Our top 12 dining experiences ever

When travelling, it is food that can elevate a trip into the stratosphere. Whether it is fine dining, a cultural institution or a family restaurant in the snow, some meals will never be forgotten. Here are some of our favourite dining experiences. *Please note – menus change constantly and some restaurants are closed temporarily due to COVID.

The Sound of Something Special in Austria

Austria, Austrian fine dining, Obauer, Do Re Mi, SOund of Music, Werfen

The team at Obauer in the location where Do Re Mi was filmed

Where: Werfen, a tiny village south of Salzburg. The restaurant is part of the Hotel Obauer, which is in a home that dates back to the 15th century.

What: Brothers, Karl and Rudi Obauer, produce something magical in their kitchen, creating dishes with a flair and panache that would have a long waiting list in the city. They introduced Nouvelle Austrian Cuisine – classic dishes with contemporary preparation utilising fresh, regional produce, and continue to raise the bar. The restaurant has two areas and a garden in which to dine. We dined indoors.

What we ate: Delicious Pfarrwefener trout with beetroot, pumpkin and horseradish, followed by the deer ragout with crêpes, semolina dumpling and rowanberry finished off with cold blueberry compote with zirbe nut ice cream. 

What to drink: We tasted wines from the local Höpfler winery – who provide wines to the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont (yes those Von Trapps) – selected by Obauer’s master sommelier, Alexander Koblinger. 

What’s nearby: You are in Sound of Music territory here with the meadow where Do Re Mi was filmed nearby. The formidable Festung (fortress) Hohenwerfen and the Salzburg Ice Caves are also close. 

Why I want to go back: To savour the incredible cuisine and revisit my love of all things Sound of Music. And next time, I want to stay in the adjoining Hotel Obauer. 

Contact: obauer.com

French flair in Les Trois Vallees

La Bouitte, St Marcel, fine dining, snow dining, France

Rene and Maxime Meilleur at La Bouitte,

Where? The Rene and Maxime Meilleur Restaurant is part of the La Bouitte Hotel & Spa located in the hamlet of Saint Marcel. This charming town is in the enormous ski region –  Les Trois Vallées – in fact, you can ski to it.  Rene and his son Maxime have been awarded three Michelin stars and four Gault & Millau toques. It is also part of Relais & Chateaux.

The experience: Everything about this place is sublime. The restaurant was built by Rene Meilleur and is a showcase of traditional Savoie style. It has interiors of local wood and traditional cookware sits on cupboards that are strategically placed.  There is an enormous timber armoir – an antique from Rene’s grandmother, that conjures up a feeling of belonging and of being in a much-loved relative’s house. The armoire plays a role in the dance of the wait staff, with one bringing out the meals and placing them carefully on the timber top, then another two whisking them up and carefully placing them in front of us at exactly the same moment. So whether you are two people or four, everyone is served simultaneously in what is a meticulous and seamless performance.

What we ate: We booked the five-course Surprise Degustation menu – you can choose, three, four, five or the eight-course menu – which had our taste buds in raptures. Highlights were the Air raclette which is so light it is like a mousse, the Savoie pasta with Beaufort cheese, mushrooms and wild sorrel , the remarkable quince water which is served with a dreamy beer-like head and the unbelievable dessert – ‘Milk in all its forms’. It is a work of art so divine my tastebuds have come alive just thinking about it. Simply magnifique.

What to drink: Rene and Maxime have patiently created one of the best cellars in the Alps, with many rare examples, private cuvées, and old vintages. They have 1001 products dating from from 1937. No fewer than four sommeliers, under the guidance of Antoine Marie and Florian Bagourd, are on hand to advise diners and in our case, choose wines to match our dishes. 

What’s nearby: You can ski to La Bouitte from Courchevel, Meribel, Les Menuires or Val Thorens for lunch, but to really enjoy the experience, go for dinner. You can catch a taxi from whichever resort you are staying in. It is also reasonably common for some guests to fly in by helicopter. You can also stay at the La Bouitee Hotel, which is five star and beautifully furnished with just the right balance between elegance and traditional elements of the region.

