British food writer Andy Hayler was in the French ski resort of Megève last month, dining at a restaurant called Les Flocons de Sel. When the after-dinner coffee arrived, it marked the end not just of a 13-course marathon but of a quest to become the first person to visit and review every one of the world’s 109 Michelin three-star restaurants, a mission that took him from Florence to Fujisawa. Here he picks his five favourites.
Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy In the otherwise unremarkable town of Rubano, about five miles west of Padua, Le Calandre is best experienced as a way of capping off a visit to Venice or Verona. At the age of 28, Massimiliano Alajmo was awarded three Michelin stars, becoming the youngest chef to attain this distinction. His cooking makes the most of the fabulous local produce. The saffron risotto was the best I have eaten, with every grain of carnaroli rice boasting perfect texture. More elaborate dishes, such as roasted langoustines with apple, fava bean cream and radicchio, showed great balance of flavours. Another fine dish was suckling pig with ethereally light mustard foam and spring greens with a beautifully dark, unctuous and intense sauce. Le Calandre isn’t about fancy cooking but the combination of impeccable ingredient sourcing with great technical skill. My best meal of 2012.
Alinea, Chicago, US I’m a fan of classical cooking; the Harry Potter trickery of the El Bulli school leaves me cold. Consequently I had limited expectations of Alinea, Grant Achatz’s restaurant in an unassuming building in a quiet suburb of Chicago, but I was stunned by the virtuoso cooking. What impressed me was that, for all the play and technical wizardry, the flavours of the ingredients shone so clearly through the comprehensive tasting menu. The final flourish was a dessert “painted” on to a sheet placed on the table, using a palette of chocolate sauces, mousses frozen in nitrous oxide, pickled berries, honeycomb and milk custard caramelised with a blowtorch at the table: a triumph of culinary theatre.
Mizai, Kyoto, Japan There are 36 Michelin three-star restaurants in Japan, and the best of all is the tiny Mizai, which has just six seats at a wooden counter in the middle of Maruyama Park in Kyoto. Mizai fits in with the city’s position as the well-preserved historic and spiritual heart of Japan, by serving traditional kaiseki dishes – a cuisine conceived in the 1500s to aid the enjoyment of green tea. Japanese food is all about selecting and showcasing perfect seasonal ingredients and at Mizai this was summed up by an amazing broth of matsutake mushrooms (the most prized in the world), which had dazzling depth of flavour. Similarly, the black wagyu beef with its stunning marbling was simply grilled with a pepper sauce and green chilli salad, making for a must-try dish for any beef fan.
Pavillon Ledoyen, Paris, France There are many fine restaurants in Paris but this is my favourite. Housed in a late 18th-century building in landscaped gardens between the Champs-Elysées and the Seine, it offers calm, views and breathing space that are hard to come by in the more hectic parts of town. Christian Le Squer’s cooking shows mastery of classical technique but with interesting modern touches. One illustration is a remarkable pasta dish presented as a rectangular wall topped with truffles, a beautiful and fabulously rich dish.
Schloss Berg, Perl-Nennig, Germany Christian Bau’s restaurant makes a perfect excursion for visitors to Luxembourg – Schloss Berg is less than a mile from the border and 13 miles from the centre of the city. Bau is a gifted young chef whose style is grounded in classical French technique, but draws heavily on Japanese cooking for inspiration. Highlights from the tasting menu include Parmesan foam with duck liver – remarkably light yet with a deep Parmesan flavour, a rich but gorgeous dish. Over the course of my meals here the cooking just gets better and better.