Europe’s top tables – fine dining, in finer places

Cities are becoming giant food courts, with everything under one roof - convenient, and enjoyable, yet unquestionably lacking. Signature regional dishes are like castaways when consumed in foreign lands, whether it’s coq au vin in Copenhagen or reindeer in Rome.

National dishes are represented in every major city on the planet – paella in Paris, sushi in Sydney, fish & chips in Frankfurt. As good as the quality can be, the experience can't match dining on a famous dish, served in its backyard. That’s because a dining experience is so much more than the tastes and aromas on the plate. And nowhere does dining like Europe, with its stupendous variety and cultural heritage.

The Italian magicians

Nowhere is the ability to conjure a gastronomic masterpiece out of household basics more evident than Italy. Mix spaghetti, garlic and oil, outside of Italy and you get spaghetti, garlic and oil. Try this mix in Naples and you get Aglio e Olio – a dish of staggering simplicity that boasts untold riches. How so? Try asking a Neapolitan chef and you’ll get a knowing glance and a gesture toward the heart. 

The French pride

In many countries cheese is little more than an ingredient in a dish or constituent part of a sandwich. Not so in France where Master Fromagerie can be seen in tunics adorned with medals, revered as they slice and serve their products. The pride in the process is unmistakable and reminds those feasting on the produce that the occasion is something truly special. 

The Greek settings

Like the Italians, the Greeks can take basic ingredients and create something otherworldly. Slice, dice, drizzle with oil and dust with herbs, it is all so obviously simple, yet maddeningly out of reach, The warm breeze, the hum of insects, even the tardy service all coalesce to generate dining experiences that are impossible to replicate. Lunch or dinner on a Greek terrace is something that stays with you forever.

The Spanish voices

Catalonians have unimaginably delightful food as a central part of their lives. Sit in a Catalonian tapas bar as the locals break out into song to celebrate the arrival of their culinary pleasures. It is the sort of appreciation that would raise eyebrows in Covent Garden – not so in Girona.

As our world becomes more homogenous, internationalised to the point that all cities offer all tastes, we must not lose sight of the fact that a regional dish is more than the ingredients and prowess of the chef. It the nuances of the whole experience, the location, its people, sounds, smells, and habits that take the occasion to a whole new level. And this goes to the heart of sustainability, where we safeguard regional gastronomy from the threat of separation from its birthplace. You can enjoy a paella in Paris, but it won't taste like it does in Valencia!

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