Five Monocle writers reveal the dining spot to which they’re most relishing a return to once restrictions are finally lifted.
When the world returns to normal I’m most excited by the prospect of visiting the casual, everyday places. Those are the spots that I’ve really missed. When I’m next in my hometown of Perth, for instance, I’m heading straight to Good Things, a small café on a sunbaked suburban street. It does great coffee and serves brunch with a twist, such as hot cakes with lemon curd and white chocolate cream, or red-pepper pesto with roasted pumpkin, fried eggs and roti.
Gourmet brunch is not unusual in Australia but Good Things is my spot. It’s a five-minute drive from my family’s house. When I’m home, I go most mornings with my sister and we solve the world’s problems over coffee and eggs. Sometimes I’ll return later in the day to read the paper. The service is friendly and you can always get a table outside in the sun. It also does burgers on a Friday night: beef with a special sauce or buffalo chicken.
On Christmas mornings my sister and I swing by the beach and then Good Things to pick up flat whites for the family (cafés open on Christmas Day in Australia). On my last trip home I bought a Good Things T-shirt and keepcup. They’re currently on display in my London bedroom as a reminder of what awaits me in Western Australia once the world is back up and running.
Dukkah pumpkin dish: red pepper pesto, bacon, crispy kale, roasted pumpkin, pecorino, dukkah, fried eggs, roti.
Cacao banana smoothie.
Flat white (several).
I first ate at Bacar in February when visiting Okinawa to report on the fashion scene on Japan’s subtropical island. My friend Hiroki Sarumaru, owner of Pizza Slice in Tokyo, had talked up the pizzeria as well as the man behind it, Daisuke Nakamura.
Bacar is the latest addition to my little black book and it’s definitely top of the pizza rankings. Located in the city of Naha, this Neapolitan-influenced parlour is somewhere to which I’d happily take a three-hour flight from Tokyo. It serves the best pizza that I’ve ever tasted.
When I first visited, I sat at the counter overlooking the kitchen as Nakamura made an incredible margherita pizza with marinara. Dressed in a white T-shirt and apron, the chef kneaded the dough – moving his hands with the careful choreography of a tea master and at times with the deftness of a black-belt in karate. The restaurant was bustling but I felt as though I could almost hear Nakamura breathe. He slapped his waist once, producing a small cloud of flour and a crisp “bang” in the air, before throwing the dough into the wood-burning oven. It was theatre. Nakamura signalled that his pizza was ready to serve not with a bell or the cry of “service” but with a look – a waiter stood patiently by. The waiter dashed over and delivered the hot-from-the-oven pizza within seconds.
“Please enjoy while it’s hot,” he said, referring to the crusty delivery as though it were something much more precious than a humble pizza. It was gone within minutes but before long I ordered another. He said the same thing in the same tone then. The night after, I went back again. Today? I’m cooped up in Tokyo during the state of emergency and itching to get out and do some reporting. But I’m also counting down the days until my next trip to Okinawa for a slice of the good life.
Pizza margherita and marinara; soppressata di polpo; boiled broccoli with garlic and oil. Fresh lemon granita.
The difference between a trattoria and an osteria is mostly a matter of semantics. One is focused on no-frills food but offers copious amounts of cheap wine; the other leads on its unpretentious wine list but will serve abundant plates to go with it. To the untrained eye they look pretty much the same and, these days, there’s hardly a red-checked tablecloth in sight.
The moment the lockdown lifts, and I can finally touch down in Turin, either will do. My hometown is filled with them, all sporting dark, creaky wooden chairs, thick white crockery, roomy carafes and enormous pasta portions. But if it has to be only one, make it La Gaia Scienza in the riverside district of Vanchiglia.