Why I want to go back: Everything about La Bouitte was special. The traditional building, the antique furniture from Rene’s family, the father and son duo working together to create magic and that dessert. The skiing is next level as well. What’s not to love?

Contact: la-bouitte.com/en/

Dining on a sand dune in the Red Heart of Australia

Sails in the Desert, Ayers Rock Resort, Uluru, Tali Wiru

Dining on a sand dune overlooking Uluru

Where? Tali Wiru, Ayers Rock Resort in the Northern Territory. There is a maximum of 20 guests so it feels intimate and exclusive.

The experience: Tali Wiru – it means ‘beautiful dune’ in the local Anangu language – is set up atop a dune in the desert, with Uluru on one side and Kata Tjuta on another. We are welcomed with champagne and exquisite canapés to watch the sunset over the ancient rocks, listening to the didgeridoo player sitting by the fire. We nibble on canapès such as pan-seared scallop with gulgulkbeurre noisette and smoked kangaroo and kutjera crostini – setting the scene for dinner.  We then make our way to the tables, which are beautifully set and topped with candles. All of the dishes served during the four-course meal are infused with ancient native herbs and spices. Afterwards, we turn the lanterns off and lose ourselves in the universe, laid bare under a zillion stars and the Milky Way, as an indigenous local shares his peoples’ stories of the stars, life and everything.

What we ate: The excellent wait staff present an impeccable service, giving advice on the menu, the wine matching and the produce itself. For entrée, I select the premium grade Paroo kangaroo rillettes, leading into a main of Darling Downs Wagyu beef fillet. This was undoubtedly the best Wagyu I have ever tasted, almost matched by the dessert of coconut panna cotta. The chefs cleverly incorporate bush tucker into everything and we are flabbergasted to find out that these mercurial meals are prepared without electricity in a very basic bush kitchen.

What to drink: The premium Australian wines selected by the wait staff complement the dishes perfectly.

What’s nearby: There are over a hundred tours and experiences to choose from at Uluru and around Ayers Rock Resort. I have ridden camels to watch the sunrise over Uluru, strolled around the base of the rock stopping at the Mutitjulu waterhole to admire the rock paintings and to take in the aura of the place. I have marvelled at the Fields of Light at both sunrise and sunset, always flabbergasted at the surreal beauty of Bruce Munro’s artful display of over 50,000 light stems. I have learned about dot painting, been lost in the stars during an informative stargazing tour and have enjoyed relaxing at the spectacular Sails in the Desert resort.

Why I want to go back: Tali Wiru is so good that I have been back and done it a couple of times. And I would jump at the chance to do it again. It is that good.

Contact: ayersrockresort.com.au

African wonder

The Saxon, Johannesburg, South Africa. Candice Philip

Candice Philip is the chef at The Grei at The Saxon in Johannesburg

Where: The Saxon, Johannesburg, South Africa.

What: Candice Philip is one of Africa’s most talented chefs and a name synonymous with the finest and most creative food in the country.

The experience: Talk about 50 shades of grey – you’ll find it at the striking Grei restaurant. Think moody lighting, beautiful crisp linen and soft velvet carpets.

What we ate: Candice is known for her love of unusual pairings and creating imaginative flavours with contrasting and contradicting flavours. She uses fresh herbs from the hotel garden and is known for blurring the lines between art and food.

The six courses were outstanding and included springbok with pearls of caviar and buck leaf sorrel, sweetbreads with scallop and wild garlic. The surprises kept coming. Hay-smoked lamb loin and tart pickled anchovy with walnuts. The chicken with an asparagus veloute is superb and the cheese course features outstanding cheese including creamy Lanquedoc cheese.

What to drink: There are an extensive drinks list, fabulous cocktails and hundreds of wines on offer.

What’s nearby? There is great shopping and art galleries in the well-heeled area. It’s easy to see why the late South African president and Nobel Prize winner, Nelson Mandela edited his memoir The Long Walk to Freedom here. The former mansion of insurance tycoon Douw Steyn, is a haven of style and outstanding service, set among 4 hectares of manicured gardens with a driveway that heightens expectations. The 59 luxe suites and villas – with butlers at call, feature tones and textures of Africa. Savour striking African artwork – Amalie Von Maltitz stonework, Fiona Rowett oils and Dean Simon sketches.

Why I want to go back? Candice Philip is one of Africa’s most talented chefs and a name synonymous with the finest and most creative food in the country. The restaurant closed in March 2020 but it’s a matter of watch this space when the fine dining restaurant reopens.

Contact: saxon.co.za

Putting on The Ritz

The Ritz London, London luxury, luxury hotels, bucket list

The Ritz London

Where: The Ritz London

What: From breakfast to afternoon tea to dinner – everything is an adventure at this beautiful hotel and chances are you will be humming the Irving Berlin hit, Puttin’ On the Ritz, even before you order.

In 2002 it became the first and only hotel in the world to receive a Royal Warrant for Banqueting and Catering Services from the Prince of Wales. The Royal family are familiar faces at the hotel that’s near Buckingham Palace.

The experience: The Michelin-starred Ritz Restaurant offers fine cuisine in the most spectacular of settings. With sparkling chandeliers, towering marble columns and soaring floor to ceiling windows overlooking the calm oasis of Green Park, it is well placed to be one of the most beautiful dining rooms in the world.

Executive Chef, John Williams creates dishes using the best of seasonal British ingredients, sourcing them from around the country including organic beef from the Cornish moors, lamb from the Lake District, and succulent lobsters from South West Scotland.

What we ate: It was the traditional Sunday Roast Lunch that tempted my partner and he loved every delicious morsel. Traditional roast sirloin and rib of beef was carved and served at our table from the beef trolley. There was also a choice of six seasonal courses from the Beef Wellington with celeriac and perigord truffle, Bresse Duck with honey, lavender and smoked beetroot with a finale of sublime Crepe Suzette. No dinner for us that night.

What to drink: Often likened to stepping into a glittering jewellery box, the chic Rivoli Bar with its leopard skin chairs, is perfect for the signature Ritz 110 cocktail, before dining at the Michelin-starred Ritz Restaurant.

What’s nearby? The Ritz is located in the heart of London, making it the perfect location for exploring one of the most vibrant cities in the world. It’s close to the mall, Buckingham Palace and great shopping. Green Park is less than a two-minute walk from the hotel. It is an eight-minute walk to Piccadilly Circus tube station and a 12-minute walk to Hyde Park Corner station.

Why I want to go back? Just to sit in the beautiful dining is a treat. Described by the late Jackie Onassis as “paradise”, the hotel with its 112-rooms and 24-suites has wowed guests since Cesar Ritz opened it in May 1906.

Highlights of our stay include the iconic afternoon tea in the Palm Court under glittering chandeliers where you can sip Ritz Royal Blend Tea, one of 18 teas served by tea sommelier Giandomenico Scanu.

Contact: www.theritzlondon.com

The Ritz Restaurant, The Ritz London, London luxury, luxury hotel in London

A New Orleans culinary legend

Where? Antoine’s is located in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

What? Antoine’s is a fixture with its French Creole cuisine established by Antoine Alciatore in 1840. Antoine was just 18 years old then, and he would be chuffed to know that what started out as a little pension is better than ever and now in the hands of the fifth generation of the family. Even the staff hang around, with one member notching up his 50th year a few years back.

The experience: Antoine’s has 14 rooms and every one of them is rich in history. Three of the back rooms are used for the Rex, Proteus and Twelfth Night Revelers when carnival season takes over the town. Ask for a tour while you are there. My favourite places were the Mystery Room and the Cellar, which houses up to 25,000 bottles. There are photos of the restaurant and its famous guests all around the walls, including George Bush, Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, Pope John Paul II, Brad Pitt (he parked his motorbike in the hallway once), Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Jimmy Buffet, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby.

