Nondescript doors, secret passageways, underground environs - these are some of the hallmarks of the world’s hard-to-find eateries. Hunting down a meal can be exhilarating; getting lost before getting fed lends an air of adventure to any culinary quest.
There’s something quite rewarding about sitting down to a meal that requires usage of a GPS, a guidebook, and your wits to find. Scoring a seat at one of these clandestine restaurants adds a sense of exclusivity as many are not for the faint of wallet.
An ominous matt-black door that seamlessly blends in with its surroundings is the only identifying marker of this Hong Kong hidden gem. Located on a quiet side-street on the bustling side of the city, the izakaya only has 24 seats, and finding it has been the cause of despair for many eager diners, but the real reward lies beyond the cold exterior. The warm, ambient lighting and plush seating, coupled with a hand-hewn bar crafted from 150 year-old kiln-dried Japanese timber, oozes luxury. An artful curation of rare whisky presents itself in the form of the bottles that line the bar shelves, and an elevated menu of fresh seafood is locally sourced from nearby Japanese waters. The menu rotates frequently and guests receive a detailed education about the provenance of each offering - imagine crab, uni, and smoky eel paired with complex-flavoured sakes, craft beers, wine, and artisanal cocktails.
Jim Haynes’ legendary Sunday dinner parties aren’t really a secret. He’s been throwing these ‘salon chez moi’ fetes for more than 40 years, but in a city that’s known for a slew of famous landmarks, it’s a unique experience that offers a break from a hackneyed itinerary. In true French bobo (bohemian) style, a motley crew of diners - mostly expats and tourists - gather at Haynes’ home for a convivial evening of food and conversation, all while being regaled with the host’s life stories. The dinners feature a steady stream of free-flowing wine and a rotating lineup of guest chefs dishing up comfort food which, for the asking price of ‘admission’ of 30 euros, is one of the least expensive nights out in the city.
Atelier A-2, 83, rue de la Tombe Issoire 75014, Paris
Food and art have been inextricably linked since time immemorial, so it seems natural that this hideaway spot is literally tucked behind a painting at a New York City art gallery. The trick to discovering the restaurant? Stroll through the exhibition while gazing upon the abstract work of French artist Toma-L. and once you’re vis-a-vis with the largest painting in the gallery (you can’t miss it), you’ve found Frevo. The cosy space only seats 24 and the menu is a jumble of delights, ranging from the bright, clean flavours of fresh seafood, to the deeply rich spices of curry.
Cheekily named restaurant Derriѐre lies just behind a restaurant and bar in the heart of the popular Marais district. Ironically, this tucked-away restaurant may be hidden from sight but it’s where the chic set goes to see and be seen. The dining room is meant to mimic an apartment and its eclectic interior design does just that; the pared-down menu of approachable classics like roasted lamb and foie gras en ballotine is reminiscent of Sunday dinner at your grand-mère’s (if your grandmother’s a top chef).
The view doesn’t get better than this. The world’s most famous caldera is a photographer’s (or social media influencer’s) dream. Enjoying a meal while overlooking the Aegean Sea and bearing witness to the famous Santorini sunset may seem a bit like gilding the lily, but that’s what you’re treated to when dining at this man-made cave dwelling. Originally, the cave was built by a fisherman for his boat; he and his wife were later persuaded to convert the space into a sort of makeshift restaurant to feed local workmen. Today’s menu still showcases many of the original offerings - tomatokeftedes, fava bean salad, moussaka, lamb, and chloro cheese (a handmade specialty goat’s milk cheese that is rarely found in restaurants) provide a wonderful foray into Greek cuisine.
The directions to this Welsh eatery sound like instructions you’d receive to go rescue a fairy-tale princess; they involve spotting an island just off the northwest coast of Wales, crossing the bridge that connects the mainland to the island, and a quick jaunt to the village of Newborough, then on to the potting shed where the restaurant is housed. Just like in a fairy tale, there is a reward for properly following said instructions - in this case sea-breeze-fresh oysters and lobster from the nearby Menai Strait, and island produce. Don’t worry if you can’t locate the obscure restaurant right away - locals are more than happy to direct you to the pride of the island.
White Lodge, Niwbwrch, Pen-lôn, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll LL61 6RS, United Kingdom
Technically, Hop Sing is a bar not a restaurant. The unassuming door to this hotspot is guarded by a metal gate and is not only adored by locals but was voted one of the Best Bars in the World by Condé Nast Traveler in 2015, thanks to a catalog of artisanal and inventive cocktails that keeps the patrons pouring in. Hop Sing epitomises everything Philadelphians love - gruff service, strict rules, and an eccentric owner. The beautiful interior of blood-red patterned wallpaper, mismatched furniture, and haunted house-esque candelabra adorning each table casts a mysterious air; the hideaway is made for photographs but don’t dare. Reclusive owner Lê, who has assumed the comical identity of faux-dictator, forbids cameras and cell phones; he also imposes a strict (and often random) dress code. To avoid an embarrassing run-in with the bouncer, follow the rules and enjoy one of best drinks in the city (if you’re hungry after imbibing, head to one of the nearby Chinatown noodle shops).
Never judge a book by its cover, especially if it’s a comic book cover. This secret resto is located in the back of a comic book store but the food isn’t what one’s mind or palate would imagine. The speakeasy-like eatery pays homage to a host of comic book characters with tasteful, artwork - Pac-Man chases ghosts on the ceiling while a reimagined Wonder Woman carries a Gucci handbag (seriously, it goes nicely with those awesome wrist cuffs). The chef here brings the creativity theme to the plate with shareable dishes and tapas. A neon-fuschia smear of beet purée is topped with a yellow and red beet tartare and a thinly-sliced beet carpaccio. A small goat-cheese croquette makes a perfect crown for this kingly vegetarian dish. Expect everything from seared crab cakes and briny oysters, to pillowy gnocchi and braised lamb shank, to grace the changing menu.
Everything about this covert German restaurant is slightly confusing. The name gives the impression that it may be an ice cream parlour (wrong) and the location suggests that it’s a loading dock (wrong again). In fact, the progressive vegetarian restaurant offers complex dishes that defy most thoughts about veg-forward cuisine; the food is a hybrid mashup of tradition and futuristic approaches and techniques. The food is a dream, but finding the place can be a bit of a nightmare. It requires a walk through the Mitte alley and an olfactory-offending dash past a row of garbage bins; a lone chandelier signifies your arrival. Don’t breathe a sigh of relief just yet; you’ll still need to be buzzed in. The spartan exterior gives way to a plush Victorian bar - think velvet everything - before you ascend a staircase to the actual restaurant. The upstairs is modern and sophisticated, not at all unlike Berlin itself.
There’s nothing new about a restaurant inside a hotel, but inside a hotel room is a different story. Dining at this 150-square foot sushi speakeasy is only half the allure; finding it is the other. After a successful booking (walk-ins are not accepted), guests are given a key to the nondescript room located on the 10th floor. The teensy room houses a cosy lounge area complete with a sake vending machine and 4-seat sushi bar where omakase offerings alleviate order anxiety - try a piece of the buttery uni for an especially luxe experience. Claustrophobic guests can toast with cocktails on the 500-square foot terrace bar where they’ll be treated to views of the Empire State Building.