This is one-eighth of Andre Chiang’s How I See the World.
An ample fur coat hanging quite ominously on the wall is one of the first things that greet the lucky 13 that the minuscule Faviken seats. However, this coat of wolf’s fur is not merely decorative – it is what keeps chef Magnus Nilsson warm in the harsh landscape that lies in the far reaches of northern Sweden when he and his team head out to forage.
And this is an essential part of their daily work, as everything served at the restaurant is either foraged or made in-house (and preferably both, if they can help it) – from the freshly churned butter to the astonishingly fresh-tasting herring that is salted and cured for up to three years.
Three-Michelin-star French chef Michel Bras’ eponymous restaurant is located in the countryside of his birth. He will tell you that it is his home and the surroundings of Laguiole in the Aveyron region of southern France that inspire his cooking. And at the table, he has chosen the region’s famous utensil, the Laguiole knife, for you to use during your meal.
Made to the chef’s specifications and set on a purpose-built cutlery rest, you’d use that same knife throughout your entire meal because, as your server will duly inform you, such is the local tradition.
Eleven Madison Park is the feather in restaurateur Danny Meyer’s cap. Revamped in 2012 to critical acclaim, it joins its venerated siblings, Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, as one of New York’s classic dining experiences. Your gastronomic journey begins with a mysterious envelope. Therein lies a card, laser-cut with the restaurant’s logo: Four different leaves, each representing a different ingredient. You punch out the one that you want, and the rest of your multi-course meal is built around that ingredient.
(G&T: As of 2016, diners get a souvenir set which involves a guessing game. See below.)
Gimmicky? For sure. But this whimsical, twinkle-in-the-eye experience is what you are paying for. And the food and service follow through without missing a beat.
Making the News
Nestled in an unassuming country house, half an hour’s drive from San Sebastian, is Mugaritz, which is famous for embracing the avant-garde while still acknowledging the traditional. However, this is not only limited to the food. All the elements of the restaurant echo this commitment, down to the design of the menus that apply an old-world craft in a clever, unexpected way. Beechwood handles of handcrafted axes are modified to function as menu holders, reminiscent of the classic wooden newspaper holders you would encounter at a London gentlemen’s club.
The French Laundry is the destination restaurant in Napa Valley that started it all for star chef Thomas Keller, whose restaurant empire now includes Per Se, Ad Hoc, and the Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery outlets all over the country. Established 20 years ago, it occupies a building which used to house a French steam laundry. The beechwood clothes pegs that are fastened onto all the dinner napkins at the table are a simple and elegant reminder of the building’s history.
These become charming souvenirs that guests get to take home after a meal that they are not likely to forget.
Mexico City’s Pujol proudly serves modern Mexican food, and is all about reinventing traditional dishes. It has become a symbol of how Mexico has a culinary history that is not only worthy of recognition, but moves beyond pure nostalgia and has a place in the future. In the smart and contemporary dining room of what many deem the best restaurant in the country, you will notice the rustic unglazed clay jugs that serve as water pitchers. These are Bucaro, traditional Mexican vessels that keep water naturally cool, just as they have done for centuries.
There is a story behind every dish at Restaurant Andre – be it the provenance of the ingredients that inspired it, or the memories it hopes to spark. The wines have been selected on similar principles. It thus seems apt that the wine lists come in the form of wine journals made from repurposed old storybooks sourced from Parisian flea markets.
They are called “journals” because they not only list the labels carried by the restaurant, but also chronicle the history and origins of the wines.