‘It’s not a French-themed restaurant,’ says owner, Cai Ross. ‘There’s no accordion music, no ‘bon appetit!’ stencilled on the walls, no bicycles hanging from the ceiling.’ Instead, Paysanne is a kitsch-free attempt to capture the essence of a French, family-run restaurant, albeit on the North Wales coast. Located in the village of Deganwy, Paysanne was opened in 1988 by Cai’s parents, Bob and Barbara. They live in the Languedoc now where they act as the restaurant’s research team, tweeting Cai pictures of food and inveigling recipes out of chefs. ‘For which they don’t charge,’ Cai says.
Since 2003, with head chef David Hughes, Cai has modernised the dishes and brightened the dining room with a gallery of French modern art, but, at Paysanne, change is gradual. For instance, an attempt to drop duck à l’orange (Gressingham duck with a kumquat sauce) was abandoned amid local resistance. ‘I got stopped in Tesco by genuinely angry people,’ Cai says.
Paysanne sticks to a trusty formula of sharp service, interesting wines and classic French peasant cooking, using prime British ingredients. The menu features several Mediterranean classics such as a bouillabaisse-style fish soup and hake on roasted tomatoes and pistou, while among Paysanne’s wines, Cai loves the Domaine la Colombette’s unusually southerly pinot noir. Starters from £5, mains from £15. paysannedeganwy.co.uk
Key ingredients: Sensational Welsh lobster, sea bass, turbot from Mermaid Seafoods.
Must-order dish: Baked goat’s cheese wrapped in smoked salmon with a plum and raspberry dressing.
Expert’s tip: Pastis. A unique lunchtime drink with ice and water and a great food flavouring.
Favourite UK French restaurant: Casanis, Bath. It’s stunning.
Greek – 40 23 Mediterranean Food, Birmingham
When Chris Manolas first came to Britain, he was bemused that the staples of Greek food, were – kebabs aside – only served in pricey restaurants. ‘We’ve nothing against them,’ he says, ‘but felt it would be more honest to present this food as it’s sold in Greece.’ So with his friends Kostas and Stathis Papadopoulos, Chris last year launched 40 23, a cute space where they serve grilled meat wraps, salad platters and oven-baked specials. The trio come from Thessaloniki (40° 23° are map co-ordinates for the area), where the food is influenced by Turkey and the Black Sea region.
Skewered souvlaki pork and soutzoukakia meatballs are classic Thessaloniki specialities. Although, 40 23’s specials also feature more well-known Greek dishes such as the lasagne-like pastitsio, and various meat dishes slow-cooked in tomato or olive oil, and lemon sauces which are passed down through generations: ‘We have a rich culture of homemade dishes – the recipes come from grandmothers, not books.’ 40 23’s grilled meat sandwiches, served with tzatziki and slices of fried potato, are available everywhere in Greece and are unbeatable fast food. Dishes £3-£5. 4023.co.uk
40 23 essentials
Key ingredients: Oregano and thyme.
Must-order dish: Saltyloukaniko sausages, with yogurt, feta and salad. In Greece, they’re served with ouzo.
Expert’s tip: Greek spit-roast shops, souvles, which serve whole chickens, pork with garlic, spring lamb.
Favourite UK Med restaurant: Il Paradiso Del Cibo in York does the best Sardinian food. (40 Walmgate, 01904 611444)
Italian – Stuzzi, Harrogate
The trio behind Harrogate’s hottest new venue, Tom Pearson, Nicholas Harvey and James Phillips, have real pedigree. Not only did they first meet at the legendary Salvo’s Salumeria in Leeds, but before launching Stuzzi (pronounced stut-zee, it means ‘small bites’), they embarked on an epic Italian road trip. ‘We travelled around in my knackered Toyota people carrier for 18 weeks visiting suppliers, eating, absorbing as much as we could. To be taken seriously, we needed to spend time there, and Italians are so passionate about food that they want to pass that knowledge on,’ says Tom.
During repeated research visits, the Stuzzi team have done it all: from making meatballs in an iconic Venetian bacaro to meeting ’nduja producers in the tiny Calabrian town of Spilinga. All those recipes and suppliers now feed into this daytime deli-café and bakery which, at night, morphs into a buzzy small-plates restaurant. Locals lap up Neapolitan-style zeppole doughnuts at breakfast; rustic pasta dishes and deli boards at lunch; and later, a daily-changing menu that might feature those fabled meatballs (spiked with a pistachio mortadella) or a plate of negroni-cured salmon served with a squid-ink version of the Sardinian flatbread pane carasau. ‘We cook in small batches,’ says Tom, ‘which enables us to stay fresh and interesting.’ Stuzzi has also opened a terrace – perfect for that early evening spritz (£4.95). Plates £3 – £7. @stuzziharrogate
Key ingredient: Planeta olive oil. (£13, 500ml; ottolenghi.co.uk).