What we ate: The sauce of Oysters Rockefeller was so rich and buttery, they felt it should be named after the nation’s richest baron of the day, John D. Rockefeller. Oh, and as for the French Creole cuisine? Try the alligator bisque, the Rockefeller Gulf Oysters, the seafood gumbo, the Chateaubriand and the famous Baked Alaska (order when you get there) – everything is simply exquisite. Antoine would be proud.

What to drink: The cocktail that is hard to pass by is the Sazerac. It is the oldest cocktail in New Orleans, dating back to the 1840s when Antoine was starting out. It consists of Sazerac Rye Whiskey, sugar, New Orleans Peychaud’s Bitters and Herbsaint. The wine list is broad, as  you’d expect with a cellar containing 25,000 bottles.

What’s nearby: New Orleans is a place I would go back to again and again. There is no place like it in the rest of the USA. Stroll around the French Quarter, browse the galleries, and take a ride up the Mississippi River in a paddle wheeler. Visit the National World War 11 Museum, Jackson Square, and try and get a ticket to Preservation Hall. There is music everywhere in NOLA, and one of the best places to see it is Frenchman Street at the various music clubs. Further out, do a ‘gator tour and visit a plantation such as Oak Alley.

Why I want to go back: The ambience, the food – everything about Antoine’s is fabulous. And it is not often you get to dine in a place that is over 180 years old. And if the truth be told, I would crawl over broken glass to get to an Antoine’s Baked Alaska.

Contact: antoines.com

Go, go, go to The Goring

The Goring, London, fine dining in London

The Goring Hotel London

Where: The Goring, London

What: Deep in the heart of Belgravia, this is London’s last remaining family-owned and run hotel. It’s a beauty with style and character. Dining is a culinary adventure. The Duchess of Cambridge spent the night here before her wedding and it is a firm favourite with the royals. In January 2013, the hotel received a Royal Warrant of appointment to the Queen for Hospitality Services.

The experience: Designed by David Linley, The Dining Room is soothing, sexy and sophisticated all rolled into one. It is bathed in natural light by day and sumptuously aglow with Swarovski chandeliers at night. The holder of a Michelin star and three AA Rosettes, The Dining Room offers an impeccable yet fun dining experience.

What we ate: Under the direction of Executive Chef Richard Galli, The Dining Room sources fresh, high-quality ingredients from suppliers across the British Isles, from Romney Marsh lamb to fish from the Cornish coast, as part of its commitment to serving the finest British food. The late Queen Mother’s favourite dish was mouth-watering Eggs Drumkilbo and indulgent lobster omelette and it stars on the menu. The Goring’s forager provides a selection of truffles and wild herbs to perfectly complement each dish, and it remains one of the last London restaurants to serve roast rib of beef that’s impeccably carved from a silver trolley.

We had to try The Goring Eggs Drumkilbo, lobster, caviar and Granny Smith apple – which was delicious. It was followed by Red Horn beef Wellington for two, braised rib stuffed onion and confit mushroom with a grand finale of clotted cream parfait, burnt cream, blackcurrant and pear- the verdict – simply stunning.

What to drink: Fancy a Vin au Chocolat, an Old Flame or the aromatic Smoking Jacket?

They are some of the impressive cocktails that star in the happening Goring Cocktail Bar that oh so elegant. The new signature cocktail list, the menu focuses on British spirits.

Bar Manager Tiago Mira leads a team of experienced bartenders creating exquisite cocktails using more than 100 different herbs taken directly from The Goring Garden.

The cocktail list features signature classics and old favourites, from the Rosehip Royale to The Goring Cup, incorporating liqueurs and spirits from fellow Royal Warrant holders.

The interior design has been led by the inimitable Russell Sage and do stop and listen to the talented resident pianist.

What’s nearby: It’s just a short skip to Buckingham palace, fabulous shopping and lots of galleries in Knightsbridge and Mayfair.

Why I want to go back? You never know who you will see in the Dining Room. Is that an actor from the movie Notting Hill, or is that a famous member of parliament?

