Food is a huge part of the travelling experience. Trying new dishes, sampling fresh flavours and getting a taste of local cuisine is often high up my list of priorities when visiting anywhere, particularly for the first time. Over the years, I've been very lucky to have experienced some fabulous meals with my long-suffering husband who patiently accommodates my expensive taste and expanding waistline! Here are some of my most notable culinary experiences from around the world.
Emily Moon Restaurant http://www.emilymoon.co.za
Perfect for: cosy fires and local meat
Emily Moon is the first of two South African restaurants to feature on my list. We didn’t have a single bad meal whilst in South Africa, but this makes the cut as it provided the opportunity to try ostrich meat which was so tender and cooked to perfection.
Part of the Emily Moon River Lodge Boutique Hotel in Plettenberg Bay (which I really want to return to South Africa just so we can stay at, as it looks so beautiful!), the restaurant is a quirky and characterful family-run venue with a luxury feel.
With an intimate and laid back atmosphere, it has ornate open fires inside and beautiful views outside, overlooking the river. To top it all off, the service is friendly as the staff are more than happy to make recommendations on food, which is always lovely and feels very personal.
Fergburger, New Zealand
https://www.fergburger.com/ Perfect for: gourmet burgers on the go Whilst 5-star dining and delicate dishes of food are wonderful, sometimes you just crave some simple yet delicious comfort food - particularly when you’re travelling with very little money and a jam-packed schedule of activities. That is why the amazing Fergburger makes my list and wins the award for the best burgers.
Located in the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown, this burger joint is world-renowned amongst the backpacking community. I’m not sure what it is that makes the infamous Fergburger so special - it may be the hype that surrounds it, the buzz in the restaurant itself or just the backdrop of beautiful Queenstown, but it certainly lives up to its reputation.
First opened in 2001, Fergburger has a wide menu encompassing lamb burgers, cod burgers, falafel burgers and even a venison burger in addition to the traditional beef and chicken options. There’s so much choice, you just have to go more than once (shame!) and though there’s always a queue whatever time of day or night you turn up, it never takes long to be served and is a well-oiled machine.
Park Restaurant, Belgium
www.parkrestaurant.be/ Perfect for: a romantic candlelit dinner with a loved one
From one extreme to the other, this is probably the classiest culinary experience on my list! With chandeliers sparkling from the high ceilings and low-lit lamps adorning each of the tables, the Park Restaurant in Bruges is incredibly sophisticated and romantic. We visited during a weekend away and despite not booking in advance of the day itself, were fortunate enough to secure a table in this sought-after venue. Set in the stunning setting of a 19th-century house facing the beautiful Koningin Astrid Park in the centre of Bruges, they offer old-fashioned Belgian cuisine with highlights including Dover Sole and Beef Fillet.
Rather than having an a la carte menu, they only offer a daily set menu either with or without wine pairings which is pricey but worth it for a special occasion as the food and experience is wonderful.
Miracles, Antigua www.miraclessouthcoast.com/ Perfect for: personalised meals cooked to order Though not much to look at and not in the most picturesque of locations, Miracles is a hidden gem on the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua.
Located just outside the popular Jolly Harbour resort on the West coast of Antigua, Miracles is the ultimate in shabby chic. Set on a main road, it’s easy to dismiss as just another roadside shack, but the food is exceptional and the team wonderfully friendly.
Miracles certainly wins the award for most personalisation of your meal, with each of their mains coming with two sides of your choice (options include potato salad, rice & peas, coleslaw, steamed vegetables and my personal favourite, macaroni pie!) and as everything is cooked to order, you can choose exactly how you’d like you fish / meat prepared (e.g. grilled, curried, fried, jerk etc.)
As with most Caribbean restaurants, bear in mind that you’re on “Island Time” which means it could be a while before you get your food, but sit back, have some rum and enjoy the evening. The food is worth the wait - particularly the lobster, which is exquisite.
Le Pepita, Spain http://lapepitabcn.com/ Perfect for: a wide range of Spanish tapas
This is a very recent addition to the list as we discovered this trendy but incredibly welcoming tapas bar just last month on a trip to Barcelona.