The osteria has been there for so long that my mother used to visit for weekly catch-ups with her friends – and I’ve proudly followed in her footsteps. Evenings usually begin down the road at my friend’s wine bar, Botz, where glasses are ordered at the counter and the chatter is conducted while standing (to facilitate access to the bar’s inexhaustible bowl of salted pumpkin seeds). Once snacking will no longer suffice, my hungry group transfers a few blocks away to the cavernous interior of La Gaia Scienza. At dinner, the place is so dimly lit that candles pop up on every table. I’ve always found them an endearing symbol of bygone times and there’s something evocative about heading to a time-honoured establishment to munch on traditional dishes that the management has no real interest or intention to jazz up tapas-style.
The meat-heavy classics of Piedmontese tradition are all present and correct. This is the food that nonna would have made on a Sunday: thin beef carpaccio, Olivier salad and roast veal. It all tastes like family, and home. Perhaps, though, she wouldn’t have poured the ruby-red nebbiolo quite as liberally as we do nowadays.
Vitello tonnato (tuna-sauce veal); rabbit ragù tagliatelle.
Bonet (amaretti and cocoa pudding).
The first time that I visited Los Angeles, my list of restaurants to try was almost as long as the list of places I wanted to go to in California. This is, after all, a city that’s spoilt for choice when it comes to good food. Whether it’s an established classics, humble eateries, social media-ready diner or trusty food truck, there is something out there for everyone.
Yet while I lived in the city I would find myself walking through the doors of the Thai restaurant Night 1 Market in West Hollywood time and time again. It is the sort of place where the food is king and the informal ambience suits any situation, be it entertaining some visitors, a Friday night with friends or a special dinner with someone.
The venue’s neon sign on Sunset Boulevard signals your arrival. And even if you already have a reservation you want to be told to wait by the bar, drinking together with other diners who are eager to get a seat. The intense scent of Thai spices fills the room – and who knew that neon orange and light blue could become such warm colours?
Everything here is meant to be shared: the food, the tables and the drinks. And that’s perhaps why I’ve been craving it so much. As lockdown measures confine us to our homes, I’m longing for the day that I can gather my friends, over-order and pass each dish down the table as we share stories from our week. Night 1 Market in West Hollywood was the last restaurant I visited before returning to London. As soon as I’m able to hop on a flight to lax, I want to embrace the Californian sunshine and palm trees – and happily wait in line for a table at Night 1 Market.
Pork toro; pad thai; crispy rice salad; roast duck green curry.
My favourite restaurant? I never give a straight answer. I’m not deep or secretive though – just greedy and indecisive (I think). Also, don’t different restaurants cater to different occasions? So cast your mind forwards and picture this: the lockdown’s gone, we’re not afraid of each other any more. We’ll need somewhere to celebrate, right? Let’s meet at Brat, Tomos Parry’s wood-panelled restaurant on Redchurch Street, Shoreditch. Sunday lunch OK?
Head up the stairs and through the narrow door that makes it feel as though you’re entering a theatre via the wings. You’ve arrived and there’s one hell of a show in store. Like most great restaurants, the food is just part of the performance, alongside the cast of smiley waiters, bibulous regulars, stray scenesters on their phones and the lost City boy in his loafers.
The windows are big and bright but sit near the kitchen island from which the deft chefs dice and chivvy small but wondrous plates of perfection into existence by the flames of the wood-fired oven. You could eat like a king and get change from a fiver with dishes such as the smoked cod’s roe – fingers of toast slathered with tranches of delicate, fish-flavoured fulfilment. You’ll want more though, so try the bread with wild garlic, Berkswell cheese and truffle or chopped egg salad with bottarga, before deciding on your main. Turbot and some tatties for me, please.
The only warning here is not to rush things, to take the show as it comes and then linger long enough to clock the kitchen staff eating together after Sunday lunch and before the dinner service kicks in – have the olive-oil ice cream and a dessert wine while you wait. My favourite restaurant? It’s one of them. Greedy and indecisive? That’s me. But Brat has never made me suffer for either.
Smoked cod’s roe; chopped egg salad with bottarga; grilled bread with wild garlic;
Berkswell cheese, truffle; turbot and smoked potatoes; olive oil and rosemary ice cream. Hambledon, Classic Cuvée (glass); Thomas-Labaille sancerre (bottle, we’re celebrating).