In an impossibly scenic setting-a converted New England grist mill accessed via a bridge over a waterfall-chef Erin French has created an incredibly personal experience in the tiny coastal Maine town called Freedom. The place is open only four days a week, eight months a year, for 40 guests a night. Thousands of people compete for those seats in a simple dining room with wooden plank floors and tables unburdened by cloths. Here’s why: French serves exquisite, simple dishes using local ingredients such as clams for her New England chowder with homemade saltines and Maine bluefin tuna with the tiniest turnips. To add to the charm, wine is available at a shop downstairs; guests bring it up in wicker baskets. It’s like the ultimate dinner party to which you’re extremely lucky to get an invite.
SingleThread Farms; Healdsburg, California, US
A restaurant to make you believe in the tired phrase “farm to table”. In the sleepy town of Healdsburg, on the edge of fancy wine country, chef Kyle Connaughton uses ingredients from the five-acre (2.02 hectares) farm tended by his wife, Katrina. Canapes such as caviar-covered local oysters decorated with tiny flowers are arrayed on a mossy branch. Connaughton, who cooked in Tokyo for years, emphasises Japanese influences with California ingredients for such dishes as cured foie gras flavoured with cocoa and rooibos tea. The restaurant is in a terrifically appointed five-room inn with amenities that include luxe Japanese towels and deep bathtubs. With the room comes breakfast, and the chef is expert at preparing Japanese donabe smoked trout, house-cured bacon and frittatas made from fresh eggs.
Sushi Saito; Tokyo
The commotion about Jiro is still so deafening, it’s hard to remember that there are other elite, tiny sushi spots in Tokyo. Joel Robuchon, the French chef who has compiled 31 Michelin stars, has called Saito the best sushi restaurant in the world, and the eight-seat counter in Roppongi has 3 Michelin stars of its own. Takashi Saito sources such seafood as aji (which he serves with ginger), tunas from lean to fatty (akami, chu-toro and o-toro), voluptuous uni and sweet and salty anago, and the classic tomago to finish. It’s not that any of it is out of the ordinary; the sashimi and sushi progression is relatively standard. It’s the extraordinary quality and the quiet little tweaks in aging some pieces, as well as finessing the rice, that elevates this spot to a new plane.
Cha ca la Vong; Hanoi
There’s no question about what you’ll eat at this nondescript upstairs restaurant. It will be sizzling catfish, vibrant with herbs, spices, and chilis. The dish’s name is that of the restaurant that’s so popular it’s also the name of the street, to which such notable chefs such as James Beard award-winning Chris Shepherd from Houston have come to sample it. It’s a very DIY experience: A burner with a worn skillet is set up at your place at a communal table for turmeric-marinated fish, sizzling in garlic oil with copious amounts of dill and shrimp paste. The diner adds the accoutrements that come to the table, including bowls of herbs, marinated hot chiles, peanuts and unadorned rice noodles.
Helga’s Folly; Kandy, Sri Lanka
You probably wouldn’t go here for the food alone, although it’s a reliable mix of such Sri Lankan dishes as spicy coconut soup, fish cakes and hoppers (rice flour pancakes) with curry. But the pilgrimage to this gothic hotel on a hillside in dense jungle makes the trip worthwhile. Just a taxi ride from the historic Sri Lankan city of Kandy, it’s a million miles from convention. The warm air is thick with exotic scents and the sound of insects. A wall is all that separates you from leopards and other wild animals. The rooms are filled with mysterious paintings, and wax from candles drips to the floor in stalactite formations. Visitors to the house over the decades have included actors Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Peter Finch, William Holden, and Gregory Peck. Over it all presides enigmatic owner Helga de Silva Blow Perera, celebrated by Britpop stars The Stereophonics in their song Madame Helga.
Gustu; La Paz, Bolivia
While Peru’s food is much in vogue, neighbouring Bolivia has yet to rise to the level of dining destination. But Gustu is worth considering, both for the quality of the cooking and for the importance of its mission of educating disadvantaged young people and supporting the country’s farmers. The ingredients are sourced from farms across Bolivia, and a school is attached to the restaurant. The dishes may be unfamiliar: You might find yourself eating raw lama with salty capers from Tarija, washed down with Bolivian wine. Gustu was opened in 2013 by Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma, who installed Danish chef Kamilla Seidler to run the kitchen. While it is a social experiment, it’s also a place with very interesting food.