There are few people more qualified to conduct a comprehensive epicurean survey of the world than Joanna Savill and Janne Apelgren. Savill is a food writer, restaurant reviewer, food festival director and TV host, while co-author Apelgren has been the food and wine editor for The Age and the Sunday Age as well as Epicure. With their working lives made up of mostly travelling and eating (between them, Savill and Apelgren have edited 14 editions of The Good Food Guide), it stands to reason that they’re the go-to for friends seeking advice on where to eat.
That’s how their new book Around the World in 80 Dinners came about. With this guide, Apelgren and Savill wanted to share the eating advice they’d give to their closest friends. Hundreds of food adventures in more than two dozen countries later, the book came into being. There are restaurants to suit every occasion, as well as very useful tips on how to order like a local, how to ensure a reservation and even where to stay.
Here is an excerpt of Around the World in 80 Dinners: Savill and Apelgren’s guide to New York City.
As the buzziest and most exciting city in the world, New York has more great restaurants than most others put together, and more bad ones, too. Coffee is often dismal, diner food horrid and good places can be tricky to pick. On top of that, you can pay a fortune to fill your stomach. On the upside, the city’s best restaurants and food are quite simply works of art, the product of some of the most creative minds in the business and an expression of what a restaurant should be—a combination of professional service, amazing atmosphere and decor, and truly great cooking. Work out where you’re going each day and scope out restaurants in that area. Book online where you can. Much of the city’s best modern eating can be found downtown, in the East and West villages and in Brooklyn, making them increasingly popular places to stay. Uptown still offers some very fine dining, in picture-postcard New York settings. It’s worth venturing north of the park to Harlem, too.
Though New York’s restaurant scene pulses Downtown, many travellers still like to stay near Central Park and around Midtown, with its cluster of top hotels... and some stellar places to eat, too.
Bar Boulud: French-born chef Daniel Boulud has pretty much colonised a whole block of the Upper West Side opposite the Lincoln Center. The Bar, particularly, is a great place for pre-theatre charcuterie, post-theatre champagne punch and fine French cheese, or dinner anytime, whether a dozen garlicky snails or grilled sea bass.
Betony: Chic, award-winning Betony serves up great service and classy modern American food by ex-Eleven Madison Park chef Bryce Shuman. This fine diner has a bar menu, too.
BG: The 7th floor of Bergdorf Goodman is the ultimate destination for ladies who lunch (or dine early), with park views, elegant Kelly Wearstler decor, and a genteel atmosphere in which to partake of cocktails or signature dishes like the lobster mac and cheese. If you’re a sucker for a well-dressed table, the store’s homewares section is drool-worthy.
The Modern: Looking out over the Sculpture Garden of The Museum of Modern Art is this gracious, airy room. This is consummate New York dining and full of chic New Yorkers and the odd celeb. Service is spot-on and the Michelin-starred menu is flavourful and contemporary.Nougatine at Jean-Georges: On a warm day or evening, the outdoor dining terrace here is exceptionally pleasant, and offers a fixed-priced lunch option along with Central Park views. Inside, the restaurant is chic too, the lower-priced sibling of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Jean-Georges above it. There’s a lobster burger. Have it because you can.
Per Se Salon: Long known as one of New York’s priciest top-end restaurants, Per Se also has a no-bookings salon where you can order a la carte.
Eat, drink, shop
Eataly: Wander this enormous, embracing Italian food hall near Madison Square Park (modelled on cavernous originals in Italy) and graze on everything from roast meat sandwiches to fritto misto, pizza to pasta. Settle in for a proper meal, grab takeaway or buy superbly packaged Italian groceries, oils, pasta, rices and more.
Empellon Cucina: Chef Alex Stupak helped take Mexican upmarket, and his flagship East Village restaurant now offers a tasting menu. Oh, and there’s a tasting flight of seven salsas, including habanero and tomatillo chipotle. He has other venues, too.
Katz’s Deli: The pastrami sandwich may have you faking your own orgasm scene (as Meg Ryan did here in When Harry Met Sally). This Lower East Side stalwart traces its lineage back to 1888.
