29 Apr 2016

Top restaurants in Europe

Neil Davey samples European cuisine that will prompt you to leave work and remain at the table

Alla Vecchia Bettola, Florence, Italy

Reviewing Alla Vecchia Bettola is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, sending people here might help the place thrive. On the other, it means it might be harder to get a table.

Alla Vecchia Bettola is the local Italian restaurant you always wanted to find. From your time in the queue - it’s no reservations - to your final sip of coffee - intense and strong from a tiny, brightly-coloured espresso cup - it’s an experience to savour. There’s no pretension, no airs and graces, no elaborate menu – just great cooking, charming, if slightly brusque, service, and a delightfully small bill.

Everywhere you look there are little vignettes of local life. As we sat down, the table nearest the kitchen was occupied by five middle-aged men, whose interaction with each other and the staff suggested they’d been going there for years. As we left, the same table was occupied by five much younger men who were clearly destined to evolve into the first group by around 2036.

The menu is as direct as they come, including the wine: €4 gets you a glass and as much as you can drink of a 1.5 litre, raffia-bottomed bottle of robust Tuscan red. Classy? No. Delicious? Absolutely – and the perfect foil to the hearty home-style cooking. Pasta comes al dente (firmly cooked) and silkily coated in simple sauces of deceptive depth, be it cream and tomato or, even better, a rabbit ragu of subtle gaminess. Lamb is slow-roasted, fatty, unctuous and with a hint of wood smoke, and the artichokes and anchovies are perfectly fried in the lightest of batters.

It’s not Michelin-starry, just perfectly-executed plates of food you really want to eat. As for the tiramisu, it’s everything you’ve ever wanted that classic dessert to be. Sit back, pour yourself another glass, savour every mouthful, enjoy the interplay of regulars and waiters, and count the days until you can make it back.

Café Einstein Stammhaus
Berlin, Germany

Few places In Berlin do breakfast better than Café Einstein Stammhaus. While the glorious building has been any number of things, these days it’s a classic, high-end, Viennese-style café, with a menu that’ll set you up for a day of walking the city. The Einstein-Frühstück is a case in point, a vast selection of sausages and cheese, marinated salmon, curd, yoghurt, fruit, bread and jams.

Le Foch
Reims, France

Le Foch proves that Michelin-starred cooking and Champagne country needn’t cost an arm and a leg. There’s a very fine €51, four-course tasting menu, and, rather charmingly, a takeaway menu too. Cooking, from Jacky Louaze, is spot on, service – with front of house run by Jacky’s wife Corinne – is friendly and less stuffy than the location and accolades might suggest.

Neil Davey


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