1. Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester
Alain Ducasse exploded on the scene with his unique perspective on French cuisine, guided by a philosophy of honouring the ingredients. “The product is the only truth,” says Ducasse. “Each good product, grown with love and respect, in its distinctive land, has an incomparable flavour. Without which, a chef is nothing.” As a result, Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester is considered one of London’s finest restaurants, serving exquisite French food boasting painstaking attention to detail while also ensuring “an aura of whimsy and pleasure.”
The restaurant’s centrepiece is the Table Lumière, a private dining room featuring 4,500 fibre optic lights dropping from the ceiling like a shimmering chandelier. Meals beginning with an amuse-bouche are served in an exquisite porcelain egg, while desserts are served on a bespoke trolley. Among the restaurant’s signature dishes are “sauté gourmand” of lobster, truffled chicken quenelles and the “sacristain” potatoes in delicate puff pastry.
2. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
While TV viewers know Gordon Ramsay for his numerous reality series, the opinionated chef is even more famous for his world-class cuisine. Holding three Michelin stars, Ramsay’s namesake London restaurant has been a destination for foodies since opening in 1998, and continues to rank among the world’s top restaurants for its modern, elegant take on French cuisine, utilizing fresh, seasonal ingredients and a mix of techniques ranging from old-world traditional to cutting-edge modern.
Led by Patron Chef Clare Smyth (the only female chef in Britain to hold three Michelin stars), the ultimate experience offered is the Inspiration Table, where dishes are created right in front of the diners in order to demonstrate the art and science that goes into each dish, as chefs provide insight into the creative process and cooking methods.
3. The Fat Duck
Opened in 1995 by chef Heston Blumenthal inside a renovated 16th-century cottage, The Fat Duck had attained three Michelin stars by 2004 and an international reputation for being on the cutting edge of such culinary trends as food pairing, multi-sensory cooking and flavour encapsulation.
Famed for its eclectic 14-course tasting menu, The Fat Duck reflects Blumenthal’s sense of whimsy, evident in such dishes as the Alice in Wonderland-inspired mock turtle soup, which includes an edible fob watch made from freeze-dried beef stock coated in gold leaf that is dropped into a tea cup into which hot beef stock “tea” is poured to dissolve the watch.
Along with inventive techniques, Blumenthal also adds a heavy dose of psychology to his dishes, using the power of perception to “trick” diners into experiencing certain taste sensations. “For example, eat sardine on toast sorbet for the first time, confusion will reign as the brain will be trying to tell the palate to expect a dessert and you will therefore be tasting more sweetness than actually exists.” This is reflected in a famed dish he calls “Sounds of the Sea,” in which the food is topped with a seafood foam and served on a “beach” made from tapioca, breadcrumbs and eel. What’s more, diners are presented with an iPod so they can listen to the sound of ocean waves while eating it. You’ll also want to leave room to try the Fat Duck signature dish, Blumenthal’s bacon-and-egg ice cream.
4. The Waterside Inn
Nestled on the banks of the Thames in the charming British village of Bray, the flagship restaurant of chef Alain Roux holds the distinction of being the only restaurant outside of France to have maintained its three Michelin stars for 25 consecutive years. Since taking over for his father, famed chef Michel Roux, Roux has put his own distinctive stamp on The Waterside Inn by adding his own inventive menu items while retaining his father’s most distinctive dishes, such as soufflé suissesse and tronçonnette de homard.
Described as “inexcusably French,” the menus change with the seasons to incorporate the freshest local ingredients, with patrons offered the choice of dining a la carte or putting their taste buds in the capable hands of Roux with the restaurant’s famed Menu Exceptionel, an unparalleled tasting menu offering “the most delicate flavours in the most inventive combinations, all with the most exquisite presentation.”
