Food meets art: Europe's most imaginative chefs

If you closed your eyes, would your food taste as good? Europe’s best chefs clearly don’t think so; they understand that inspiring aesthetics enhance flavours, enriching our multi sensory experience.

Their creations are, put simply, artworks on a plate. The enjoyment begins before the first morsel touches your mouth.

These chefs are fine artists in the kitchen; their medium of choice is food.

Vecchia Malcesine, Malcesine, Italy

Vecchia Malcesine

Vecchia Malcesine has arguably the best views on Lake Garda, looking out across the rooftops of Malcesine and then to the lake itself. 20 years ago, you’d never have seen lake fish on a menu in the town, but Chef Leandro Luppi has changed that. When you eat at Vecchia Malcesine, you’re gifted a strong sense of place.

Leandro’s raw materials are carefully chosen, fresh, fragrant, and full of flavour, but what he does to them in his kitchen is nothing short of magic. It was the first few days of the asparagus harvest when we visited, so Leandro created an amuse bouche incorporating a mouthful of citrusy fish tartare and an incredibly fluffy bite of asparagus souffle. Each extraordinary course was displayed like an artwork, the balance of colours and shapes as carefully curated as the flavours. His dark chocolate masterpiece which resembled the solar system was nothing short of perfection.

Restaurant Cordeillan-Bages, Pauillac, France

Restaurant Cordeillan-Baged, Pauillac

France has always been a culinary trend setter, especially in the fine dining space, so it’s fitting that one French restaurant makes it onto our list of Europe’s most imaginative chefs. You’ll find Restaurant Cordeillan-Bages in a hotel of the same name, tucked amongst the vineyards of Bordeaux.

Executive Chef Julien Lefebvre is one of the youngest and most talented chefs on France’s gastronomic scene, and his restaurant spills out onto the terrace of a small, elegant chateau. We loved that his painstakingly crafted amuse bouche were hidden in the gnarled branch of an ancient grape vine from the chateau’s own vineyard.

Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, England

Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

Double Michelin starred Champignon Sauvage sits behind a very ordinary facade in the historic centre of Cheltenham. David Everitt-Matthias has been at the helm since 1987, building what is often - and rightly - rated as one of Britain’s best restaurants.

Delectable canapés arrived on the table; parmesan royal coated in powdered pea and wasabi, and a cone filled with red onion marmalade and goats cheese mousse. Subsequent courses included Norfolk quail leg stuffed with snails and served with a pea purée; a  fillet of sea bass, poached in beurre noisette, with Jerusalem artichoke cream and globe artichokes; dandelion root ice cream with coffee granita and milk foam; and, as the pièce de résistance, fine slices of mango paired with a Thai green curry sorbet.

Restaurant NOA, Tallin, Estonia

Restaurant NOA, Tallin

Dining at NOA is an internal struggle. One part of your soul wants to sit beside the Baltic Sea; the other drags you -- quite understandably -- to the chef’s table inside so you can watch the masters at work. Tallinn’s food scene is increasingly competitive, but NOA keeps its edge.

At NOA, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to be eating, even when it’s been prepared in front of you. The fire potatoes were a revelation, crispy fried fish skin was presented atop a bowl of bones, and watching Chef Orm Oja pick the leaves off chervil to make perfect little trees for decoration was completely mesmerising.

Restaurant Clairefontaine, Luxembourg

Restaurant Clairefontaine, Luxembourg

Restaurant Clairefontaine is the pinnacle of Luxembourg’s food scene, a culinary institution lovingly tended by Chef Arnaud Magnier. Arnaud earned Restaurant Clairefontaine’s Michelin star in a single season, and delights his guests with a mouthwatering tasting menu that combines the finest seasonal, often locally sourced ingredients with French culinary skills he refined cooking at the Élysée Palace.

Highlights of our lunch menu at Restaurant Clairefontaine included lobster tartare wrapped in thinly sliced zucchini, resembling a sushi roll; foie gras encased within a tower of fine sugar casing; and poached pigeon with rhubarb, onion, and olive sauce. The architecture of the dishes had a definite ‘wow’ factor, which only grew once I took a bite, and the Luxembourgish cremant was a fittingly delicate accompaniment.

White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia

White Rabbit, Moscow

Visiting White Rabbit is akin to falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Your sense of reality is distorted: things are rarely as they appear. Year in, year out, the restaurant is included in World’s 50 Best Restaurants, this year at #15.

Vladimir Mukhin prides himself on giving traditional Russian cuisine an unexpected twist. He spends hours in the laboratory attached to the restaurant deconstructing and reinventing every dish. The texture, shape, colour, and taste of each ingredient are given equal attention, even before they hit the plate.

- By Sophie Ibbotson

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