Every now and then the backpacker needs/wants to splurge a little on a fabulous meal, especially in Europe (and by splurge I mean jump into the 20 Euro a meal bracket as opposed to under 10 Euros bracket – I am a backpacker after all). When I do splurge I ask around, ask my family and friends and ask the internet for restaurant recommendations. Eating out is such an important part of travel for me that I will do it whether I am on my own or with friends, here are some tips for how to have an amazing meal as a solo traveller.
Europe is so well known for its food that finding a good meal is easy as breathing. After a while of eating amazing good food it all starts to blur into one delicious memory. Separating the amazing meals from the uber amazing meals then comes down to the little things like ambiance, service, location and the mood you are in. Those things then determine whether you remember the name of that fabulous little trattoria on the back streets of Venice or if it becomes a blurred memory interchanged with that other trattoria on a little back street in Rome. Here are my top 10 favourite restaurant recommendations and food moments in Europe.
Top 10 Restaurant Recommendations and 1 Restaurant Warning
Trattoria Da Cumpa Cosima – Ravello, Italy (AKA Mama’s place)
It was late, nearly closing time in the sleepy hilltop town of Ravello. We were cold, wet and starving when we stumbled into Trattoria Da Cumpa Cosima. I timidly asked if the kitchen was still open, petrified they would say no. Suddenly this colourful lady popped out from behind the counter saying “no, no, no, sit, sit, sit” She deftly guided my friends and I to a table while the wait staff heaved a huge sigh and started bringing out the cutlery they had clearly just packed away. We all stared at the menu trying to quickly make up our minds. The waiter, however, had other ideas. We needed to relax. Order our wine first. Maybe a starter. Take a deep breath, he had recommendations for each of us. When our food came it was amazing. I loved my dish but also had food envy when I looked at my friends plates – I wanted to eat it all. I think the waiter could see this as he then bought out some meatballs for me to try… So delicious. Finally full, happy and relaxed we stumbled home. Only to come back the next day… I needed to try more of those meatballs!
Confeitaria do Bolhao – Porto, Portugal
There are restaurants that are amazing, and there are restaurants that are fabulous… and then there are restaurants that change the way you look at food. That was the experience I had at Confeitaria do Bolhao. It had been recommended to me by my AirBnB host for a great place to have breakfast – in particular the famous Portuguese custard tart. On my first morning I headed over and ordered the custard tart and a coffee… it was delicious, it was heavenly. However, I looked over at what the locals on the next table were eating… they had ordered a steak sandwich – which smelt amazing. So the next morning I headed back and ordered the steak sandwich and a coffee. This changed my whole view on breakfast food. Nothing could be more amazing, more simple and more delicious. It filled me right up for the whole day and was so tasty that I went back the next day again. It has inspired me to utilise the steak sandwich more in my hostel recipes – because the ingredients are fresh, affordable and delicious.
Le Relais Des Forges – Foix, France
A great tip when travelling is to eat where the locals eat… only sometimes it can be hard to find where the locals eat. I had been having a relaxing break in the south of France with some friends (which can be done on a budget if you are savy) when we decided to go to one of the local museums. It was a museum that showcased old artefacts and how the equipment worked. It was all in French which was both fun (for testing out our French) and awkward (as we didn’t know what was going on). After a morning of education we were naturally starving. As we walked back to the car we walked past the museum restaurant – it had a sign saying “3 course 14 Euros”. Thinking this was too good to be true we looked in the restaurant expecting it to be empty. It was packed. To the rafters. Huge tables all full. But there was one table in the corner that was free – we snagged it quick. Once the waitress came over it became pretty obvious that our rudimental French and her non-existent English would make ordering hard. However, she was an amazing and patient women who, through sign language and some broken translation, was able to let us know that it was indeed a three course meal WITH WINE and for each course we had a choice of one of two options. We quickly made our choices, struggling to find the translation for “medium rare” when describing how we want the steak cooked. In no time amazing, hot, local fare was put in front of us. The elderly couple on the table next to us chatted to us the whole time… not noticing or caring that I didn’t speak a word of French. They were lovely and great entertainment (even if I didn’t understand them). By the time we were finished I was so full that I needed a nap… my dreams were all in French!
Dei Frescobaldi Wine Bar – Rome Airport, Italy
Normally I would have an airport on my list of restaurant recommendations, bring your own food to eat before your flight. The food is usually below standard and covered in grease – not exactly a healthy way to start or end your holiday. In Rome, however, it’s a different story. For a myriad of reasons, I wasn’t able to follow my own advice and bring a snack to the airport. I was prepared to eat something that could possibly be classed as its own life form… that was until I walked around the Fiumicino Airport in Rome. I was instantly drawn to a bar that was serving charcuterie plates with buffalo mozzarella and olives. I plonked myself down and within moments a super friendly and helpful lady had assisted me in translating the menu and ordering a delicious feast. Eating in an airport has never been this good.
Chez Lazare – Versailles, France
It had been an early morning getting up and to Versailles, determined to beat the crowds. To some extent it worked, but eventually the crowds caught up to me, so I headed out to the enormous grounds and attempted to walk around the whole man-made lake. By the time I had conquered it, I was starving but one look at the restaurants on the grounds proved they were out of my budget. I trudged back towards the train station glancing at menus hoping to find something affordable and nice. One door way stood out to me, there was no seating out the front and no obvious signage encouraging me “to come on in”. Yet there was a constant stream of people going in… not that many coming out. I decided to step in and give it a try. Two levels, completely packed out. A table was found for me on the top floor and menus delivered with a smile… A SMILE?… This close to Paris? Yep, the service was amazing, friendly, helpful and not at all like anything else I had received in Paris. The food was also a surprise, huge portions and traditional French provincial cooking – heavy on the fresh produce. The best part was that because the tables were so close together and the room was so packed full of slightly tipsy French people on their lunch break I felt like I was at a giant French dinner party!
Carmo Restaurant & Bar – Lisbon, Portugal
It was a rainy horrible day in Lisbon, one of those days where all you want is to be cuddled up on a couch asleep. Unfortunately, I was out in the rain and in some desperate need of some food. I don’t know how I stumbled on Carmo Restaurant & Bar – I just remember being drawn in by the warm lights and laughter that was spilling out onto the wet street. Sitting down at the nice table I suddenly felt shabby in my backpacker sight-seeing attire, but the waiter was amazing and instantly put me at ease. He had a million jokes and some great recommendations for trying different small entrees – including the local sizzling chorizo! Everything was perfect, I completely forgot the rain and cold that was sitting just on the other side of the window, soon my cheeks were rosy with laughter… and a little bit of wine. I would definitely go back to Carmo in a heart beat!
Il Tagliere – Salerno, Italy
Salerno is a great place to use as a jumping pad to and from the rest of the Amalfi coast. I was sadly getting ready to leave this glorious stretch of the Italian coast line by having a stopover in Salerno before training it to Rome for my flight the next morning. Braving the wind and rain I stumbled out into the street looking for somewhere to eat… I quickly discovered I wasn’t that brave and headed into the first place that looked comfortable. This gem of a restaurant, Il Tagliere, was empty… because it was 7pm and no self-respecting Italian eats that early. And this was a place for the locals, the staff didn’t speak a single drop of English and my Italian had become a little mangled with my Spanish. Still they found me a great table and some wine. While I tried to google translate the menu they slipped out and returned with a friend who worked at a store down the road. She knew a little bit of English, but not enough to translate the menu. Instead, she asked if she could just suggest her favourite dishes. Si, si, si, grazi! My first dish was paper-thin salami and prosciutto served with different jams and honeys including my favourite – truffle honey. The second dish was broccoli and a dried chilli orecchiette pasta which was so different and so packed full of natural flavours that I almost dived into the bowl. To end the night we had a traditional homemade tiramisu – I can’t describe how awesome it was… you need to go there!
La Perla – San Sebastian, Spain
Every now and then as a backpacker I give in to hunger and do the touristy thing. Sometimes it is a touristy thing for a reason. I had gorged pretty heavily at the Pinxtos bars in San Sebastian the night before and was just looking for somewhere in the sun, with a view of the water to have a quiet lunch. Just so happened that one of the most touristy places, La Perla, offered exactly that. The menu was covered in British and American favourites like a cheese burger and fish and chips, but it also had some Spanish favourites. Such as a giant plate of thinly sliced local Jammon served with crusty bread. It wasn’t vegetarian friendly in the least. But sitting in the sun and gorging on a giant plate of ham while looking at a beautiful bay is my idea of holiday paradise!
Feversham Arms Inn (not be confused with the Feversham Arms Hotel) – North York Moors, England
It was Sunday, and I was in Yorkshire, and I was hungry. There is only one thing to do in that situation – go in search of a proper Sunday roast! There are a lot of pubs dotted over the moors that offer a great feast but the Feversham Arms Inn was by far my favourite. Its warm homely atmosphere, coupled with its off the beaten track location only added to the fabulousness of the meal. The meal was so big that I felt like I would never be able to eat it all… I put a good dent in it though. There was the perfect amount of gravy, the vegetables weren’t over cooked, and it was accompanied by the traditional Yorkshire Pud!
Il Brincello – Florence, Italy
There is a lot of pasta in Italy, a lot of really great, amazing, fantastic pasta. Yet this Il Brincello eclipsed all of the pastas I had ever had before. We started our meal with my favourite meat and cheese platter, all of which were sliced paper thin at the counter just near our table. After I demolished that I was more than happy, if the next course had been out of a can I don’t think I would have minded, that’s how satisfied I was with our entrée. Instead the next course was a mind blowing experience, local game ragu sauce with some of the freshest most perfectly cooked pasta I had ever tried. Once I was full to bursting I still wanted to lick the plate to ensure that no morsel was left unconsumed. Pasta heaven.
Dishonourable Mention: Restaurant Nilo – Lisbon, Portugal
Restaurant Nilo was actually the worst restaurant I have ever been to… EVER. Which is why it gets a mention. It was so bad that it became funny and is now a lasting joke whenever I want to compare something really bad. What made it bad? Well everything. To be honest though I didn’t put much thought into where I was going to eat. It was two in the afternoon and I had just arrived in Lisbon, breakfast felt like it had been years ago. I was walking through an area that had a lot of restaurants (very touristy) and my stomach couldn’t take it any longer. I sat down at the first one that approached me in a nice way. That was the only good thing Nilo’s did. From the minute I sat down service pretty much ground to a rude and aggressive halt. When I eventually did get to place my order I asked what was their specialty – the response was a shrug. I no longer remember what I ordered… I have blocked it out of my memory. I remember it looked grey all over, was hot and cold in different places and needed lots of salt to make it edible. When I was finished paying the bill was another drama… it would have been easier to walk away without paying. After I realised how bad it was my lunch task while I hesitantly tried to stomach my meal was to check the reviews … I wish I had read them before as they were all terrible and accurate in every way! It will remain a favourite of mine though – purely based on how ridiculously bad it was… but it isn’t a restaurant recommendation… more of a restaurant warning!
Do you have any European Restaurant Recommendations? A place that both the food and atmosphere blew you away? Would love to hear about them in the comments below.