Europe’s big cities now offer a bewildering variety of international cuisine: sushi, tacos and, most of all, burgers are ubiquitous from London to Lisbon. And how many Parisian bistros have pizza on the menu? What’s not always so easy to find, though, is somewhere that offers genuinely classic, local food in a traditional setting.
There are still places, though, where you can get a taste. Here are six restaurants within easy reach of the local Hotel Indigo serving great local cuisine in an ambiance that reflects the city’s best traditions:
This is Belgium so it’s only right that the oldest brasserie in town serves beer, and plenty of it. The bar at De Rooden Hoed, which has been in business since 1750, heaves under the weight of Duvel Moortgat products such as local favourite De Koninck, the excellent but little-known Bel Pils and, of course, Duvel itself, the classic strong Belgian golden ale. The food is hearty: huge steaming bowls of mussels, rib-eye steak, and a lobster tank in the middle of the room.
You can sit at a table and inspect the menu at Cal Pep, like other restaurants, but you’d be missing most of the action. The best seat here is up at the bar, where you can see the fresh seafood—prawns, perhaps, or squid, or superb razor clams—and order it based on what looks good. It’s then cooked, a la plancha, right in front of you. Seats are limited, of course, so you may have to wait—but it’s well worth it.
Trust Glasgow to have a famous restaurant whose name is a gentle jibe at the locals’ eating habits. Glaswegians may indeed like chips—who doesn’t?—but you won’t find any here. Founded by Ronnie Clydesdale in 1971, this place prides itself on high-quality, seasonal food inspired by regional Scottish dishes, served as unpretentiously as possible. Look out for its venison haggis starter and truffled cauliflower. Its home at Ashton Lane now buzzes with restaurant and bar activity, but nowhere generates as much excitement as The Chip.
London: St John
Perhaps no city has undergone such a food revolution over the past 20 years as London. It’s now home to dozens of Michelin-starred restaurants in a dizzying variety of cuisines, and this quality has rubbed off on the local food, too. St John has been sticking up for an almost forgotten English tradition since it was opened in 1994 by Fergus Henderson in a whitewashed former smokehouse close to Smithfield meat market. And meat, particularly the unglamorous bits, is what St John specialises in. The house classic is Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley salad, which gives you an idea of St John’s robust philosophy.
It’s not hard to find a good restaurant, bistro or brasserie in the world’s most famously gluttonous city. Close to Hotel Indigo Paris—Opera is Le Laffitte, another classic choice, but Le Bouillon Chartier, a 15-minute stroll away, has a charm of its own. Founded in 1896, it offers an old-fashioned menu in magnificent surroundings for a remarkably low price. Is it the best food in Paris? No, it’s not—but you’d struggle to find anywhere else that’ll do you a Choucroute Alsacienne for less than €11.
Each nation has its own restaurant tradition. If France is all about theatre and Germany gemuchlichkeit (cordiality), then Italy’s speciality is a certain homeliness, like you’ve stepped in to a friend’s kitchen. That’s the ambiance at Lilli, a simply-decorated room where delicious Roman classics like Tagliolini Cacio e Pepe and Trippa alla Romana are served without great ceremony. It doesn’t feel like Lilli has changed much since it was founded in 1964, but why would it?