Set Sail On A Culinary Journey
By acclaimed food and travel writer Katy Salter
Take a gastronomic tour of Europe with our guide to the can’t-miss restaurants and dishes in five food-loving destinations.
Amsterdam has a dynamic food scene, with a new breed of hip restaurants and bakeries offering gourmet twists on Dutch standards. Start the day with pancakes at Mook. This brunch spot has given classic pancakes a makeover, using oat or spelt flour and piling them high with berries and coconut, or smoked salmon and avocado. Join the locals in line for Amsterdam’s best cookies at Van Stapele bakery: crisp dark chocolate rounds filled with gooey white chocolate. Apple pie with coffee is another local favourite: Winkel 43 does one of the best.
For lunch with a view, head to Café-Restaurant Stork. This former factory is now a stylish seafood restaurant overlooking the IJ River. In warmer months, you can sit on the terrace, watching the boats sail past while you tuck into North Sea crab or fish and chips.
Dinner brings many options. Try the tasting menu at BREDA, an upmarket bistro run by three young chefs. Or watch the sunset over Frankendael Park from the terrace at Merkelbach, an 18th Century coach house turned restaurant, where chefs Marc Wunderink and Geert Burema cook Dutch produce with modern Mediterranean flair.
Try something completely different at Foodhallen. The Netherland’s first indoor food market has live music and around 20 food stalls, including Chinese bao buns and Mexican tacos. Or try some traditional fare with a twist: Ballenbar offers bitterballen (meatballs with a crisp coating) with flavours including truffle or Dutch shrimp.
Kaffee un kuchen: if you remember no other German after a stop in Cologne, you’re bound to remember this winning phrase. Cologne is powered on coffee and cake. Café Reichard is a grand café with a conservatory overlooking the cathedral. Try the apple strudel or Black Forest cake. Café Sehnsucht is a local favourite, with an inner courtyard where you can sip a latte and enjoy a slice of pear cake with thick sour-cream icing. The café turns into a restaurant at night, serving seasonal dishes with plenty of vegetarian options.
Many Cologne cafes are all-day spaces where you can have cake or a light lunch by day or stop in for dinner and a glass of wine at night. The charming Café Feynsinn offers fresh juices and organic coffee by day. After dark, it’s is a great spot for a glass of Alsace wine and bistro-fare like braised duck leg with potato dumplings, or crispy pork belly with pickled cherries and a sauerkraut gratin.
Beer is another Cologne staple. The former often comes served in stange (thin glass). Be warned – drink in one of Cologne’s rowdy but friendly bierhaus and the waiters will be on hand to refill your stange without you realising.
If that doesn’t appeal, tour the city’s Chocolate Museum instead. Learn about the history and production of chocolate, watch chocolatiers at work and even craft your own bar.
Wander the cobbled streets of Strasbourg’s old town and you’re bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, the city is famous for its hearty Alsatian dishes, which reflect its Franco-German heritage. Maison des Tanneurs is a 16th Century riverside building that looks like it should be in a storybook. It’s the place to try choucroute garnie: wine-braised sauerkraut with sausages, pork and potatoes.
Buerehiesel has a Michelin star for its contemporary take on regional cuisine. Eric Westermann’s restaurant is housed inside a Hansel and Gretel cottage (a restored 17th Century farmhouse) in the Orangery Park. The menu majors on local meat and fish, and there are plenty of Alsace wines on the list, too.
There are lots of traditional favourites to sample as you explore Strasbourg. Warm, doughy pretzels are a Strasbourg staple. Try them at Dreher. For the best Kougelhopf (a sweet, yeasted bundt-style cake) try Christian, a charming patisserie off Place Kléber.
Given Strasbourg’s proximity to Switzerland, it’s no surprise that the city is home to world-class chocolate shops. Epice et Chocolat is a contemporary boutique from renowned patissier Thierry Mulhaupt, and the perfect place to pick up stylishly-wrapped truffles. Meanwhile at Jacques Bockel, the chocolate is literally flowing: try some of the chocolatier’s luscious chocolate and hazelnut spread from the in-store fountain.
Pick up a newspaper and head to a grand café for the quintessential Viennese experience. Viennese Coffee House culture has UNESCO ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ status, such is its importance to city life. Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky and architect Adolf Loos all took their coffee at Café Central. Start the day here with coffee and fresh Viennoiserie. Linger over a lunch of golden-crumbed wiener schnitzel followed by apple strudel or Kaiserschmarnn (shredded pancakes, served with stewed plums). Unhurried contemplation is the order of the day, as it is at Central’s great rival, Café Sperl.
Sachertorte, Vienna’s most famous dessert, also has a deep rivalry behind its origins. This rich chocolate cake, with its glossy icing and a thin layer of apricot jam, was the speciality of one Eduard Sacher, who made it first at Demels bakery, and, after 1876, at his own establishment, Hotel Sacher. Both are excellent places to try the city’s signature cake, usually swerved with a swirl of whipped cream.
For cosy home-style cooking, head to Rudi’s Beisl, a favourite of Rick Stein. This is the place to try traditional dishes like Viennese boiled beef or Fleischlaberl, meatballs with mashed potatoes. At the other end of the spectrum, Restaurant Steirereck is ranked as one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Housed in a modernist glass building inside the Stadtpark, Steirereck takes Austrian produce to experimental new heights. The signature dish of freshwater char is cooked in front of you in hot beeswax and served with pollen, carrots and sour cream.
There’s more to Hungarian cuisine than goulash: though you should certainly seek out the famous paprika-spiked beef stew on a visit to Budapest. Hungarian food is spicy, hearty and influenced by the Italians, Germans, Austrians and Eastern Europeans who all settled in Hungary at various times.
For an introduction to Hungarian food, book a table at Gundel. This Budapest institution was founded in 1910. As well as steaming bowls of goulash, you can try halászlé (Hungarian fish soup), made with tomatoes and plenty of fiery paprika. Save room for dessert: Gundel’s signature pancakes are thin crêpes packed with walnuts, raisins and spices, and smothered in dark chocolate sauce.
For something less formal, head to cosy bistro, Barack and Szilva. The beef goulash is also good at this intimate spot in the Jewish Quarter, as is the grilled fish with letcho (Hungarian ratatouille). If you’re lucky, there’s sometimes live music. Otherwise, head to one of the nearby ‘ruin bars’. These pubs have sprung up in disused buildings and are loved by locals of all ages. Szimpla Kert was the first, in the early noughties, and has become a Budapest icon. Its décor: mismatched furniture, an old car turned into a table and chairs and a bunting-festooned courtyard, is typical ‘ruin bar’. There are concerts, movie screenings and even a farmer’s market.
For inspiration on any river cruise visiting these destinations, speak to our award-winning river cruise team on 0800 810 8229