Once in a while, you stumble upon a restaurant that unexpectedly hits the spot perfectly. It’s unlikely to be pricey or smart, and very likely to be cheap and cheerful. It might be well-known to everyone except you or – much more likely – the well-kept secret of a select few.
It probably doesn’t look that prepossessing. But, hey-ho, needs must. You’re hungry and in you dive. Hours later you totter outside, beaming, shirt buttons popping, having eaten one of the finest meals ever.
And who wouldn’t want to tip like-minded souls the wink? So, in the spirit of sharing, here are ten unexpectedly wonderful places that I have discovered recently on my travels. I hope you love them like I do.
Smokey’s at the Cove
Meads Bay, Anguilla, British West Indies
Nothing more than a shack on a beach of Meads Bay, but rightly celebrated for its curried goat, fresh-as-fresh-can-be fish and savagely alcoholic rum punches. If you fancy posh, visit Koal Keel, Smokey’s fine-dining sister restaurant.
Chiostro del Bramante Bistro-Cafeteria
Escape the bedlam that is Rome by ducking behind the church of Santa Maria della Pace (off Piazza Navona) and making for the first floor café in Donato Bramante’s Renaissance cloisters. Relish the calm with a large negroni and simple, spot-on dishes such as beef carpaccio and pasta with black truffles.
Au Bonheur du Palais
It might be down a dreary backstreet and look distinctly down-at-heel, but many claim it to be the finest Chinese restaurant in all of France. Don’t laugh. The food here is astonishing – as good as anything I’ve had in China or Hong Kong. Delight in stir-fried breast of pigeon or Chinese-style lampreys washed down with crisp Entre-deux-Mers or a succulent Sauternes.
Moeraki, Otago, New Zealand
Locals and tourists alike flock to the sandy beach at Moeraki, on New Zealand’s Otago coast, to gawp at its bizarre, spherical boulders and to pick paua shells from the sand. They also come to this former whaling station, to eat the finest, freshest fish imaginable. Great local wines in the company of great locals make it unmissable.
Boston, Mass, USA
Tiny and always heaving thanks to the freshest crab, oysters, razor clams and so on, Neptune Oyster boasts a beautifully chosen wine list (try the glorious local sparkler from Westport Rivers) and wonderfully quirky dishes such as Neptunes on Piggyback (crispy oysters, Berkshire pig, golden raisin confiture and pistachio aioli) and monkfish and octopus cassoulet.
Stanford, South Africa
Oh my gosh, I love the little country cottage that is Mariana’s! I love it for the pitch-perfect food – such as pickled yellowtail in curry sauce or springbok pie; for the tip-top local Hemel-en-Aarde wines; for the exquisite kitchen garden where all the fruit and veg come from; for the impressive mountain backdrop; and particularly for Mariana and Peter Esterhuizen’s delightful company.
Hot Springs, Arkansas, USA
McClard’s surely serves the best ribs in America, if not the world. Founded in 1928 and still family-owned, McClard’s is renowned for the quality of its absurdly tender beef and pork, its homemade tamales and slaw (made fresh every night) and its unique and secret hot sauce, the recipe for which is locked in a local bank.
Don’t be put off by the fact that this is the world’s largest duck restaurant (seating 2,000 guests). Sit back amid the mayhem and enjoy such treats as scalded duck heart, boiled duck liver, duck soup and the finest Peking roast duck EVER. You’ll even get a certificate to prove you ate said bird, along with the offer of its carcass in a bag.
L’Auberge de la Môle
La Môle, France
Place de l’Eglise, 83310 La Môle Tel: +33 (0)4 94 49 55 07
Slap dab on Route Nationale 98, some half an hour from St Tropez, this former petrol station makes for an unlikely restaurant. But folk come from miles around to eat great slabs of homemade terrine and cornichons, steaming bowls of daube de sanglier (shot and cooked by Le Patron) and Madame’s celebrated crème caramel.
Olympia Café & Deli
Kalk Bay, South Africa
134 Main Road, 7975 Kalk Bay. Tel: 021 788 6396
It might look as if it’s seen better days, but don’t be fooled. It’s always crammed with locals lapping up great coffee and pastries as well as huge bowls of garlic mussels and homemade ciabatta; local lamb chops or whatever fish has been landed in the harbour over the road. Charmingly eccentric staff only add to the boho atmosphere.