Eight of the world's most atmospheric dining experiences, from Venice to New York
Ranging from Michelin-starred restaurants to curated picnic experiences, these eight locations are prized for their ambience, each providing the perfect setting for a gastronomic date to remember.
For diners who value the ambience as much as the food, views, decor and atmosphere can be essential components in creating an unforgettable meal. Whether planning a Valentine's Day dinner out, a scenic lunch to remember or a curated picnic with a view, here are eight dining destinations around the world to bookmark for future travels.
1. Racines, Paris, France
While there are more obvious and flashy restaurants overlooking the Eiffel Tower or River Seine, the key to unlocking the romance of the City of Lights lies in finding a secluded corner to call your own. The 19th-century passage couverts (covered passages) are full of surprising nooks, perhaps none more so than the intimate, Michelin-starred wine bar Racines, with its antique tile floor, rickety oak furniture and walls stacked high with wine bottles. Add modern bistro dishes and a charismatic cast of waiters and elegant fellow diners, and voilà: an unrivalled Parisian evening out.
2. Clos Maggiore, London, UK
This French bistro is often ranked among the most beautiful restaurants in the British capital and makes a strong claim for the world title, too. Such fame and popularity might raise a sceptical eyebrow, but this is a destination worthy of its waiting list. The exquisite French cuisine and award-winning wine list are part of its charm, but it’s the stunning conservatory dining room that really dials up the ambiance. Swathes of cherry blossom cover the glass ceiling and twinkling fairy lights hang artfully above the tables. And on chilly days, a roaring fire in a stone fireplace warms the room.
3. Sydney Harbour, Australia
With its famous Opera House and steel arched bridge, the views along Sydney Harbour count as some of the most iconic in the world — making it an ideal backdrop for dining out. There are plenty of restaurants with excellent vistas, but in a sun-drenched country like Australia, an al fresco picnic on the waterfront is the way to go. If you want someone to do the hard work for you, Sydney Picnic Co will make up a beautiful picnic hamper and deliver it right to the harbour (or to several other picturesque locations in the city).
4. Carbone, New York, USA
Swagger into Carbone with your date and step back in time: this glamorous Italian-American diner pays homage to the mid-20th century Lower East Side with decor so convincing you feel Frank Sinatra might saunter past.The dimly lit rooms with plush furniture and crisp white tablecloths set the stage for red-jacketed waiters who whizz around the room performing like actors on a stage. There are some legendary must-order dishes, such as the spicy rigatoni pasta, a favourite of eternally lovelorn rapper Drake (he even gave Carbone a shout out in his song Do Not Disturb).
5. Picnic in the Cape Winelands, South Africa
South Africa certainly isn’t lacking in beautiful scenery, but its pride and joy is Stellenbosch, only an hour’s drive outside Cape Town. It's famous for its vineyards, but just as intoxicating as the wine is the landscape — all rolling hills, lush greenery and Cape Dutch architecture. Many of the wineries, such as Boschendal Wine Estate, have delis with ready-made picnic hampers to take away. Enjoy them in the grounds of the vineyard itself or take a short drive to the stunning Jonkershoek Nature Reserve to find your own spot.
6. Arva at Aman Venice, Italy
Set in the 16th-century Palazzo Papadopoli on the Grand Canal, the Aman Venice is one of the city’s most significant buildings, a stunning, frescoed baroque palace filled with chandeliers, antiques and artworks. It’s one of the most exclusive addresses in the Floating City, but even if you’re not sleeping here, you can get a taste of Venetian high society by booking a table for dinner at Arva, the hotel’s intimate restaurant. Choose between the grandeur of the dining room with its yellow tapestries and marble fireplace or, in the summer months, the tables in the private canal-side garden where you can watch gondolas drift by.
7. Il Refettorio, Amalfi Coast, Italy
With jaw-dropping scenery and some of the best Italian restaurants in the world, the Amalfi Coast is well-charted terrain for honeymooning couples. When it comes to dinner locations, however, they don't come much more exclusive than Il Refettorio, the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Monastero Santa Rosa Hotel & Spa. Set in a converted 17th-century monastery, the hotel and restaurant hang over the edge of the cliff, offering candlelit tables with spectacular views across the Tyrrhenian Sea. On the menu there’s fresh pasta, fish and produce from the Campania region, plus superb Italian wines.
8. Hanami picnic, Japan
Visit Japan during the first throes of spring to witness its spring cherry blossom season, when the country’s parks and cities are awash with bright pink petals. These picture-perfect scenes provide the backdrop for hanami (flower viewing) picnics, a centuries-old tradition that sees friends, family and lovers setting up for huge day-long picnics beneath the blossoming trees. And to eat? Many convenience stores will deliver special bento boxes of sushi and sticky rice cakes, while there are also special sakura (cherry blossom) products available — everything from iced tea to limited edition KitKats. The trees bloom between mid-March and early May depending on the climate and their location in the country, while plum blossom trees (ume) bloom from early February to mid-March.
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