Food

How To Plan Your Vacation Based Around Food

The best meals in Tokyo, London, Guangzhou, and Barcelona.
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Weather, culture, drinking before noon, vegetating into a state of utter relaxation — there are many vacation experiences we love, but there's one glorious activity that sits above them all: eating.

If you have a trip coming up, you're likely already lusting after the 5-star-reviewed restaurants at your chosen destination. Because meticulously planning your itinerary based on the best local delicacies is all part of the fun.

But instead of trawling through unreliable reviews from been-there-once tourists, check out our global culinary suggestions below. Here, we're mapping out the best breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and drinks in four major cities—Tokyo, London, Guangzhou, and Barcelona—covering all food trends and palates.

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BREAKFAST: SUKE6 DINER

Everything about this diner is fresh. The bread is baked on the third floor, the butter is prepared on-site, the sausages are homemade, and the vegetables freshly picked. But it’s the waffles with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and blueberry balsamic sauce that have to be ordered. And for dessert, there’s a green tea baked cheesecake you don't want to miss. (You’re on vacation, breakfast cake is fine).

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LUNCH: IPPUDO RAMEN

Going to Tokyo and not having ramen is like visiting Rome and not eating pizza or going to Dublin and not drinking Guinness. Basically, it’s an unforgivable crime of the highest order.

At Ippudo Ramen, gulp down the pork belly and sesame kikurage mushroom ippudo karaka-men, which you can tailor the spiciness of depending on how much miso paste you want. Order crispy chicken and vegetable dumplings on the side, because why not? You've left calorie-counting at home.

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DINNER: AZURE 45, THE RITZ-CARLTON


If you Instagram only one dish on your trip, make sure it’s from the no-filter-needed Azure 45. This Michelin star restaurant found at The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo specializes in contemporary French cuisine and boasts flavors that you probably haven't tried anywhere else in the world (well, not that taste this good at least).

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From the Racan pigeon breast with blueberry and cabbage and the lavender roasted lamb to the veal sweetbread beignet with orange nougat, head chef Shintaro Miyazaki's imagination has no limits when it comes to concocting experimental dishes. Trust us, it’s a meal you’ll never forget.

DRINKS: TOKYO WHISKY LIBRARY


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Thought libraries were desolate places lost to a simpler time? That's certainly not the case at Tokyo Whisky Library, a fine establishment that stocks over 1,000 international brands. Enjoy a classic or contemporary cocktail created by award winning-mixologists, or kick back in a leather armchair with a whisky poured neat. The only worry you’ll have is choosing a drink.

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BREAKFAST: BERNERS TAVERN, THE LONDON EDITION


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Tucked away off London's bustling Oxford Street is the magnificent London EDITION hotel (a far cry from the Angus Steak Houses plaguing the area). Nestled within this luxurious hotel is Berners Tavern, a restaurant filled to the brim with art that'll make you feel like you’re dining with an eccentric billionaire hoarder.

The menu is overflowing with trending modern dishes (avocado on sourdough toast, vanilla waffles, baked eggs with harissa). But when in London, you have to order the Berners version of the iconic full English, crafted with Dingley Dell pork sausages, eggs, smoked bacon, roasted tomato, Portobello mushroom, Stornoway black pudding, and baked beans.

LUNCH: MAX’S SANDWICH SHOP

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While it might not be as glamorous as the above restaurant, know that this isn’t any old sandwich shop. Each ingredient in every decadent sandwich has been well-thought through by Max himself. Take the Korean Gangster, for example: soy braised beef, kimchi and kraut, baby gem and parsley, deep fried noodle, and "incredibly slutty gravy" (his words, not ours). All held lovingly together in Max's homemade ciabattas. Pure bliss.

DINNER: CAROUSEL


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It's all too easy to get stuck in a rut as you find yourself revisiting the same old restaurants. Even more so when returning to a previous vacation spot — as that nostalgia builds up, you may find yourself wanting to recreate the first time you experienced those life-changing flavors. But nostalgia can be a cruel thing, and original memories can be put on a pedestal only to be swiftly ruined. And that's it. Holiday over. You're on the next plane home.

DRINKS: COUPETTE

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Bethnal Green might be known for its old-school boozers, but Coupette is a perfect mixture of past-meets-present. Enjoy its weathered brick-lined walls (dating back 160 years), its avant-garde cocktails with a French flare, and its wide range of local craft beers.

Try an archetypal old fashioned or shake things up a bit and go for the Champagne piña colada, a mix of Bacardi Heritage, agricole rhum, pineapple, coconut sorbet, and Moët
& Chandon. And don't worry, there's not a mini pink umbrella in sight.

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BREAKFAST: PERMA BAKERY

IMAGE: Perma Bakery
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When was the last time you went to a bakery and they'd sold out of bread? Well, that's exactly what happens by 4p.m. most days at this small but popular Guangzhou bakery.