Founded by chef Grant Achatz in 2006, Alinea quickly rocketed to the top of Chicago’s food scene due to Achatz’s unique food preparation and deconstruction of iconic dishes, renowned for his brave and unconventional approach to fine dining. As one of only two restaurants in the Windy City to hold three Michelin stars, Alinea is on the cutting edge of the molecular gastronomy movement, with the intention of both shocking and delighting guests with dishes such as an edible balloon made from a dehydrated apple filled with helium, or a truffle-topped ravioli filled with truffle broth that explodes with flavour in one’s mouth.
6. The French Laundry
A destination restaurant in California’s Napa Valley, Thomas Keller’s famed culinary hot spot was awarded its third Michelin star in 2005, earning a reputation as one of the finest restaurants in the U.S. — and beyond (“The best restaurant in the world, period,” gushed celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain).
What makes The French Laundry distinctive is its ever-changing menu, with two different nine-course tasting menus offered every day — none of which utilizes the same ingredient more than once. The French-inspired cuisine also boasts uniquely American twists, evident in such Keller creations as Cuisse de grenouilles sur un baton — frog legs on a stick, while Keller’s take on macaroni and cheese is far from what we’d expect, consisting of a butter-poached Maine lobster and marscapone-enriched orzo, drenched in creamy lobster broth. “The great challenge of cooking,” Keller writes in The French Laundry Cookbook, “is to derive deep satisfaction from the mundane.”
The Spanish city of San Sebastián is renowned for its number of Michelin-starred restaurants — the highest number of them per capita in the world, in fact — and Arzak is at the top of the heap. Owner and chef Juan Mari Arzak (now working with daughter Elena) have become world renowned for updating traditional Basque cuisine via modern techniques, and is widely praised as one of the culinary world’s leading innovators thanks to his trailblazing, transformative vision. One of Arzak’s signature dishes is the Cromlech and Onion with Tea and Coffee, with turmeric and corn huitlacoche (typically used in Mexican cuisine) to mimic cromlechs, a type of rock found in the Basque mountains. While the food may be avant-garde, flavour is never sacrificed for innovation, which has earned Arzak legions of loyal foodie fans.
8. Eleven Madison Park
The menu of this world-class Manhattan restaurant is distinctly American, as seen through the creative filter of chef Daniel Humm. The restaurant is renowned for its multi-course tasting menu, which changes based on the availability of fresh, seasonal local ingredients and guided by the culinary traditions of New York City and the agricultural offerings of the region. Dining at Eleven Madison Park is an event, and enjoying the full 11-course tasting menu will take upwards of three hours as diners sample such exquisite dishes as Muscovy duck glazed with lavender honey and foie gras terrine served with plums, umeboshi and bitter almonds.
9. Osteria Francescana
Rated second in Restaurant magazine’s 2015 survey of the world’s best restaurants, the restaurant of chef Massimo Bottura (who topped the bestseller lists with his book Never Trust a Skinny Chef) in Modena, Italy celebrates the bounty of Emilia-Romagna, his home province in northern Italy. Yet Bottura’s take on Italian cuisine is hardly traditional, exploring the ingredients and traditions of the region by giving them a contemporary twist. Along with such classic Italian fare as tagliatelle and risotto cooked with veal jus, Bottura also present such off-the-wall dishes as rabbit macaroons and his Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in which iconic cheese is served in five wildly differing textures, depending on their age, ranging from a crispy galette to a frothy Parmesan foam.
Tokyo has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants of any city in the world, and one of the most renowned is Esaki. Chef Shintaro Esaki’s cuisine creates magical masterpieces using the freshest ingredients — so fresh, in fact, that servers will typically show diners a basket of the farm-fresh produce they’ll soon be enjoying on their plates. Flavours are presented in harmony with each other as Esaki pushes the boundaries of traditional Japanese cuisine in some bold, intriguing directions. Among Esaki’s signature dishes is the Hassun Platter, a trio of appetizers that includes muscat grapes with tofu sauce, fried shimoshi cucumber and honey pumpkin in pine sauce, and eggplant and Yamanashi beans in a black soybean sauce.