Must-order dish: Prawns in a tomato stock with aubergine, courgette and couscous, with a glass of chilled frappato, a light Sicilian red (from £5.75).
Expert’s tip: Colatura anchovy essence. It’s a wonderful flavour enhancer.
Favourite UK Italian restaurant: Bocca di Lupo, London. Jacob Kenedy’s a hell of an influence.
Spanish – Lunya, Liverpool
‘I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,’ says Peter Kinsella of his first meal in Barcelona, 15 years ago. ‘It was just a local place that did what Spanish food is all about: stunning ingredients presented simply.’ He was in Catalonia for work, but that meal signalled the beginning of the end for Peter’s old professional life. A keen cook who had always dreamed of owning his own place, that night set Peter on a path where, for 12 years, he spent all his spare time in Spain eating, researching and finding the producers who now supply over one thousand products to his city-centre deli, bar and tapas restaurant. It is an obsessive business. Peter’s kitchen, led by chef Dave Upson, even changes its potatoes, seasonally, for its patatas bravas.
But, Lunya (which will open another branch in Manchester later this year), is no slavish tribute to Spain. ‘We’re Catalan-inspired but we reflect our surroundings,’ says Peter of Lunya’s two floors of warehouse space. ‘There are no pictures of bullfighters, our staff don’t wear flamenco dresses. The hams hanging up are for sale, they’re not decoration. It’s a working environment.’ Lunya also puts its own modern stamp on even the most traditional Catalan dishes, such as baby squid stuffed with black pudding or the noodle paella, fideuá. ‘You will find duck with pear on any traditional Catalan menu. It dates to Roman times. But our pan-fried duck served over pears poached in white wine and vanilla, with a raspberry sauce, is our little take on it.’ Tapas from £4.25. lunya.co.uk
Key ingredient: Smoked paprika, pimento (La Chinata, £2.89, 70g; ocado.com). The taste of Spain.
Must-order dish: Presa Ibérica, a seared rare acorn-fed pork steak and a glass of Matusalem oloroso (£7.95).Heaven.
Expert’s tip: Choricero, smoked red pepper purée. It gives depth and breadth to anything that tomatoes would go in.
Favourite UK Spanish restaurant: Barrafina, London. No competition.
Israeli – Edna’s Kitchen Bristol
From her kiosk in Castle Park, Edna Yeffet is fighting a one-woman battle against junk food. Growing up near Tel Aviv, Edna took the availability of ‘healthy fast food’ for granted: ‘There’s a lot of shawarma, but falafel is king of the Israeli street. It’s everywhere and you always get a big choice of salads to fill your pitta. It’s almost a national dish.’ The absence of anything similar here (at a reasonable price), led her, in 2013, to start feeding people from this quirky city-centre spot, which, in summer, includes outdoor seating.
Bristolians now make a bee line to Edna’s for ineffably light, herb-packed falafel stuffed into pittas and wraps from local Middle Eastern bakery, Abu Noor, alongside zingy salads and pickles. Connoisseurs also go hard on Edna’s schoog, a remarkable hot, fruity green chilli relish that riffs on an old Yemenite recipe. Elsewhere, the menu dips (pardon the pun) into classics such as baba ganoush, as well as Israeli favourites such as sabich (pronounced sab-ik), a roasted aubergine sandwich with hummus, tahini, chopped egg and amba, the mango and fenugreek seed chutney also popular in Indian cooking. ‘It’s all home produced, we make everything,’ says Edna, and you can taste that freshness in every bite. Meals from £4.25. ednas-kitchen.com
Key ingredient: Dried chickpeas but also lemon, garlic, olive oil…
Must-order dish: Falafel and hummus. We do Turkish coffee spiced with cardamom, and mint tea.
Expert’s tip: Za’atar [dry spice mix] which I use to garnish labane and hummus. In Israel, it’s a popular salad seasoning.
Favourite UK Israeli restaurant: Ottolenghi is lovely, as is Honey & Co
Photographs: Andrew Fudge, Jamie Stevens, Giles Smith
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