The first part of this post is here. It’s where I talk about how The Hungry One sat through five dinners with a ring in his pocket, trying to find somewhere appropriate to propose. And how in the six years since we’ve churned through more than our fair share of elaborate candlelit meals. It contains my pick of five of the world’s most romantic restaurants; in Dubrovnik, Menton, Laguiole, London and overlooking the Acropolis.
Below is my final five. It’s hedonism and madness and beauty, all rolled in together. It’s the stuff we don’t talk to the accountant about. Enjoy.
Chez Vrony- Zermatt, Switzerland
Sometimes skiing feels less like fun and more like ‘let’s get cold and carry cumbersome things over slippery ground’. Yet sometimes skiing allows you to get to some breathtakingly beautiful places. Half way down the blue run number 6 from the top of the Sunnega Express in Zermatt is Chez Vrony. It’s everything you fantasised a piste-side restaurant could be. Two minutes after we step onto the terrace I turn to The Hungry One and say ‘I don’t think I ever want to leave’. There are sheepskin covers on the chairs, some of which are so gently sloped they should probably be next to a swimming pool. On them and the other banquettes there are Chez Vrony branded fleece rugs to huddle under. And above it all there’s the view of the Matterhorn to ponder (it’s much bigger than at Disneyland, I promise).
Not all romance has to occur at night. Take an extended lunch and nurse a glass of champagne (or two. Any more and you might find the short ski home tricky). Try to forget that you’re wearing polar fleece. Share some local cheese and cured meats that have been made in the pastures that will soon peek out from under the snow. Scoff a burger, or a plate of pasta gilded with truffles (the carbs are excused, it’s cold out here). You’ll be excused if at this point you feel the need to pinch yourself.
For more on the pleasures of ski in-ski out Michelin dining, go here
Bouchon- Yountville, California
Yountville may well be the town-that-Thomas built. It is home to no fewer than four establishments of Thomas Keller. The first being the French Laundry. At the other end of the formality scale is the Bouchon bakery and the casual family dining ‘Ad Hoc’. In perfect Goldilocks-style in the middle is Bouchon.
Yountville is a picture perfect spot in the Napa Valley. During winter the trees on Washington Street are festooned with fairy lights. To one side is the promise of the Domaine Chandon vineyards. To the other, boutique hotels. Bouchon sits proudly in the centre of the main street, just opposite from The Vintage Inn (a place of postered beds, private fireplaces and a bread pudding with raspberry sauce on the breakfast buffet which deserves poems to be written about). Bouchon is the bistro you hoped to find in Paris, but never did. The soundtrack is Billy Holiday or gentle jazz standards. It’s a place where there are candles on the tables and truffles shaved onto your frites. Thomas Keller decrees roast chicken as his choice for final supper. If you’re here, I can’t urge you to order it enough.
Come for the weekend. Eat supper at Bouchon. Hold hands across the table while the candles burn down. Splurge on a night at the Vintage Inn. Stay for brunch. Drink sparkling wine and Napa chardonnay. Explore the neighbouring towns. And then try and tear yourself away. I dare you.
For more on a weekend in Yountville, including dinner at French Laundry, go here.
Il Ridotto, Venice
Arriving in Venice is special, particularly if you do it the way we did. A water taxi from the front of Saint Lucia train station to a canal-front hotel is a pricey indulgence. It’s an experience which reeks of James Bond and boater hats. The taxis are elongated speed boats, slicked up with white leather and dark wood interiors. As they whip you down the grand canal, you can’t help feeling like you should be wearing white linen and involved in some kind of international espionage.
What is not special, is much of the food in Venice.
The evening starts well; wandering the canals while the sky streaks Campari-orange is classic. So is listening to warbling from gondoliers while you get whimsically lost. And then there comes the bad pizza. These are all the hallmarks of Venice. Unless you find Il Ridotto. It’s a wee place that only seats 12 and is a block or so back from St Mark’s Square. Giovanni Bonnacorsi serves both as chef and occasional waitstaff . Here you’ll eat delicate regional food that mixes the sea and the prettiest bits of the land. It’s intimate. You’ll drink wine and water out of Murano glasses. You’ll probably start with a complimentary amouse bouche, enjoy warm seafood salads or a risotto topped with tiny strawberries. You’ll most likely end the night sipping house made limoncello, and wondering how you got to be so lucky.
For more on a perfect 24 hours in Venice, go here.
Castello 4509, 30122 Venice, Italy
Joel Robuchon, Vegas
Unearthing romance where you don’t expect it is a rare treat. In amidst the incessant chiming of slot machines, folks drinking margaritas out of plastic guitars that are hung around their necks and the men who will shove ‘XXX GIRLS’ cards into your husband’s hand as you walk down the strip next to him, there is an oasis to be found in Vegas.
In the belly of the MGM Grand are two Joel Robuchon restaurants. The first is his more informal L’atelier. The second, is the Mansion. Once you step inside the Mansion, you cannot hear a thing. There’s the hush from the lush living wall of green. There’s the gentle chime of nose wrinklingly expensive cutlery and glassware. There’s the ultimate deference of the waitstaff, who still manage to maintain a sense of humour. And there’s the rumble of the trolleys. The bread trolley comes first, with more than twenty types of still-warm-from-the-oven bread to choose from. In between there’s a menu of between six and sixteen courses (I promise you, you’ll only need the much cheaper six). At the end, there’s the petit fours. If romance to you is complete hedonism, relax in the knowledge that you will not be the first person to ask to sample all 39 petit fours. We don’t call him The Hungry One for nothing.
The restaurant is small. There’s space between tables and the seating of diners is staggered. The food is elegant. This is one of the few restaurants I know where you could bust out a tux and an evening dress and not feel ridiculous. It’s opulence and escapism. When you’re in the wilds of Las Vegas, just 300 metres away from lions in glass cages, it’s more than you could hope for.
For more on the madness of spending Christmas in Las Vegas, go here.
Maybe you’re not a swimming-with-giant-turtles kind of person. Maybe the fact that the Four Seasons Maui has four channels for piped music in your bathroom (Hawaiian, classical, rock and jazz) won’t float your boat. Maybe you won’t swoon when your deck chair next is made up like a bed with under-sheets and fresh towels to cosset your head and someone brings you a chilled towel and complimentary fruit-on-a-stick. And maybe you just don’t like eating crisp cones of sesame studded tuille with a fine dice of ruby pink Ahi tuna sashimi while overlooking the waves of Wailea beach.
If that’s the case, this place might not be for you.
Maui is possibly the jewel in Wolfgang Puck’s quadrant of Spago restaurants. The food at the Four Season’s flagship restaurant is simple (but expensive). While here in Hawaii seafood is king, local ingredients from hearts of palm to macadamias and goat cheese also feature. Tables are dressed in white cloth, most guests are in sports casual, with topped-up-tans.
Try for a table on the balcony. That way the view is of sunset, turquoise water and the occasional dolphin. Afterwards there’s the promise of a walk on beachside path which winds its way around to the Fairmont on the left and the Grand Wailea on your right. After that, if you’re lucky the next destination is your room; with orchids on the pillow and four choices of music to lull you off to sleep. All the while you can keep on trying to never to wake from this dream.
The Four Seasons Resort Maui
3900 Wailea Alanui Dr.,
Wailea Alanui, HI 96753