It’s hard to believe that 120 years ago, the world’s most prestigious cooking accolade started out as a way to sell more tires.
When Édouard and André Michelin published a guide for French motorists, full of handy information like maps, mechanic listings and hotels, they probably never imagined that it would graduate into a fine dining yardstick for excellence that chefs hang their careers on. Today, the 28 guides cover over 25 countries, and have a Bib Gourmand feature highlighting restaurants that offer very good food at moderate prices, plus a new listing for gastropubs in Ireland.
While Canada continues to be overlooked (at least for now), there are plenty of global dining destinations to add to your wish list. From all out glamour to a shed located in the middle of the North Atlantic, we’ve rounded up the Michelin must-sees around the world. Got stars, will travel.
Michelin star criteria
* “A very good restaurant in its category”
** “Excellent cooking, worth a detour”
*** “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”
There’s abstract, and then there’s Alinea, Grant Achatz’s “progressive American” Chicago restaurant which has been delighting (and confusing) diners since 2005.
If you didn’t catch the avant-garde chef’s episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, you might not be familiar with his culinary creations, which make Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory look like the candy aisle at Loblaws. From an apple taffy floating dessert filled with edible helium balloons to deconstructed french fries, the name of the game is theatricality with dishes presented (or in some cases assembled) with a flourish at your table.
Achatz’s modus operandi is engaging the senses and playing with guests’ emotions throughout the course of an, at times, mind-melting evening. An Alinea meal can include up to 18 dishes, so you might find yourself there for up to four hours – plenty of time to keep your eyes peeled for Grant himself, or hope for a sneak peek inside the kitchen. Dinners alter seasonally and even dishes shared on Instagram are liable to change on a whim. But where’s the fun in knowing what’s on the menu ahead of your visit?
Hawker Chan *
Michelin stars might evoke visions of an empty bank account and not knowing which fork to use for the salad course, but there’s a budget option if you’re craving a more casual (but equally delicious) tour to the peak of the culinary mountain. For less than the cost of a Happy Meal (around $5 CAD), you can sample the one-star delights of Hawker Chan, formerly known as Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles in Singapore. Those prices are a welcome respite from the norm in the world’s most expensive city.
Chef Chan Hon Meng, the son of Malaysian farmers, believes that good food should be affordable. The result of his benevolence is a small but mighty menu of Cantonese-style soya sauce chicken, 35 years in the making, based on a recipe he was taught in Hong Kong.
After becoming the world’s first hawker stall to receive a star in the guide, Chan opened a second brick-and-mortar spot across the road from the popular original location inside the Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Here diners can enjoy additional dishes like char siew rice and roasted pork noodles from the comfort of their seat.
Osteria Francescana ***
From renowned Italian chef Massimo Bottura, this restaurant-cum-art-gallery in Modena is all about passion, emotion and story, rather than cooking techniques or ingredients. Menu items have colourful titles that incite the imagination. Starters include “An eel swimming up the Po River” and “Abstract of grilled snapper… and mozzarella,” while mains like “A singular interpretation of Fillet alla Rossini with foie gras and caviar” and “Lobster in double sauce, acidic and sweet” get slightly more literal descriptions. It’s traditional Italian fare that breaks away from tradition, served in a white-linen atmosphere.
Before chalking this up to pretension, note that Osteria Francescana has plenty of accolades to prove it’s worth the upwards-of-$300 CAD price tag. In addition to raking in three Michelin stars, it came in at the very top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list not once, but twice – in 2016 and again in 2018.
If you want a more pastoral experience, the Botturas have opened Casa Maria Luigia, their country house outside of Modena to guests. The tasting menu features signature dishes from the original restaurant.
Faroe Islands, Denmark
This is one restaurant that doesn’t get many walk-ins, nor is it for the faint of heart. Getting there is half the battle, because, well, there’s no direct road, just a rocky path leading to the turfed-roof farmhouse.
The landscape of the Faroe Islands, where sheep outnumber people and fish hang from houses like icicles, may seem unforgiving to the untrained eye, but while nature can be relentless, it’s also generous. Koks follows the seasons and transforms ancient Faroese practices like drying, fermenting, salting and smoking into modern dishes worth travelling for. Koks means “a flirt” and Poul Andrias Ziska, the head chef, flirts with the line between disgust and culinary brilliance – cooked fermented lamb topped with ground mealworms, anyone?
If that’s not your cup of tea, there are several other inventive dishes, true to the tastes and smells of their rugged Faroese roots, on the rotating tasting menu. These include fresh sea urchin with pickled parsley stems and skerpikjøt (fermented, wind dried lamb leg) served with reindeer lichen, a mushroom emulsion and pickled berries.
The Fat Duck ***
It might seem like another sleepy village in England, but Bray – with a population of less than 10,000 people – is home to two of the United Kingdom’s five restaurants with three Michelin stars. The Fat Duck is one of them and has been pushing the boundaries since it opened in 1995.
Chef Heston Blumenthal uses science and a bit of imagination to invent new forms of edible art. Molecular gastronomy, sensory design – call it what you may, the dishes coming out of the Fat Duck kitchen and laboratory are truly one-of-a-kind (just as well for around $550 CAD). Salmon poached in liquorice gel served with artichoke vanilla mayonnaise – pardon?
Blumenthal has been known to incorporate sounds (played from hidden iPods) with dishes to enhance flavour components. Turns out playing with your food was the right thing to do after all.
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée ***
The restaurant world was shocked (and perhaps, a little skeptical?) when legendary French chef Alain Ducasse decided it was out with the meat and in with the lentils at his self-titled Parisian restaurant in 2014. Fast-forward seven years and face palms have long rescinded with Ducasse, in his infinite wisdom, positioning himself as an early pioneer of leafier, more sustainable culinary ideals that set diners back around $300 CAD.
The celebrated chef – who knows his way around foie gras – made the switch to “naturality,” engaging with the principles of shojin cuisine, which follows a vegetarian or vegan Buddhist philosophy. Ingredients at the restaurant, located inside the grand Parisian institution Hôtel Plaza Athénée, are in theory limited to cereals and vegetables, although seafood (Normandy blue lobster, turbot) is prominent throughout the menu. However, when the vegetables are supplied by none other than the Jardin de la Reine at the Château de Versailles, these greens are certainly not playing second fiddle.
Soak up all three of Alain Ducasse’s Michelin stars in the opulent hotel setting, and ponder, as you gaze up at the chandeliers, if meat is that special after all.
São Paulo, Brazil
Helena Rizzo isn’t just one of the world’s best female chefs, she’s one of the world’s best chefs, period. In Jardim Paulistano, a quaint suburb of São Paulo, an inconspicuous white house hides one of the best restaurants in the world, Maní. At the helm, Rizzo has put Brazil on the map of great culinary destinations.
She elevates the everyday with takes on traditional dishes like a frozen version of quindim, the popular egg-based, Brazilian dessert that defined some of her best childhood memories.
Maní’s other contemporary dishes, made from Brazil’s finest local ingredients, range from the elegant jabuticaba cold soup with crayfish and pickled cauliflower to the humble bread pudding with golden caramel syrup.
Jeju Noodle Bar *
New York City, New York
One of only a few Korean restaurants to garner a Michelin star – not to mention a bare-table noodle bar – Jeju is a rarity in the dining guide. Throw in the surprisingly affordable menu and you’ve got a diamond in the rough that will make you want to skip New York’s overrated, overdone spots in favour of this simple but stylish corner bar.
Named after an island in South Korea that claims to have the best barbecue pork in the world from the Jeju black pigs, this restaurant specializes in fantastic Korean comfort food. Not to be confused with its more well-known cousin Japanese ramen, Jeju serves Korean ramyun.
A prix fixe lunch for $45 USD offers a five-dish culinary tour, served family style. For dinner, the menu is divided into “before noodles” and “finally noodles.” Start with the popular toro ssam bap, a dish of fatty raw tuna piled on top of tobiko rice. For the main event, slurp up the wagyu ramyun with raw miyazaki wagyu brisket in a veal bone broth with white kimchi and enoki mushrooms.