With graffitied tiles adorning the walls, this informal and cosy bar in the Gràcia district of Barcelona boasts oodles of charm and an extensive list of alternative yet delicious tapas dishes. From calamari with kimchi mayonnaise and sea bass with spinach and strawberries, to the more traditional patatas bravas and Iberian croquettes, its long list of small plates covers a wide variety of dishes.
We actually ended up visiting twice during our stay in Barcelona and sampling a fair few of the options, all of which were delicious - particularly washed down with a jug of local sangria! Booking or going early is essential though as it’s fairly small and very popular. I’d recommend trying the burrata salad and the slightly bizarre goat’s cheesecake!
The Beacon, UK www.the-beacon.co.uk/ Perfect for: celebratory dinners with family and friends Sometimes you don’t have to travel far for a fabulous culinary experience, and the stars aligned when we discovered elegant country pub, The Beacon, right on our doorstep. Last year, we had celebratory meals for both our wedding anniversary and my 30th birthday there, and both were truly special. Part of the “I’ll Be Mother” group of food and drink suppliers in Kent, The Beacon is tucked away down a lovely little rural road (romantically named Tea Garden Lane) on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. With stunning views across Happy Valley and 17 acres of beautiful gardens, it’s an idyllic spot and boasts a menu of fantastic seasonal dishes.
The Beacon is a perfect venue for all seasons, with a beautiful sun-drenched terrace surrounded by vines and magical lighting perfect for lazy summer meals and cocktails, and welcoming, cosy fires, candles and oak tables inside for the colder months. It’s beautiful designed, with a sophisticated yet rustic charm throughout and the focus is all on having a relaxed and memorable meal with your loved ones - like an intimate family dinner party where you don’t have to lift a finger.
The food itself is understated and delicious. They pride their ingredients on all being locally sourced and the best way to describe the menu is reassuring comfort food with a high-end, culinary twist. The Sunday lunches are particularly good and it’s always a real treat to go there.
La Petite Ferme, South Africa www.lapetiteferme.co.za/ Perfect for: a meal with a view whilst sipping wine We were incredibly fortunate - thanks to our wonderful friends and family who gifted us honeymoon experiences for our wedding gifts - to enjoy a wonderful day of wine tasting whilst in Franschhoek, South Africa and experience a sensational lunch at Le Petite Ferme.
Nestled in the foothills of the Olifants Pass and Middagkrans Mountain range and surrounded by opulent vineyards, La Petite Ferme not only has outstanding food but the most spectacular views. We were lucky enough to visit on a beautiful, sunny day and sat outside to take in the scenery whilst sampling the wine made on their own estate. I had the slow-cooked lamb which melted in the mouth and was one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had. Despite being a luxury hotel and restaurant, like many upmarket venues in South Africa, La Petite Ferme isn’t stuffy at all. It has a lovely, laid-back vibe whilst being reliably elegant and special. It also isn’t hugely pricey, with main meals being the equivalent of around £14 in the current exchange rate which is incredibly affordable for what you get.
Sayta Ranch, Argentina www.saltacabalgatas.com.ar Perfect for: losing track of time and enjoying local cuisine This day at an Argentinian gaucho ranch has to be my ultimate culinary experience and generally one of my favourite days ever - so much so that it inspired the food for our wedding day! Located an hour’s drive outside Salta in Northern Argentina, Sayta Ranch is a beautiful spot where you can spend a day horse riding, sipping local wine and enjoying a delicious barbeque from what we affectionately referred to as the “throne of meat” (pictured here). The whole team were so incredibly warm, friendly and funny and the food out of this world! I’ve never had such tender steak, cooked to perfection and accompanied by such a huge selection of equally mouth-watering local salads, dressings and velvety red wine.
We all sat around a long wooden table, with the meat cooked in front of us and the accompaniments all shared family-style. It was this lovely, relaxed atmosphere and the friendliness of larger-than-life host Enrique, which may the whole day so special. It really was like going to a family dinner party and we were made to feel so incredibly welcome and like we were at a home away from home. It was a true, Argentine experience and one I’d highly recommend if you’re lucky enough to visit South America. We did a half day ride with break and lunch included, but you can also book longer days at the ranch or even stay overnight for the full gaucho adventure.