I know this great place to eat in Mykonos. It sits in a remote spot on the “wrong” side of the island. You drive for about 20 minutes down a rocky track and arrive at a modest beach, which is sandy in parts but has pebbles that stab at your toes in the water. Anyone with visions of emerging from the waves with swagger like Halle Berry or Daniel Craig in a Bond film can forget it. Another thing: on days when there’s a strong north wind, you’re liable to come under attack on your swim from vast drifts of incoming detritus. All of which is to say, people don’t come for the beach. They come for the food.
The taverna here is run by a Greek-English couple and their daughter. I’ve had some of the best Greek lunches ever under its roof. The food is nothing fancy but everything is just the way you want it. Bountiful Greek salads. Hummus. Tzatziki. Juicy grilled chops. Calamari. “Bifteki” (beef patties) with toothsome baked potatoes. And a broccoli salad that is truly a revelation: bright, sweet, crunchy. The owners won’t part with the recipe.
I resist naming the taverna out of fear it will become overrun. But such restaurants are precisely the kind of food recommendations we crave when we travel: hidden gems that friends cherish and wholeheartedly endorse. Like the sticky ribs and martini joint in Ubud, Bali, that one friend suggested to me. The place didn’t disappoint, either for the mind-warping potency of its dirty martinis or the sweet, spicy unctuousness of its meat. Oh, to be there now.
Other than tips from friends, though, where can you turn? There are guidebooks, Michelin ratings, 50-best lists. But my latest go-to is the World of Mouth app. Co-launched by Helsinki-based food writer Kenneth Nars, who is also vice-chair of the World’s Best 50 Restaurants, the app is based on a simple premise: how to get the best, most trusted recommendations from the best, most trusted names in food. Contributors include René Redzepi, Daniel Humm, Ana Ros and Calum Franklin among 300 others, with 2,200 listings in more than 400 cities. (The app is currently free. From the end of October, a monthly subscription fee will apply.)
The search possibilities are vast. Looking for the liveliest seafood restaurant in Kyiv? Try Chernomorka Podol (you pick your own fish from saltwater pools). Keen to know where all the chefs in San Sebastián eat? That would be Ibai. I particularly like the expert tips on street food – everything from taquerias in Tijuana and a Vietnamese BBQ joint in Ho Chi Minh City to a lampredotto stand in Florence (serving a local delicacy made from cow stomach). It’s also handy for travellers craving a specific food in an unlikely spot. Neapolitan pizza in St Petersburg? Squid gyoza in Palma? It’s all here.
Another nifty resource is the book Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs (Phaidon), which showcases the rising stars of the restaurant scene as chosen by the presiding names (such as Skye Gyngell, Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Boulud, Margot Henderson, Yotam Ottolenghi and May Chow). It’s a fascinating snapshot of the new wave and a bucket list of destination restaurants for the most intrepid gastronomes. The book also contains recipes from these upcoming chefs’ kitchens, including Monique Fiso’s venison, sunchoke, mushroom essence and chlorophyll (from Hiakai in Wellington), Keita Kitamura’s roe deer, pear and chervil root (from ERH in Paris), Michael Elégbèdé’s prawn banga and boli ati epa (from Itàn Test Kitchen in Lagos) and Fanny Ducharme’s burnt-bread ice cream (from L’Epicurieux in Québec). Some are more challenging than others, but recipes that take us on adventures in unfamiliar territory may be precisely what we need right now.