appeal of the wine list. The amalgamation of these imprecise experiences has, I am pleased to report, meant that…






In praise of the Ballymaloe breakfast

See here for details of the next book, about menus, that Nick is planning to write, a follow up to The Art of the Restaurateur. Whisper it softly. Please don’t tell any member of the Allen family. And please do not tell anyone from Kerrygold. But for anyone fortunate enough to be invited to this year’s Kerrygold Ballymaloe literary festival (15-17 May) and staying there, there is one ulterior, self-centred and purely delightful reason for accepting the invitation to participate. It’s the Ballymaloe breakfast. Now I will in due course make reference…






Dutch masters at RIJKS

Lunch and dinner at RIJKS, the new restaurant in the shadow of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, not only broadened my hitherto limited knowledge of modern Dutch cooking but also introduced me to three of the five people responsible for its successful launch (photo: Rijksmuseum). The most influential, and the most dapperly dressed in an electric blue suit, was Wim Pijbes, the museum’s director. He explained how the restaurant forms part of his strategy to open up the museum and how he, as a self-confessed foodie, was determined that the restaurant…






To Food Street Catania and beyond

This article is also published in the Financial Times. The Cataniese go to great lengths to ensure that your arrival at the city on the east coast of Sicily is as enjoyable as possible. Firstly, they have named the airport Vincenzo Bellini after the composer and their most famous son, who in turn lent his name to that appetising mixture of sparkling wine and fresh peach juice. And then our brief drive into the city centre incorporated sights that could have been part of an opera set: four men sitting…






Paris, toujours Paris

This article is also published in the Financial Times. The Michelin Guide has directed many towards the best that Paris has to offer. But over a weekend during which I visited two very different restaurants – Bistroy Les Papilles in the 5th close to the Sorbonne, where the €35 set four-course menu costs less than one course on the à la carte menu at Les Tablettes in the far moresoigné 16th arrondissement – I came away with an appreciation of the guide’s longer-term implications for the style with which certain…






Captivating Catalunya

This article is also published in the Financial Times. There have been two constant factors in what has become our annual restaurant foray across the Pyrenees from south-west France into north-east Spain. The first is physical and involves me looking out for a particular sign on the A9 motorway as it skirts Narbonne and brings the Mediterranean into view. This sign reads ‘vent violent’, strong wind, and marks for me the entrance to rugged Catalonia, a region that has produced so many exciting chefs over the past 20 years. The…






High above the Cinque Terre

This article was also published in the Financial Times. At 8 pm one sunny evening I was standing deep in thought by a bus stop in the small seaside town of Moneglia on the Ligurian coast of Italy, just north of the Cinque Terre national park so beloved of walkers. During the day I had received emails from readers in both Brussels and Los Angeles, each notifying me of yet another version of ‘the world’s top 100 restaurants’. While I appreciate the enormous interest that this approach generates, I do…






Bread and wine in Vienna

Walter Bauer’s restaurant, Bauer, and Josef Weghaupt’s bakery and bistro, Joseph, are no more than a kilometre apart in the heart of Vienna and appear very different. One is named after the restaurateur’s surname, the other after the founder’s Christian name. Bauer is 57 and has been in his restaurant for the past 25 years while Weghaupt is 33 and worked in marketing before turning to baking bread professionally only in 2009. Bauer’s interior is dark and cosy, its walls covered in prints and the numerous awards its has justifiably…