Fantastic foodie destinations

El Celler de Can Roca, the restaurant that replaced Noma as San Pellegrino's World's Best Restaurant, is run by three Roca brothers (including Joan — pictured) in Girona in Spain.

Looking for a gourmet getaway? Pól Ó Conghaile tips the world’s top foodie destinations, with a smorgasbord of suggestions on where and what to eat when you get there.

 1) San Sebastian, Spain 

San Sebastian has more Michelin Stars per capita than Paris, London or Tokyo — not bad for a city with a population of just over 180,000. Whilst restaurants like Arzak and Mugaritz reach for the stars however, the beauty of this Basque hub is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well.

San Sebastian’s tapas dishes are called pintxos (pronounced pinch-ohs), and for many visitors, a foodie crawl around its Old Town puts the Michelin magic in the ha’penny place.

Try the gildas (skewered olives, peppers and anchovy) at Bar Ganbara (21 C/ San Jeronimo) or the artichoke with shards of jamon Iberico at Casa Urola (20 Fermín Calbetón), washed down with a glass of Basque beer or cider. You’ll have change of a fiver after both.

Details: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin to Bilbao. San Sebastian Tourism (sansebastianturismo.com) runs ‘Flavours of San Sebastian’ walking tours.

2) London, UK 

French cuisine responded to Spain’s Nueva Cocina and Scandinavia’s New Nordic movements with an identity crisis. London responded by doing its own thing. It hasn’t looked back.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal ranks among the World’s Top 10 Restaurants, but London is equally remarkable for its bustling markets, gastro-pubs, curry houses, five-star hotels, classic French tables, celebs like Jamie Oliver and Yotam Ottolenghi and the apparently endless ability of neighbourhoods like Soho and Covent Garden to reinvent themselves.

“Pound for pound, nose to tail, there’s never been a better or, frankly, wackier time for food in London,” as Travel + Leisure put it in a feature singing the praises of the city this year.

Details: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) fly from Cork and Dublin to various airports in London. For more on the city’s food scene, see visitlondon.com.

3) Copenhagen, Denmark 

Noma has been knocked from its perch after three years at the top of San Pellegrino’s influential (if essentially meaningless) list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. I’d still argue that it remains the single most important restaurant opening of the 21st century.

René Redzepi put Copenhagen on the foodie map, but the city is about so much more than a single restaurant. Geranium and Relae are just two others building on Noma’s elevation of Danish ingredients in what Monocle magazine calls “the world’s most liveable city”. 15 Michelin stars suggest that its New Nordic movement has transitioned from craze to established cuisine.

Copenhagen is expensive. It is possible to eat well at affordable prices, thanks to up-and-coming restaurants like Manfreds & Vin (manfreds.dk), Fiskebarren (fiskebarren.dk) and Höst (cofoco.dk), but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Details: SAS (flysas.ie) flies direct from Dublin to Copenhagen from €69 each way. For more on eating out in Copenhagen (at all price points) see visitcopenhagen.com.

4) New York, US 

Las Vegas has upped its foodie game dramatically, New Orleans is a culinary adventure unto itself and The Munchies People’s Choice Food Awards voted Chicago the best food city in America, but I’ll take a bite of the Big Apple every time.

New York’s epic multiculturalism, world-class fine-dining restaurants, sizzling street food, top-notch markets (and let’s not forget the pizza) are global standard bearers in so many ways.

It’s easy to spend big here — that’s as true in stores like Saks or hotels like the Waldorf Astoria as it is restaurants like Per Se, Daniel and Eleven Madison Park. But you don’t have to. Zagat recently released its 2014 guide, showcasing a glut of great new restaurants — and hundreds clock in at very (or at least reasonably) affordable price points.

The beauty of the Big Apple lies in its diversity. There are over 10,000 restaurants offering every conceivable kind of cuisine for every conceivable budget. Regular restaurant weeks offer three-course set menus for around $30 too, and that’s not even starting on the delis.

Details: American Holidays (americanholidays.com) has flights plus four nights in NYC from €659pp, based on four sharing. See also nycgo.com/restaurantweek.

5) Istanbul, Turkey 

Istanbul straddles two continents — Europe and Asia — and serves up all of the flavours, cultures and surprises its location evokes. From sizzling street food to rooftop restaurants, from olive oil-rich salads and vegetable dishes of the Mediterranean region to the spicy Middle Eastern-influenced dishes, a culinary adventure here offers endless opportunities to investigate and explore.

Müzedechanga (set in the Sabanci Museum gardens overlooking the Bosphorus) and Mikla (with views over the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace) are two restaurants for a treat.

