World Oyster’s Top Restaurants 2019 lists the best restaurants I’ve eaten at this year. These fabulous six stood out among many other excellent ones, and they span continents.
I’ve chosen these restaurants for exceptional food, of course, but also because of service, ambience, presentation, and general memorability. The best restaurants should provide the culinary equivalent of a masterpiece painting. These do.
#1 The Grove (Auckland, NZ)
The Grove Restaurant‘s 7-course tasting meal embraces all the innovation, presentation, and complexity of flavor that a foodie would expect. The nod to Maori culture shows up in the logs, shells, and plants the chef employs to decorate each plate. Even the New Zealand wine pairings enchanced our experience. Not surprisingly, the service was impeccable and unpretentious. Our server took the time to explain all the dishes and their ingredients.
For a more detailed review of The Grove, see my Dining in Auckland.
#2 Vetri Cucina (Philadelphia, PA USA)
The only American restaurant to make my list, Vetri Cucina proved itself worthy of its renown. Yes, it’s an Italian restaurant, and, yes, they serve pasta. After that, though, no ordinary Italian restaurant can compare to the experience at Vetri. Each person pays an (exorbitant) fixed price for a tasting menu — no à la carte. We let the chef choose for us out of each category, although you could choose up to two dishes per menu section. Not a single dish disappointed.
Because “vetri” refers to the glassmakers of Murano, the glasses, plates, and décor reflect Venetian style.
For more details, check out my full review of Vetri Cucina. Note that the owners of Vetri also have a restaurant of the same name in Las Vegas.
#3 The Sugar Club (Auckland, NZ)
When we reserved a table at The Sugar Club on our first day in Auckland, we never expected a spectacular meal. Because the restaurant sits atop the Sky Tower, we anticipated less artistry and more mediocrity. After all, from the ground, it seemed like it might be geared toward tourists. Oh, how wrong we were! Yes, The Sugar Club offers unparalleled views that any tourist would love, but the chef elevates the cuisine to astonishing heights as well. The parade of amuse-bouche alone earned this restaurant a spot on this list. Our ordered appetizers and entrées only solidified its place as #3.
For more detail about The Sugar Club, see Dining in Auckland.
#4 Rijks (Amsterdam, NL)
Unlike the three restaurants above, Rijks did not surprise us by serving extraordinary food. After all, we knew that this restaurant attached to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam had earned a Michelin star. What did astonish us, though, was the way the chef used traditional and local Dutch ingredients to create wholly distinctive dishes. The lamb neck with toasted buckwheat (photo above) tasted juicy and earthy at once, with great contrast of textures. (I’m still trying to create an adaptation that uses a substitute for the impossible-to-find-stateside lamb neck.)
Their herbs come from the garden across the way from the patio. Ingredients like Cape berry, Leidse cheese, and soursop added amazing dimension to their dishes while educating me on what, exactly, they are.
For more about Rijks, see my article on where to eat in Amsterdam.
#5 Café Sydney (Sydney, Australia)
We almost missed our opportunity to try Café Sydney because of the high demand for reservations. Located on the rooftop of Sydney‘s Customs House, Café Sydney overlooks the Circular Quay and Sydney Harbour. It is considered one of, if not the, special occasion restaurant in the city. Like The Sugar Club, Café Sydney does not rely solely on the view to draw its clientele. The contemporary menu employs locally-sourced ingredients in innovative ways. Even traditional dishes, like the Black Angus beef carpaccio above, employ twists (in this case, truffle dressing) to take them to a new level.
Café Sydney is unusual among top restaurants in that it also has a vegan menu.
To learn more about my dining experience at Café Sydney, see my article about where to eat in the Sydney.
#6 Local (Venice, Italy)
Although we’ve rarely had bad food in Italy, we also had never experienced a good, high-end restaurant there. Until Local. With all the great food in Venice, Local stands out with its emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients and twists on traditional Venetian dishes. As we often do, we selected the tasting menu to gauge what the chef could do. The smoked eel with mango miso and radish (above) was amazing, a perfect marrying of flavors. While the décor is unexceptional, the dishes are anything but.
Although we’ve had some delectable meals at a slew of restaurants this year, the above stood out. My husband and I had no trouble agreeing on these restaurants, and, in fact, came up with the same list independently. My husband would have swapped The Sugar Club for The Grove, but that’s the only difference.
If you are a foodie and are in any of these city, make sure you make your reservations well in advance.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann