If one thinks of memorable meals, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the food. But for me, the food is only one of the components. It’s about the location, the decor, the company, and the occasion, as well as the food.
Over the years, I have travelled the world and had the privilege to dine in some memorable Michelin starred restaurants. Other memorable meals were quite simple, prepared in family-owned places, using local products cooked in a traditional way.
Here are 13 of my Memorable Meals…
1. Kikuoni, Kyoto, Japan
Yoshihiro Murata, the chef awarded seven Michelin stars across three restaurants, is a “Gendai no Meiko” (Master Craftsman of Kaiseki cuisine).
The Kaiseki cuisine is based on an old Japanese tradition. A multi-course haute cuisine menu defined by its refinement and inspired by the seasons and local produce. It is also characterised by its presentation, each dish coordinated to the plate it is served on, and according to the season. And it is not unusual to see flowers, plants and other decorations added to supplement the taste and the visual appeal. Kaiseki cuisine is about taste, smell and colour.
2. Gora Kadan in Hakone, Japan
Set near the hot springs of Hakone, it used to be the country residence of the Imperial Family and is now a luxury Ryokan.
The nine-course Kaiseki menu served in our suite was pure magic. The food was exquisitely presented, and the taste most delicate. Served by a girl in traditional costume, one was completely immersed in the Japanese art of living. A once in a lifetime experience!
3. Meadowood Napa Valley, California
This place is as memorable for the quality of its food as for its pretentiousness.
One course was served on a page from Proust “À la recherche du temps perdu”. Say no more!
After a superb meal (it didn’t need the theatrical presentation) we were taken to view the kitchen. There, an army of staff were running the most meticulous operation. Pretty impressive.
4. AOC Copenhagen, Denmark
It was an impromptu weekend in Copenhagen, and therefore no chance of getting a table at Noma (6 months waiting list). The alternative was AOC, another two-starred Michelin restaurant. The nine-course Nordic menu was innovative, artistic and definitely delicious.
5. San Gimignano, Tuscany
The most romantic meal I recently had was in a simple place, watching the sunset on the beautiful village of San Gimignano perched on the hills in front of us.
The dinner was delicious. No culinary extravaganza, just plain simple food, the way Italians know how to respect good ingredients and let them taste what they are, without any fuss.
6. Shan, Myanmar (Burma)
The grandest picnic set in a bamboo forest.
Our guide informed us that we were having a picnic, but since the little wooden boat we were travelling in wasn’t carrying any food, I was rather perplexed.
Around mid-day, we disembarked and walked for about 15 minutes into the forest when, suddenly, multicoloured tents appeared. Under one of them, a table was set, and a young man was waiting to greet us. Lunch had been prepared in an improvised kitchen, and what a scrumptious meal it was, the best of Burmese cooking.
The unexpected experience was surreal and totally magical. That’s what dreams are made of.
7. Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, India
My French pallet doesn’t seem to appreciate spicy food. Therefore, it is unfortunate that Indian cuisine is not a particular favourite of mine. But on a recent trip, I was treated to Indian High Tea, and what a treat it was – a combo of Indian and English delicacies served in the most exquisite setting, an ancient royal palace floating in the middle of Lake Pichola. It was magical!
8. L’arbre Tokyo, Japan
My most memorable French meal had been cooked… by a Japanese chef!
He had trained in France with some of the top chefs and just returned to Tokyo to open his first restaurant.
In a very small courtyard, under a tree (L’arbre), only five tables with the guests watching the chef cooking in the middle. The food was totally sublime, the best of French Haute Cuisine.
I returned to Tokyo many years later and looked for the place. It was no longer there. The chef must have certainly moved up the ladder, but since I didn’t know his name…
9. Auberge de la Môle, Var, France
This place has been in the same family for over 50 years. It used to be a caff on the back of a petrol station. Today it’s still a caff, albeit a posher one.
The petrol station is still there, so are the plastic chairs and the grumpy waiters. But the rustic fare is the best of traditional French food. I have been coming back time and time again. It is one of Delia Smith’s favourite restaurants. What better recommendation!
10. Le Pingouin Bleu, Grimaud, Var, France
Next to my house in Provence is a small sandy beach. On it is a family-run restaurant.
One sits under the trees, water lapping over the feet, for either lunch or dinner watching the sunset over St Tropez. The food is very simple. The owner cooks the perfect sardines on a large open barbecue. A glass of local Rosé in hand and the memories linger for months after.
11. OMM Barcelona, Spain
I am not a great one for breakfast, but this was a revelation. It introduced me to the best of Iberian cuisine.
The hotel’s buffet was packed with small delicacies, one more interesting than the other, and each one delicious.
12. From the sublime to… a diner, on the road from Boston to Rhode Island
The small room was packed with the noisiest, largest people I have ever encountered. The waitress was a character out of a road movie. Each portion of food could have fed a family of four. It was gross.
Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience!
13. Chez Moi in Provence
A few years ago, for a special celebration, I invited friends Chez Moi in the South of France.
The event went on the whole weekend and, for the special night, I decided on a White Party. The decor was all white: tables, chairs, flowers… and of course, the guests wore white outfits.
I decided to “push the boat out” and got a specialist company to light up the trees around the pool with multicolour spotlights… pink, lilac and blue. The birthday cake was prepared and served by “Le Meilleur Pâtissier de France” (French Master Pastry Chef) in uniform, with the gold insignia around his neck.
Eight synchronised swimmers performed for us. It was a magical, as well as a memorable evening!
What are your memorable meals?