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Food at soccer grounds has rarely been considered gourmet. Match-day refreshment has traditionally been of the get-it-down-your-neck variety - although, in the bustle of a soccer crowd, there’s always the danger of getting it down your shirt. It might be a wizened burger lashed with drowsy onions and swamped in ketchup, or perhaps a pie with a filling so hot you could heat a small village with it. If you were lucky, it’d be a passionless prawn sandwich in a corporate box. All unlikely to raise a cheer. But things are changing.
Scientific studies have revealed that soccer fans have taste buds too. Some clubs have upped their game accordingly. FC St Pauli, of Germany’s Bundesliga 2, deliver hotdogs to VIP supporters via a special ‘sausage train’ model railway. Meanwhile, in the English Championship, Wigan Athletic’s pies are the stuff of legend. Yet some football stadiums have taken things to another level. Actual restaurants, with tables, chairs and cutlery. Havens of gastronomy, where you don’t even have to like soccer to eat well. In some cases, really well. Here are five of the best.
Geranium Parken Stadium (FC Copenhagen & the Danish National Team)
Few soccer grounds can boast a restaurant with a Michelin star. Geranium, up on the eighth floor at Copenhagen’s Parken stadium, has two. Not only that, but chef Rasmus Kofoed won the gold medal at the Bocuse d’Or in 2011, and his restaurant was named 45th on the 2013 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Appropriately for a restaurant with such a glittering array of honours, Geranium shares its home with FC Copenhagen, one of Denmark’s most successful club sides, as well as the Danish national team, which won the European Championships in 1992. Expect high-scoring dishes showcasing the finest Nordic ingredients, with sweeping views of the parkland that surrounds the national stadium.
Diamond Club Emirates Stadium (Arsenal)
When Arsenal made the move from Highbury to the gleaming new Emirates Stadium in 2006, it acquired a whole bunch of corporate facilities that are second to none. Among them is the Diamond Club, a sleek restaurant, bar and lounge with art deco stylings and an unrivalled view of the pitch. Its main asset, however, is its partnership with two-Michelin star chef and TV star Raymond Blanc. Arsene Wenger’s fellow countryman oversees a menu that reflects the high standard at his Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons restaurant in Oxfordshire. Be warned, though, match-day membership costs upwards of £25,000 a season.
Delia’s Restaurant & Bar Carrow Road (Norwich City)
Delia Smith is something of a national treasure in the UK. As a TV cook from the 1970s onwards, she has taught the British people the basics of cooking, including how to boil an egg. When it comes to cookery books she has even outsold Jamie Oliver. This is all great news for fans of English Premier League team Norwich City, because Delia is also a keen supporter and majority shareholder at the club. Delia’s Restaurant & Bar is one of the perks that go with such an illustrious association. East Anglian epicureans can look forward to such treats as warm puy lentil salad with wet walnuts and goat’s cheese, or pan-fried skate wing with chunky coriander and lime tartare sauce. Sure beats a soggy hotdog.
VMF Villa Park (Aston Villa)
In 1888, Aston Villa director William McGregor invented the concept of league soccer. Ever the pioneers, in 2010 the club launched its groundbreaking community fine-dining project, VMF Villa Midlands Food. With a focus on local ingredients and local talent, the restaurant employs youngsters from the surrounding area, training them up as apprentice chefs and waiting staff. It has already won a clutch of awards for its locavore ethos (it even has its own allotment) and its gastronomic delights, from braised blade of beef with oxtail bon bon, to posh fish pie. For a club that counts Prince William and baby Prince George among its fans, it’s a meal fit for a future king (or two).
Puerta 57 Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Real Madrid)
Some say it was the £300,000-per-week wages that attracted Welsh star Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. Others say it was the gambas al ajillo at Puerta 57. Specialising in traditional Spanish seafood as sweet as a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick, this snazzy restaurant boasts a plush dining room overlooking the pitch and towering multi-tiered stands of the Santiago Bernabéu stadium. It’s a grand affair, with lots of polished dark wood, crisp white tablecloths and works from the Royal glass factory at La Granja. Makes a change from Nando’s in Cardiff, eh Gareth?