A Taste of Europe: 10 Favourite Foodie Finds
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
Thought I'd kick off the old blog with a fond throwback to some of the most memorable foodie experiences I've had across the European continent, guiding you through a culinary wilderness spanning London to Lisbon, Palma to Prague and beyond.
I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm an audacious foodie; I will happily forego a museum visit or a tram ticket, even when my little paws are aching from days of traipsing cobbled streets, just to ensure I can get a good feed in.
Mr B and I are so stomach-orientated that we named the tables at our wedding reception after some of our favourite restaurants in the UK and away, which came as no great surprise to anyone who knew us. Since then, we've been lucky enough to chomp on even more memorable munchies thanks to our honeymoon, which covered six countries in two weeks, and very generous friends and family who got us restaurant vouchers as wedding presents!
So quite how I've managed to narrow this list down to a top 10, I do not know! But I hope it inspires you to eat your way around the world. There is so much you can learn about the culture, history and heritage of a place from its food...
(10) Madklubben, Copenhagen, Denmark
Located in Copenhagen's super-trendy district of Vesterbro, Madklubben is all about industrial interiors and fresh Scandinavian flavours. Think Edison lightbulbs, dark wooden tables and exposed brick walls, along with that holy grail of all restaurant features - the open kitchen. Their concept is simple: choose one, two or three courses for a fixed price. Surcharges are incurred for extra sides or for the odd dish centred around a more fancy ingredient, but either way you won't be short of options. Three years have elapsed since I ate here, but a quick Google will tell you it's just as popular now as it ever has been, so book in advance of your trip to avoid disappointment!
On my visit to Madklubben, I started with smoked salmon (pictured above); its silky slivers accompanied by pickled cucumber, radish, smoked cheese, frisée and dill dust - a really clean, classic combination of tastes and textures that felt both traditional and a little bit sexy. I followed this with a whole plaice, asparagus, courgette and sugar snaps dressed in a warm mustard mayo, which was an edible hug and the perfect antidote to a chilly April evening.
(9) Ombu, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
I love a 'small plates' restaurant concept, and Ombu is up there with some of the most innovative. Their niche is Balearic ingredients presented in a series of fusion tapas dishes, so you can order as little or as many as you like across the spectrum whilst supping on a variety of cool cocktails to help whet the appetite.
Ombu is the younger, sassier sister of FORN, where we also ate on our trip to Palma after turning up to surprise Mr B's parents whose holiday we decided to crash! FORN neeearly made it onto this list because the food and the service there really were sublime, but Ombu just won out for its creativity and swagger.
Pictured clockwise, we had scallops with passionfruit sand and coconut sauce; langoustines with Provencal sauce; Andalusian-style squid with lime mayonnaise; "patatas bravas" with sobrasada foam, and steamed buns with Iberico pork, cucumber and hoisin. This is just a fraction of what was on offer at the time, and each dish had clearly been carefully developed; every detail serving a purpose. The scallops were plump and caramelised; fragrant with sharp passionfruit, whereas the Iberico pork was nutty and sticky with the umami depth of hoisin. And at a time where fusion cuisine is at its most sacred, and its celebration of global contribution to culture most vital, Ombu commands your attention.
(8) Taproom, Valletta, Malta
I first visited Valletta in September 2018 with a group of friends. As we sat drinking ice-cold Cisk in front of St. John's Co-Cathedral, we deliberated about where to go for dinner. Taproom, a brasserie on Old Theatre Street, was a name that kept cropping up in our research so we downed our beers and set off in search of a table.
We were disappointed when we arrived, not because we didn't like what we found, but because they were fully booked for the night. Weary with hunger, the search continued. Ultimately, we ended up having a really gorgeous meal at nearby Ortygia, which I would also highly recommend for its Sicilian menu and relaxed Mediterranean vibe. But Taproom was the one that got away.
Fortunately, in May 2019, destiny took me back to Valletta on our honeymoon and I had another shot at getting into Taproom. Mr B was fully on board with the idea after seeing the menu and as luck would have it, they had space available outside for lunch. And, my goodness, it was well worth the wait!
Much like a lot of the eateries in Malta, the atmosphere is chilled but buzzy. The menu is an a la carte set-up largely dedicated to pasta and pimped-up veggies. Maltese cuisine is fascinating, given the country's unique equidistance from the toe of Italy and North Africa. The flavour profile is vibrant and punchy, with the use of native ingredients and locally-sourced produce making it a creature all of its own. Taproom is a brilliant place to experience this; I had deep-fried peppered gbejna (sheep's milk cheese indigenous to Malta) with blackberry, pickled beetroot and candied walnuts. For my main, their signature dish of tagliatelle with an ink-black sauce of mixed mushroom and black truffle, swoon...