Tours are also an option. Unison Turkey runs a variety of food-themed trips, including a four-night Istanbul Culinary Break (€669pp based on four sharing) with market visits, street food and meals at the city’s best, under-the-radar restaurants. Flights are extra.

Details: Unison Turkey (unisonturkey.com). Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) flies direct from Dublin from €192pp return. Read more about Turkey on goturkey.com.

6) Catalonia, Spain 

When it comes to Catalan cuisine, it’s hard to look past Barcelona. From the teeming Boqueria market to its zingy tapas bars and scintillating fine-dining restaurants, the city is a regular inclusion on lists of the world’s top gourmet getaways. But look past it you must.

That’s because, an hour up the road, lies Girona where you’ll find El Celler de Can Roca, the restaurant that replaced Noma as San Pellegrino’s World’s Best Restaurant.

Run by three Roca brothers, the restaurant “create(s) magic without undue theatrics”. Girona’s medieval streets and atmospheric Jewish quarter are also full of creative Catalan chefs, tapas bars, and fresh fare from the Mercat del Lleó.

If you haven’t the budget (or reservation) for El Celler, grab a taste of what the fuss is about at the Roca brothers’ ice-cream parlour, Rocambolesc Gelateria (rocambolesc.com).

Details: Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Cork and Dublin to Barcelona. Ryanair (Ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Girona. For more on Catalonia see spain.info.

7) Tokyo, Japan 

This is one of Asia’s most mind-boggling mega-cities, a sprawling, invigorating and at times completely baffling mix of ancient customs, futuristic technology and fascinating people. Overcome the culture shock, however, and you’ll never look back.

Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city (323 at the last count), but its breathtaking sushi and ramen can also be eaten straight off counter-top conveyor belts. There are high-end restaurants like Narisawa and Nihonryori Ryugin and there is the frenetic vibrancy of Tsukiji fish market, or the immersive deliciousness of Ramen Alley at Tokyo Station.

Details: JAL (jal.com) flies from London Heathrow. For more on Japan visit seejapan.co.uk.

8) Paris, France 

Ok, Paris is no longer the gastro-capital of the world. But it’s still Paris.

“Nothing left me feeling more in love with life than a sensational meal in Paris,” as Michael Steinberger writes in Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine And The End Of France (Bloomsbury, 2010). For every bloated bistro trading on former glories you can still find a new opening or creative chef taking terroir and tradition and transforming them into something dynamic and delicious.

Trish Deseine’s The Paris Gourmet (Flammarion) is a good start. The set menus at Les Papilles (lespapillesparis.fr) and Frenchie (frenchie-restaurant.com) are always worth investigating. The market stalls at Aligre, the Bastille and St-Quentin are as bustling and colourful as ever, and bistros like Semilla (54 rue de Seine) are getting better.

Details: Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly from Dublin and Cork to Paris. See also en.parisinfo.com.

CROATIA CALLING WITH FLIGHTS FROM IRELAND

The Istrian Riviera in Croatia offers lots of sightseeing, lolling on pebble or sand beaches, exploring unspoilt islands and discovering interesting historical facts about this interesting place. ClickandGo.com offers a selection of package holidays to the area including Aer Lingus flights. www.clickandgo.com

THESSALONIKI IS EU’S OFFICIAL YOUTH CAPITAL

Visitors to the second city of Greece — Thessaloniki — in the next few weeks will fully immerse in festive fun as the city launched the biggest Christmas Park in the area. The city welcomes 2014 as the European Youth Capital and 100,000 resident students gives it a unique pulse. Check out www.thessaloniki2014.eu.

NORWAY’S THE SPOT FOR THE NORTHERN LIGHTS

Create some unforgettable memories by taking a trip to see the northern lights, or the aurora borealis, as they are also known. SAS can get travellers from Dublin to Tromso in Norway from €269 and bookings can be made by visiting www.flysas.ie. To find out more about the northern lights, try www.visitnorway.com.

WATERFORD CELEBRATES VIKING HERITAGE

They came in 914, in a great Scandinavian fleet under the leadership of Ragnall, to plunder and establish what became Waterford. Now Ireland’s oldest city has announced it will mark its milestone birthday — Waterford1100 — with a huge outdoor spectacle on Saturday, Jan 4, that recreates the Viking arrival.!

FOTA RESORT OFFERS DETOX PACKAGE

Fota Island Resort is just minutes from the city of Cork but claims to be in a world of its own when it comes to relaxation. The hotel now offers an overnight Detox Retreat for singles or couples, with prices starting from €303 per night per room. Call 021-4673000 for details or log onto www.fotaisland.ie


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