The Mediterranean is the world’s leading culinary capital. Sail along the coast and you’ll discover that each country has its own defining flavors and specialties, which draw epicureans from far and wide. But nobody knows the ports quite like the yacht chefs who spend seasons touring the coastline, sampling the various specialty dishes and local produce in each destination. From the restaurants they return to every year to the market stalls they source fresh ingredients from, five yacht chefs reveal their favorite gastronomic hotspots across the Med.
The Balearic Islands
Ask any gourmand to name the most exciting foodie hub of 2022 and they’re likely to say Mallorca. Recently, the island has made a name in the culinary world thanks to an explosion of new restaurants led by pioneering chefs. The island is filled with must-visit eateries, including 10 Michelin-star restaurants, many of which lie in Palma.
Chef Shay van der Kraan, a 12-year veteran chef aboard Burgess-managed S/Y Shenandoah of Sark, shares that his favorite restaurants in Europe are found in Palma. “For fine dining, I like Marc Fosh Restaurant. It has one Michelin star and serves creative, well-thought-out dishes, which are executed immaculately,” he says. Van der Kraan, who trained in Brisbane, Australia, also worked in Michelin-starred restaurants before moving to private households and then yachts, where he’s worked on vessels from 55 meters to 85 meters. “For a more relaxed experience, I go to Rosa del Mar for char-grilled steak and a glass of wine,” he says. “It’s walking distance to Club de Mar Marina, which is ideal for me. I also like Nola for a modern take on street food and delicious cocktails.”
Chef Sarah Hunter, currently working on the Edmiston-managed M/Y Northern Escape, seconds Palma as a firm favorite. “Restaurants in Palma de Mallora take tapas to another level of gastronomy,” she says. “Ombu in Palma is one of my favorites. Every time I go, I order almost all the tapas on the menu. A close second is KOH in Santa Catalina, which has some of the best short ribs I’ve ever had.” Hunter, who was brought up in a family of hoteliers in South Africa, and worked at leading restaurants there before joining the yachting industry six years ago.
“Every port in Europe generally has a couple of markets close by that each have something unique and special — Santa Catalina market in Palma has almost everything a yacht chef needs, including fresh oysters and ‘A’ grade marbled Wagyu beef,” Hunter adds. When visiting, she never fails to pick up her guilty pleasure, biltong.
Spain is famous for its sharing-style tapas dining concept but there’s more to the country’s culinary prowess than croquettes. Look to the cosmopolitan Barcelona, whose contemporary chefs are pushing the boundaries of Med cuisine. The port city has long been a must-visit destination for gourmands and is also a favored port of call for yachts and their chefs.
“The variety of restaurants and the quality of food in Barcelona is unmatched compared to other places,” says Chef Jose Collado, head chef on Burgess-managed M/Y Meamina. “La Paradeta is an amazing place in the city. It’s a seafood restaurant that lets you choose the freshest catch, which is then cooked simply — either grilled or steamed — to let the ingredients speak for themselves. It’s very simple but for me, it’s perfect.”
Collado has been a yacht chef since 2014 but has been in the culinary game for more than 15 years. He trained at a fine dining restaurant in the UK and spent four years working on land before moving to yachts. While his specialty is Mediterranean cuisine, his skills include gluten-free diets, Japanese cuisine, Middle Eastern, Kosher, south-east Asian, and Chinese cuisine.
Barcelona is perhaps traditionally more famous for its markets. “Mercado de la Boqueria is always a great place to get fresh produce for menus,” Collado says.
The best way to discover the city and its countless culinary hotspots is to walk around and keep your eyes peeled for hidden treasures. “When I was in Barcelona recently, my wife came to visit for the weekend. She didn’t arrive till late and there weren’t many choices to go to so we went to the closest place we could find, a small tapas bar called Bar Cañete,” he says. “We hadn’t booked and we were told to wait a little bit as the restaurant was full, but the wait was absolutely worth it. It was the best meal and service I have experienced.”
But if you’ve got your heart set on traditional fare, you’re in the right place. “Ciudad Condal in the center of Barcelona has great tapas,” says Chef Hunter. “My favorites are beef tenderloin with foie gras and crispy camembert. You cannot make a reservation and sometimes you have to queue for up to an hour, but it’s worth the wait.”
The French Riviera
Home of the Michelin guide for a reason, France is renowned for its fine gastronomy. Sail the coast and you’ll discover endless gourmet hotspots, all the way from Cannes to Monaco.
With so many options, Chef Hunter shares her recommendations, starting in Cannes: “I’ve recently found a new favorite, Loka Bar Kitchen. It’s a Latin American restaurant and bar serving Mexican-style tapas. The vibe comes alive on Friday nights, especially after a chili margarita or two.”
Traveling up the coast, Chef Hunter urges stopping at Antibes to fill up on fresh produce. Her favorite market is La Ciotat, open on Sundays, which is “the place for amazing cheeses, such as truffle brie.”