The exterior of the venerable Katz's Deli. Image via Alex Lozupone.
Eating on a budget
For a quick, cheap breakfast or lunch on 57th in Midtown near the park, Mangia offers good, modern, cafe-style food, from egg and pancetta on English muffins to muesli with yoghurt and fresh berries, plus proper coffee from an espresso machine. There are enough tables and stools to accommodate diners, except during the lunchtime rush.
For lunch or dinner in the same area, La Bonne Soupe does soup, a well-priced set menu, quiche, omelettes, crepes and steak hache (burgers without buns). Upstairs, three tables on a tiny terrace provide prime people-watching perches looking down on 55th Street below. The house salad dressing, creamy but not too thick, has its own fan club.
Line up for tacos, sliders and Red Hook lobster rolls, then spread your jacket on the grass to devour them picnic-style overlooking the East River towards Manhattan at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. This massive outdoor food-focused flea market runs from April to November, in several locations, but Williamsburg’s has the top spot.
Where to stay
More five-star than AirBnB? Magellan Luxury Hotels offers well-known luxury hotels at lower rates. Their best prices are only offered over the phone.
A New York brunch
It’s a less pricey way to sample some of the city’s best dining, and an easier way to snag a table. In the East Village, at Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune, you might queue for brunch, but you can book for dinner and still partake of the dozen-strong Bloody Mary menu. Seek out a copy of Hamilton’s brilliant memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter. We like the Danish Mary — with aquavit and anchovy. And her amazing way with eggs.
New York is getting better at the proverbial cup of Joe. La Buvette in the East Village does good coffee and cute small-plate, French-inspired food in the cutest shabby-chic surrounds: waffles, toasts, eggs and croques monsieur. There’s a string of very smart Toby’s Estate cafes— yes, the Australian company now with a Brooklyn HQ. We love the Flatiron Toby’s next door to the fabulous Club Monaco and Strand Bookstore. And if you are hankering for Vegemite on toast, there’s always Aussie outpost Little Collins where the lattes are just as a discerning Australian would expect.Local knowledge
Eater.com has a constantly updated list of the latest.
Food icons and cheap thrills
Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side has a block-long cookie queue, even when it’s about to close. If it’s hot dogs you’re after, Gray’s Papaya is the spot. Sweet tooth? Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side does proper food (pasta, pot pies, sandwiches) but it’s the ice-cream sundaes and the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate that bring in celebs with kids.Walking the High Line?
Start or finish at swanky The Standard Grill for breakfast or lunch. Otherwise, the pleasantly bohemian and undercover Gansevoort Markets have everything from a tacombi (taco Kombi van) to pizza, with chairs and tables to enjoy them.
Head to Harlem
Pop your head up from the subway (lines 2 or 3) at 125th Street before noon and you’re likely to find a quiet neighbourhood going about its business. Come lunchtime proper, and things start to jump in Harlem. The corner of Malcolm X Boulevard is full of school kids and strutters, shoppers and show-offs. Up the street a little is Sylvia’s, a southern food stalwart. But right by the corner, Red Rooster popped up in 2010, becoming one of NYC’s hottest restaurants, and it hasn’t really cooled off since, helped along by a basement bar with regular live music. The menu swings from soul food to Swedish meatballs, fried green tomatoes, fried chicken sandwiches with thick-cut potato crisps and lethal margaritas. Red Rooster’s chef Marcus Samuelsson has an extraordinary New York 107 background—Ethiopian born, he and his sister survived the TB that claimed his mother before he was adopted by Swedes and raised there.
After training as a chef he moved to the US, winning accolades from The New York Times at the city’s Aquavit in 1995 when he was 23, and in 2009, cooking as the guest chef at the Obamas’ first state dinner. There’s a Sunday gospel brunch, and it’s an ideal spot to dine before the Apollo Theater Talent Show. Samuelsson also has Streetbird rotisserie chicken shop in Harlem, and American Table restaurants at the Lincoln Center and in Stockholm.
Around the World in 80 Dinners is out now. Go to Melbourne University Press to purchase.