It’s terribly English but it’s certainly not stuffy, it is all about fabulous food, service and fun. The 69 suites and rooms are so comfortable, you may never want to leave.

Contact: thegoring.com

A Parisian pearl

Eiffel Tower, Paris, Le Jules Verne Restaurant

Le Jules Verne Restaurant on The Eiffel Tower

Where:  Le Jules Verne Restaurant, Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.

What: It’s all about location, location, location. You couldn’t get better. Le Jules Verne is located on the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. Frédéric Anton, awarded Meilleur Ouvrier de France and a triple Michelin star chef stars at this mythical Iron Lady.

The experience: It’s Paris and you are seated on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower – you can’t get much better than this. Chef Anton conjures up the nuts and bolts, the chasing of this oversized steel object in his compositions and creates dishes that interact with the architecture of the Eiffel tower itself.

What we ate: The seven-course degustation was amazing. We started with crab flavoured with grapefruit Zephyr, scallops with Toast Melba with lemon and caviar, langoustine prepared as a ravioli with smoked cream, pomegranate gelee, cod with aioli, roasted lamb with cream of mustard seed and horseradish and soft mushroom flan. The sweets courses include apple with crispy meringue, sorbet, sour apple Zephyr, apple and dill coulis plus warm chocolate souffle. It’s a memorable feast served with French flair.

What to drink? Only the best grace this cellar and knowledgeable sommeliers are at hand. Inseparable from French gastronomy, Jules Verne’s wine cellar is treated as an artistic composition in glass, soft light and contemporary. Gold standard wines are carefully selected by master sommeliers. The impressive wine list features 430 of the finest French wines from the country’s greatest regions, focusing on Burgundy, the Rhone and Bordeaux, with long-standing names sharing the limelight with young winegrowers.

No humble ice buckets here. Bottles are kept in insulated compartments at optimum temperatures inside consoles integrated into the dining room.

What’s nearby? There are exceptional views over Le Champ-de-Mars, le Quai Branly and Trocadéro. The views are stunning.

Why I want to go back? The restaurant is 125 metres above the ground and on entering you soon see why Paris is known as the city of lights – a twinkling panorama is revealed from all windows. You feel as if you are floating in space inside a giant Meccano set. I won’t ever forget it – nor the fact that there are 21/2 million rivets and 18,000 pieces of steel holding it all together.

Contact: restaurants-toureiffel.com

A feast in Quebec

Quebec, Saint Antoine, Chez Muffyy

Chez Muffy at Hotel St Antoine in Quebec

Where: Chez Muffy, Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel Quebec, Canada.

What: Chez Muffy is named after the matriarch of Quebec’s stylish Auberge Saint-Antoine hotel, Martha “Muffy” Bate Price, showcases the best of the region’s fresh produce. Executive chef Julien Ouellet tweaks classical French and Canadian cuisine with a focus on savoury flavours with produce plucked from the hotel’s own organic farm on Ile d’Orléans, a scenic island, just 15 minutes away.

The experience: The restaurant is set within a historic maritime warehouse dating back to 1822, complete with original stone walls and wooden beams. It overlooks the Saint Lawrence River. The family-style farm-to-fork dining experience is a culinary adventure.

What to eat: Menu standouts include a caramelised Cipollini tart, Quebec mussels, grass-fed rib eye, wild mushroom lasagna, locally caught mackerel, sauteed Nordic shrimp, and Gaspé Peninsula lobster with a grand finale of Quebec pear and chocolate pie.

It is all about Quebec bistronomie, focusing on savoury flavours and ingredients inspired by the season.  It is distinguished by “slow cooking” techniques of meat, fish and seasonal vegetables.

What to drink: The wine list includes 700 different labels from 14 countries. The cellar houses more than 12 000 bottles, many of which are private imports and vins de garde. A sommelier team is available to create wine pairings. Bar Artefact is the perfect place for enjoying a light meal and signature drinks from one of the city’s most creative cocktail menus, while surrounded by artifacts preserved in time. The bar showcases relics unearthed on site during a recent excavation dig, such as the Dauphine Battery and window displays filled with objects dating back from six distinct eras in our property’s history.

