Monika’s top 5 restaurants (in Europe)

I actually thought it would be easier to choose my 5 best restaurants across Europe. At the end, restaurants are what I am most passionate about. But you know what, I have been thinking about this for more than a week and still can’t decide. But what I have produced below is probably as close to my dream list as possible:

1. Ze kitchen (Paris, 4 Rue des Grands Augustins) – we found this restaurant during our first trip to Paris but it took us another few to find the courage to actually visit it. The first dish I tried there was… a pigeon. Not very encouraging at first but that was probably the best pigeon in the history of mankind. Ever since our first visit I have loved their extraordinary desserts, attentive service, presentation of food which is close to perfection, foam sauces and the tastes which are possible only there. Plus you have a pleasure to observe the chef during his work. Ze Kitchen is owned by William Ledeuil who combines Asian and French cuisine (I guess this may be called fusion but I really don’t like this name) in his little restaurant. The menu changes every month and I am absolutely sure it’s worth to take a train to Paris once a month only to try it. Of course I don’t do it. But only just….

2. U kucharzy (Warsaw, Ossolińskich 7) – Nothing is really serious in this place. At first it looks like a forgotten basement of an old hotel with a serious need of refurbishment but don’t get mislead with this image. I am sure that with the first bite of their home made bread and a glass of good wine you will think this is actually the most interesting place on earth. The name means ‘At chefs’ and you can actually see them cooking in a completely open kitchen and then personally serving the food to you. Most of the waiters (and the barman) look like they haven’t noticed the world has changed a bit since the 80s but this just adds up to the charm. The best Polish food I have ever eaten! Without the kitsch often served to tourists. ‘U kucharzy’ is owned by the Gesslers, a Polish family with a long tradition in gastronomy and I think all their knowledge just summed up to create this wonderful restaurant.
Enough to add that when I came there with Marta, without any earlier booking, we were offered a table reserved for the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. I hope he didn’t mind.

3. Jacques Cagna (Paris, 14, rue des grands Augustins) – You will be surprised to notice that they are located at the same street as Ze Kitchen (and this is not the end of great restaurants there but I will come back to this in my other posts soon). It is named after its Michelin star chef so the place is not cheap I am afraid. But ladies, you will be pleased to know that the prices will be removed from your menus and shown only to gentlemen who accompany you. I can’t help but like this old fashion place where I had one of the most unforgettable meals on my life. On our first (and only so far) visit we appeared there in shorts and t-shirts we wore the whole day and kindly asked if maybe there would be a table for us. We had tried everything else before and had little hope left but we were lucky to be offered one last table. Nobody made even the slightest allusion to our outfits and we just had the meals of our lives. And to this day I have no idea how much it cost… ;)

4. Atelier Maitre Albert (Paris, 1, rue Maître Albert) – We learnt about Guy Savoy, who owns the place, from a guide book (don’t laugh!). These were the times when we didn’t know that much about Parisian culinary scene and we needed something to start with. Not only Guy Savoy was mentioned few times in the book but also places of his students so you can imagine we were intrigued! Atelier Maitre Albert, one of his 5 restaurants in Paris, is a modern rôtisserie – with cool design, open plan kitchen and of course food you can die for. Plus the place is open for Monday lunches which is quite unusual in Paris so another reason to choose it among other places. This and their chocolate cake. I just remember that last time we were there the waiter asked me if I wanted a second helping when I finished eating mine (till the absolutely last bit!).

5. Steirereck (Vienna , Am Heumarkt 2A / im Stadtpark) – I found this place in a onboard magazine on my way to Vienna. I love these magazines as they are great sources of information and I always start my flight from checking them and tearing off interesting pages (so if you ever see an incomplete one then it must have been mine!). The restaurant is a little bit hidden in a city park but when you actually find it you will never want to leave. The dishes are little pieces of art you will not want to destroy… Unfortunately, they are worth as much as art as well. So if you are looking for something slightly cheaper try their bistro type restaurant, Meierei, located in the same building. Apart from Austrian dishes they offer a selection of 150 cheeses and warm strudels served with the country famous precision at 14:00 and 15:00. Anyone for a milk cream strudel tomorrow?

Feel free to comment and share your own lists!

More about Rue des Grands Augustins here.

21/07/2012 – Sadly, Jacques Cagna, number 3 on my list, decided to close his main restaurants for good. I have so many wonderful momories with that place… The good news is that his La Rôtisserie d’en Face – located just around the corner, at 2 rue Christine, is still open and makes one of the best roasted chicken in town!