As well as cream cakes and apple pies fresh from the oven, they also have a signature bread called The Spring: medlar, wormwood, brown sugar, and raisins from Xinjiang. Made to be drank with a lemon ginger tea, and not a soy flat white.

LUNCH: HUANGSHA AQUATIC MARKET


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This is not your average lunch, but it promises to be a memorable one. This locals' favorite sells fresh (as in still alive) fish caught that day and is the biggest of its kind in Southern China.

Crabs, lobster, octopus, scallops, oysters — we wouldn't be surprised if they actually sold bits of the mythical Kraken. Whatever you want, they have it. All you have to do is pick your fish, barter until you get a better price, then take it to one of the specialized seafood restaurants in the area where they'll cook it up for you. Or name it and release it into the sea. Your choice.

DINNER: LAI HEEN, THE RITZ-CARLTON


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That work of art above you're wondering about? Oh, it's just steamed crab custard with crab meat caviar and Chinese rice wine. Yep, you won't find that in your local takeaway.

This Cantonese restaurant is one of eight places in Guangzhou to earn a Michelin star. Award-winning Chef Gordon Guo, the man at the helm of this fabulous kitchen, focuses on perfecting color, aroma, texture, and taste whenever creating a dish at Lai Heen. Whether that's for one of his contemporary concoctions featuring ingredients even the most cultured of diners won't have heard of (take the steamed grouper patties with fungus and sponge gourd or spicy jellyfish, for example), or for his classic regional dishes born from recipes dating back thousands of years (we're all about the Cantonese-style roasted goose).

If we were you, we'd reserve ahead of time and book one of the private dining rooms at The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou restaurant, so the rest of the customers don't have to see you weeping with pure joy into whatever delicacies you consume.

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DRINKS: REVOLUCION COCKTAIL

If you want to party, you've come to the right place. If you want a quiet Manhattan while browsing the papers, maybe move on. This Cuban-inspired cocktail bar decked out with vintage Havana style deco is all about late-night dancing, loud music, and strong drinks. Their signature is named after the bar itself, boasting a rum of your choice, rosemary, passionfruit and apple juice, housed in a tiki glass (fire not included).

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BREAKFAST: TWO SCHMUCKS


If you can't have waffles, fried chicken, and cocktails for your breakfast on holiday, when can you? (Tip: not at your desk on a Monday morning, we learned that the hard way.)

This hip-hop blaring dive bar has a laid-back vibe, with its graffitied deco and flip-flop wearing barmen, but their knowledge of good food, good coffee, and even better cocktails is vast. Owner Moe Aljaff came third in the illustrious Bacardi Legacy competition and has traveled the world, working in various bars to perfect his craft. This is evident in his signature cocktail, the Schmucks Vesper, made with gin, vodka, Laphroaig, and pecorino cheese.

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LUNCH: OVAL


Sick of amending your burger order to your exact taste only to be met with a mega eye-roll from your waiter? Then create your own burger at this DIY joint in the heart of the city, where an exam-style tick box menu is at every table allowing you to create whatever beautiful monstrosity you want.

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Five burgers, 19 cheeses, six breads, 24 toppings, 15 sauces — should man have this much power? That's for the philosophers to debate. In the meantime, we'll be gorging on a chicken/beef hybrid burger with brie and blue cheese and topped with jalapeños, boiled eggs, avocado, and peanut butter.

DINNER: TICKETS


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Thought tapas were just microwaved frozen prawns and tinned olives? Think again. This Michelin star restaurant is reinventing tapas into a premium, complex gastronomical experience (rather than a quick bite to eat between drinking cheap beers in the mid-afternoon sun).

The menu includes crunchy octopus with kimchi mayonnaise and cucumber, shark fin soup with tucupi and king crab, Iberian ham with manchego cheese foam and hazelnut oil caviar, and delectable variations of oysters. Not your typical tourist menu with pictures on it, is it? The hype is real too, as it's near impossible to get a reservation (but we hear if you book online at 12a.m. Spanish time, you're in with a good chance).

It's not just traditional Spanish dishes they specialize in, either. They also do mean Japanese food (order the spicy tuna belly tartar with nori seaweed, avocado cream, and wasabi) and luxury Mexican eats (choose the crunchy pig taco with hoisin mayonnaise and pickled cucumber).

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DRINKS: P41 BAR & COCTELARIUM, HOTEL ARTS BARCELONA


Diego Baud, the guy who concocts the cocktails at this tranquil seaside hotel, has won awards in the top seven gin and tonic competitions and the top five Negroni competitions in Spain, which is definitely something we'd like to judge. One of his most popular cocktails is the Mediterranean mule, a locally-inspired drink made with ginger ale, bitter pepper, mint, a squeeze of fresh lime, and Sipsmith gin.

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But if you're feeling particularly adventurous and want a break from drinking Estrella in your Speedos, test out the Far East-inspired smoking razz: Spanish gin, lapsang souchong tea, lime, egg white, fresh raspberries, and liquid smoke, served in a glass horn.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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