In Monaco, she suggests beelining for MC by Kodera. “It has the best Japanese and sushi around,” she says, adding, “meat lovers should try the nearby Italian restaurant La Bionda — the picanha is always amazing and the staff are great.”
Italy-born Chef Marco Tognon worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star resorts before yachting. As head chef (rotational) on Burgess-managed M/Y Planet Nine, he specializes in seafood and raw food and provides a variety of cuisines, from Italian to Spanish and Japanese. He likes to avoid Monaco’s “glitzy” side and go to Les Perles de Monte Carlo. “Initially, this was just a shed on the end of the pier where oysters that originated in the North of France before maturing in the warmer climate of Monaco were collected and packed for sending to restaurants. Soon, tables appeared outside and a couple of bottles of house wine added to the menu to accompany their produce, and it’s created something of a cult following from purists looking for simple, fresh, honest shellfish,” he says.
Another off-the-beaten-track eatery he loves is Lou Pantail in Nice. “The cuisine is really a fusion of Italy with the South of France and the ambience is always on fire. The food is consistently on point and without doubt, I’ll always be ordering the veal and artichoke tartare, the tuna tartare, and the fried courgette flowers while devouring plenty of their fresh socca bread in between,” he says.
When in France, it’s almost criminal to sail on without stocking up on fresh French pastries. A favorite pastry shop among our chefs is Aux Deux Frères in St. Tropez. “I always order the tarte tropézienne,” says Chef Alessandro Benacquista.
The Italian Coast
From Michelin-fared finery to traditional family-run trattorias serving generations-old recipes, Italy’s culinary scene is second to none. The key to good Italian cuisine? Quality ingredients.
Chef Benacquista has spent many a season sailing up and down the coast, from the Italian Riviera in the north to Sicily. He’s worked as a chef since 2009, but only entered yachting in 2019 before joining Fraser-managed M/Y Force Blue, in 2020. He has worked in numerous fine restaurants and five-star hotels in Italy, including Sofitel Roma Villa Borghese and Aleph Boscolo Hotel. He specializes in Mediterranean and Italian cuisines, bakery and desserts, and dietetic food, including gluten-free.
He shares the essentials he seeks out in each port. “Passing through Portofino, I can get a good supply of Genoese PDO basil where the climate, the natural soil, and the cultivation on the maritime side of Liguria make the aroma of Genoese Basil PDO unique,” he says. “Heading south on the Neapolitan coast, we come across the wonderful Naples, rich in culinary culture, where the territory of the region abounds in fine agricultural raw materials — I always buy buffalo mozzarella from Campania and Piennolo cherry tomatoes.”
Another product Benacquista always seeks out is the prestigious Amalfi Coast PGI lemon. “They have a tapered shape and an intense aroma thanks to the high presence of essential oils. I use them to make a fantastic lemon sorbet,” he says. Meanwhile in Tropea, it’s all about the “sweet, crunchy, red onion.”
Chef Hunter also stockpiles for her kitchen whenever she’s in Italy. “Castellammare Di Stabia in Naples has a couple of good fish markets where I stock up on clams,” she says. She names Napolin as having the best pizza while the swordfish in Riposto, Sicily, is normally very fresh and great for ceviche.
For seafood, Chef Tognon recommends the Chioggia market just south of Venice. “It’s little known but is in fact the largest seafood market in Italy,” he says. “The produce is first-class, and the surrounding restaurants are serving outstanding food at exceptionally low prices.”
When it comes to his favorite foods, Chef Benacquista looks to Sicily: “In Lipari, I discovered a very small artisan pastry shop where I tasted one of the best Sicilian cannoli I’ve ever eaten!” It’s also where you can find Sicilian red oranges, which have “inimitable flavor” thanks to the island’s unique volcanic territory, geographical location, and climate.
“Another must for me is passing through the Aeolian islands,” he adds. “I love to stop in the small ports where a walk is like a journey through time. You can find expanses of salted capers of all sizes that have been dried under the sun by elderly women who lovingly look after them. You can also find cherry tomatoes hanging to dry and local fish, including swordfish — both fresh and smoked.”
The Greek Islands
Greece also sits at the culinary heart of Europe, its hearty yet unfussy cuisine centering around fish, lean meat, vegetables, and lots of olive oil. The country’s islands are filled with quality markets where chefs, including Chef Benacquista, stock up on ingredients such as fresh feta and Kalamata black olives. They’re also awash with picturesque culinary establishments serving delicious, often simplistic cuisine. One of Benacquista’s favorites is Sphinx, an upscale restaurant in Santorini, where “in addition to enjoying delicious and refined cuisine, you can find breathtaking views overlooking the sea.” Another must-visit, he says, is Mythos, which he discovered walking along the pier on Symi. It has “simple dishes, fresh vegetables, and light music,” Benacquista says.
Wherever you go, these recommendations should stand you in delicious stead on board and off.
This feature originally ran in the October 2022 issue of Dockwalk.