What’s nearby: Auberge Saint-Antoine encompasses a trio of sites in Quebec City’s Old Port, on Îlot Hunt, an area facing the majestic St. Lawrence River. In its early days, the Îlot Hunt property was used as a wharf, then a cannon battery, and later by British merchants when Quebec City was one of North America’s biggest and busiest ports. Each of the three buildings and structures still stand today as part of the Auberge Saint-Antoine story, and boast great historical significance.

Why I want to go back? It’s such a delightful restaurant overlooking the historic city, it beckons for you to return. The emphasis on fresh tastes and great produce leave you wanting more. Everything is cooked to perfection and the service is brilliant.

Contact: www.saint-antoine.com/chez-muffy

Top of the game at Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs, golf resort, New Zealand

Barry Frith of Kauri Cliffs

Where: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand.

What: Located in the bountiful Northland area, near Matauri Bay, the beautiful Relais & Chateaux lodge is handy to fabulous produce that appears on the menu prepared by chef Barry Frith. He and his chefs aim to maintain low food miles with fish often caught and cooked on the same day. The property overlooks Cape Brett, and the Cavalli Islands.

The experience: It’s all about panoramic views over a blue ocean with pristine beaches. The immaculate golf course is ranked 37 in the best courses in the world. The elegant Main dining room is a mix of the Hamptons style with a touch of chic. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean with an outdoor deck.

What we ate: We are treated to orange-scented crayfish with toasted almonds, cumin wafer and white wine foam, followed by a salad of pickled beetroot with cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and salad greens; a tasting plate of salmon, Waiaua Bay lamb loin, herb gnocchi and slow-roasted lamb shoulder with an olive thyme jus, with a finale of tapioca pudding with blood orange sorbet,

What to drink: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs has an extensive cellar stocked with new Zealand’s best drop and international wines.

What’s nearby: It is such a beautiful destination with beaches, bush walks and hiking. The Lodge has an amazing spa.

Why I want to go back: The 180-degree views over the Pacific Ocean to the Bay of Islands are spectacular as is the food and service. It’s just heavenly.

Contact: www.robertsonlodges.com/the-lodges/kauri-cliffs

Showtime at Minibar in Washington DC

Minibar, Washington DC, Destination Washington, Destination DC, My DC Cool

Little piggy meringues at Minibar by Jose Andres

Where? Minibar by José Andrés is located in Washington D.C.

What: This dining experience will blow your mind. Avant-garde, high tech, at times with a touch of a magic show – you simply can’t work out how Jose Andres manages to DO these dishes – and it tastes sublime. There is a reason it has been award two Michelin stars.

The experience: This is not a restaurant you book through a phone call. On the first Monday of each month bookings open for the next two months and you have to be very lucky to get in. That’s because the restaurant has only six diners at a time – over four seatings.  The work that goes into each dish is mindblowing. Everything is done with so much technique and innovation it is hard to believe it is food – until you taste it. Then – WOW!

What we ate: I was too absorbed and mesmerised to take notes but every morsel was memorable. From the one bite, bourbon peanut served in a hand cast, to the kinder egg surprise at the end of the night. The egg contains your bill and a lego toy. Like I said – how did he do that?  

What to drink: The bar next to Minibar, barmini, is not your normal bar either. It is more like a cocktail lab that celebrates classic cocktails alongside distinctly modern creations. Offering a menu of more than 100 libations in addition to experiential flights and inventive snacks, barmini is DC’s premier cocktail destination. It is a learning centre where chefs and bartenders collaborate and where heritage meets innovation. I had a Floral Cloud cocktail but whatever you have, it will knock your socks off through its ingenuity.

What’s nearby: Washington DC is a wonderful, wonderful city and you could stay a month and not see everything. The museums, the monuments, the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Spy Museum, Georgetown … the list is endless.

Why I want to go back? I have never forgotten the sheer artistry that underpinned everything about Minibar and barmini. Exceptional.

Contact: minibarbyjoseandres.com