(7) Hergetova Cihelna, Prague, Czechia
There's many things that Prague does well, and serving up exquisite dinner views is one of them. Located in the Mala Strana district on the banks of the Vltava, Hergetova Cihelna and its riverside terrace not only wins the prize for best panorama in Prague, but also for refined regional cuisine. The food is rooted in rustic heritage, yet presented with an elegance which grounds it thoroughly within the contemporary foodscape of the Czech capital. I was worried it might be a case of style over substance, so I was more than happy to have those concerns dismantled the moment I took the first mouthful!
You can opt for either an a la carte experience or a tasting menu, depending on your preferences. We chose three courses and felt it was really good value for money, further proof that Prague is perfect for an inexpensive city break.
I tasted true flavours of Czechia at Hergetova Cihelna, with warm spiced duck wontons for my starter which were enhanced by a jammy prune puree and red cabbage salsa. The fillet mignon tips on my main plate absolutely melted in my mouth, succulent in the middle and gnarly with pan juice at the edges. The garnishes of charred leek, sautéed potatoes and tomatoes were prepared beautifully and supported the beef just as they should, with the whole thing then being kissed by the tang of green peppercorn sauce. After all that, I didn't really need a dessert, but the siren call of an apple strudel millefeuille was too much for me to ignore. Obviously it was bloody delicious, like any decent brown dessert should be!
All the best puddings are brown: fact.
(6) Café-Restaurant de Plantage, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
A conservatory-style restaurant isn't necessarily the cosiest location for dinner in Amsterdam, particularly in winter, but the food and the atmosphere at De Plantage could thaw any frozen heart. Set in the oasis of Artisplein, it's just far enough out of the touristic centre to feel a bit special. Walking into the olive-green Victorian glasshouse restaurant is impressive, and definitely sets the tone. Keen to honour their surroundings with botanicals playing the starring role in both their drinks and their plates, De Plantage's menu caters equally well for omnivores and herbivores alike, whilst the gin selection is wonderfully diverse.
I like gin, by the way.
Personally, I was spoilt for choice on the menu; an abundant but not oversaturated a la carte. In the end Mr B and I both opted for ravioli to start, mine filled with kohlrabi and mascarpone, swimming in burnt butter with red beets, pecans and winter purslane; his stuffed with wild boar ragu. And then, in a rare phenomenon, we chose exactly the same main: juicy Iberico pork (resoundingly some of the most flavoursome meat we've ever tasted) with pan-fried gnocchi, tenderstem broccoli, carrot and ginger puree, and five-spice jus. Really warming, wholesome dishes.
Given the successes of our previous courses, we were eager to see if they gave good pud - which they did! Mr B can highly recommend the churros, and my aromatic orange, cinnamon and saffron creme brûlée was delightful.
(5) Riverside supermarket picnic, Paris, France
Now - here me out - but one of my favourite food memories is sitting in the courtyard of Notre Dame in summer, sharing some crusty bread, cheese and ham with Mr B while we listened to a busker playing guitar on the Pont de l'Archeveche. It was so simple, so cheap and so good. We nipped into a Carrefour earlier in the day to stock up on said items, and even though the cheese had gotten a little sweaty by the time we came to eat it, we couldn't have had a more satisfying lunch. The best meals don't have to be in swanky restaurants and, in this case, perfection lay in the harmonious mise en scène and a simple sandwich.
(4) Osteria del Tempo Perso, Ostuni, Italy
"Welcome to the Santorini of Italy!", our guide exclaimed as we disembarked the coach into sheets of rain. "This is very unusual weather for this time of year." A sentiment we'd heard repeated only days before in Rome, Pompeii, then Messina, and it wasn't becoming any less painful to hear.
By the time our tour of Ostuni was abruptly called to a halt due to the inclement conditions, we were drenched to the bone and about ready to write this little white city off entirely - despite its undeniable beauty. We sheltered in a café just off the main square, consoling ourselves with hot chocolate and croissants as we researched local lunch spots. Mr B noticed one recurring search result, flagged as being one of Ostuni's best: Osteria del Tempo Perso. I figured I'd let him take the reigns on this one as I was too grumpy from dampness and hunger to commit to the task.
After a treacherous walk up Ostuni's very steep, very slippery stone streets, we reached the charming cave-like taverna at the top of the hill. Before we left the café, our guide had stipulated a few Pugliese specialities we should try while in town. So, with her words ringing in my ears, I ordered the dishes she mentioned as they appeared on the menu - burrata (like a hyprid of mozzarella and ricotta cheese) and capacollo (a dry-cured cold cut of pork) to begin; wholemeal orecchiette (pasta shaped like tiny ears) with turnip tops and anchovy to finish. As you can see from the photo, what I got was far more than just burrata and capacollo for my starter! There were two different kinds of burrata: one soft and fluffy and slightly salted; the other smoky, topped with shards of toasted almond. A meat mountain of capacollo sat close by along with Italian hard cheese, quince jelly, and then what was hopefully my total five-a-day quota. When the orecchiette arrived after this epic plate, it was a picture of simplicity by contrast; effortlessly authentic, hearty and full of flavour, with iron-rich greens and the savouriness of anchovy. Mr B also had two great courses: braised octopus followed by garlic and rosemary rack of lamb with potatoes. So despite us being disheartened by the weather, Ostuni definitely, and most importantly, delivered on taste.
(3) Bairro do Avillez, Lisbon, Portugal
Jose Avillez quickly became one of our favourite chefs during our short break in the culinary capital of Lisbon. MasterChef: The Professionals viewers may also recognise the name from his recent guest appearance in the finals of the latest series. We ate at two of his venues whilst in Portugal; the modestly uncomplicated Pizzaria Lisboa and the immense foodie multiplex that is Bairro do Avillez. And as good as the pizza was, it is Bairro do Avillez that rocked our world with its interpretation of petiscos.
We shared a number of the Portuguese small plates on offer in the Taberna restaurant, including giant red shrimp with Bairro's "special sauce" (top); coal-grilled asparagus and mushrooms with sundried tomato, smoked aubergine caviar and yoghurt sauce with cumin and coriander (bottom-left); cornbread and chorizo crumbed cod with onion puree (bottom-right), as well as beef picanha with smoked garlic cream, Iberian pork steak and fries. Everything from the caress of the cookery, to the acute application of seasoning, to the excellent staff made Bairro do Avillez seriously next-level. It's one of those meals we'll taste until we die.
And don't even get me started on the brown desserts... chocolate fondant, anyone?
(2) Restaurant Story, London, UK
Now for something quite exceptional...
Our trip to Restaurant Story was a wedding present from a group of our friends who clearly know us extremely well! We hadn't heard of Story before, and upon reading about their concept, realised it would be an experience unlike any other we'd had in a restaurant... With no concrete menu to speak of, you place yourself wholly at the mercy of Story's ingenious chef team, who build a bespoke tasting menu around each individual diner based on classic dishes from their repertoire "alongside new and seasonally inspired creations".
On arrival, you're asked if you have any dietary requirements, allergies, intolerances or particularly deal-breaking dislikes before the kitchen gets to work. We had the 7-course lunch menu with drinks pairing, but there are also options for a 5-course lunch or a 9-course dinner. As you can see from the keepsake menu posted above, we basically had 10 courses; each one utterly stunning in its own way!
My highlights were definitely the bread and dripping, 'Paddington Bear' and lemon sherbet. I would go into detail, but it'd be a major case of 'spoilers'! Plus I'll be here for days if I try to analyse every single morsel we both had - so just know there wasn't a single weak link amongst it. Our minds were blown from start to finish by the imagination of the chefs and sommeliers - their knowledge, storytelling and passion unrivalled. The food (and drink!) was as challenging and boundary-pushing as it was delicious, and I left feeling the kind of euphoria you only get in your gut after watching an exhilarating live event.
It was otherworldly, bucket list-ticking stuff.
(1) Restaurant 360, Dubrovnik, Croatia
And now, the big 'un...
360 Dubrovnik is set within the infamous Old Town's medieval walls, just off Ploce Gate. At first glance, it has all the hallmarks of a tourist trap: the premium location; the unreal sea views. So it's only when you dig a little deeper that you realise it is a genuine nirvana for gastronomes and peckish travellers alike.
There are a couple of different pathways you can explore when dining at 360. Two tasting menus inspired by Michelin-starred head chef Marijo Curic's personal experience and heritage are available, as well as an a la carte. And even though we went a la carte, we feel as if we essentially had a tasting menu thanks to the appetisers, pre-dessert and petit fours we were also served!
Just as I was submerging myself in a fishbowl of pink gin (captured lovingly above), bread and canapes were served while we perused the menu. Warm, freshly baked rolls and a duo of flavoured butters - Istrian truffle *gasp* and sundried tomato - along with a medley of inventive little bites involving a Jerusalem artichoke crisp decked with mortadella foam and A WHITE CHOCOLATE FOIE GRAS TRUFFLE. Bonkers. But a literal taste explosion.
Then, the starter: lightly torched and lip-smackingly meaty mackerel, which fell amongst its chimichurri and bonito dressing companions in flakes. The richness of the fish balanced expertly with the acidity of the garnish, which was wonderfully bright and zesty. Black pork was then the dish of the day, served with a beetroot and sour onion tart, pork skin puff, sweet potato and mustard cream - deep, earthy, muscular flavours which gave a little bit more with every forkful. A palate-cleanser of citrussy sorbet then paved the way for dessert, which was a real love letter to contrast, texture and Dalmatia: bitter carob shortcake; a mousse inspired by local cake made with grape must (mantala); orange ice cream; raisins and crisps spiked with sweet Balkan wine. It evoked spicy Christmassy notes which made it almost recognisable to the senses, but fundamentally it was a different beast altogether from anything I'd tasted before. But still brown. And still spectacular.