10 of the most iconic restaurants in the world

Read on to find out how ten world class restaurants achieved their iconic status by showing the outside world what makes them stand out.

Cafe Imperial, Prague, Czech Republic – classic cookery in a unique space 

Ever since the 1920s, this great restaurant has been THE place to be seen in Prague. Back then you may have bumped into the writer Franz Kafka or composer Leoš Janáček, for instance. The magnificent early Art Deco interior features soaring and beautifully decorated ceilings with bright mosaic-tiled walls and pillars that capture the style of days gone by. It’s no exaggeration to say Cafe Imperial boasts one of the most stunning interiors of any cafe in the world. Indulge your inner aristocrat as you enjoy the highest quality traditional Czech cuisine such as kulajda – the classic creamy Czech soup and epitome of Prague food culture that brings together mushroom earthiness and the spiciness of dill all topped with a poached egg. The perfect place to enjoy the best of the past and the present, the restaurant is now owned by Czech television chef Zdeněk Pohlreich who’s been compared to Gordon Ramsay for the way he combines his career as a chef with being a TV personality.

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Casa Botín, Madrid, Spain – the oldest restaurant in the world 

It’s official… according to the Guinness Book of Records, Casa Botín is the oldest and one of the most legendary restaurants in the world. It was founded in 1725 – but the building dates even further back to 1570. Despite expansion and modernisation, the owners have done everything they can to preserve the original feel of what was originally a tavern where guests brought their own food to be cooked. As well as the authentic décor throughout, the wood fired oven is original too. Then there’s the food… true to tradition as you would expect. Their specialty is suckling pig slow-cooked over oak logs in the old oven which gently infuses the tender roasting meat with salt, pepper, water, lard, white wine, bay leaf, onion, and garlic. And, as if being the oldest restaurant in the world were not enough, Casa Botín also boasts an impressive list of celebrity guests including Goya (who worked as a dishwasher there) as well as Ernest Hemingway who immortalised the place in his books.

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Ikoyi, London, England – celebrating the unconventional

Jeremy Chan and Iré Hassan-Odukale don’t do conventional. It’s virtually impossible to tie-down what they serve at Ikoyi in any regular way like ‘modern English cuisine’, ‘Anglo-African fusion’ or something like that. Instead, they have made their mark with iconic dishes from around the world – particularly using herbs and spices from Africa and Asia along with the best of British produce from land, sea and stream. The restaurant itself is a one-off too with its copper-clad walls, textured ceiling, stone floors and solid wooden furniture. Even the style of service is quirky, described as ‘deliberately unobtrusive’ in order to let the food speak for itself. And speak it does – squeezing every last drop of flavour from every ingredient. If you get the chance, try the tasting menu which includes unique takes on fresh seafood, jollof rice, artisanal cheeses and desserts laced with spice. Whatever you do, you should be prepared to expect the unexpected at this great restaurant!

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The Jane, Antwerp, Belgium – a national treasure 

The Jane is quite literally a church to good food. Housed in a chapel which was once part of a military hospital, it features high ceilings with stained glass windows and the most magnificent chandelier you’ve ever seen. The open kitchen, visible from every table, is the altar from which miracles emerge. Of course the food is heavenly. While it draws on international cuisines, serving iconic dishes from around the world – from Japan to Scandinavia to Spain, to name but a few – The Jane is also fiercely proud of its locality. Fish comes fresh from the North Sea, for instance, with herring in particular being a regional delicacy. Belgian chocolate and beer are celebrated too. Herbs, vegetables and fruit come from local small-scale farmers in the vicinity working at the PAKT collective based on the roofs of surrounding warehouses. Chef-owner Nick Bril, by the way, is also a star DJ which might explain the theatricality of this true temple to gastronomy and one of the most architecturally beautiful and iconic restaurants in the world.

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El Bulli, Roses, Spain – rewriting the rules of food 

Opened in 1964 and closed in 2011, El Bulli defined haute cuisine for a generation. In a way it actually re-defined what fine food can be. And today its legacy remains as chefs from around the world continue to draw on its spirit of ceaseless innovation, experimentation, and daring. Under the stewardship of chef Ferran Adrià, it brought brand new ideas and techniques like foams and spherification as it led the way for avant garde cuisine. This great restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars and was voted Best Restaurant in the World no fewer than five times. Yet it struggled to make money: while a million people a year requested reservations, it served just eight thousand and it closed in 2011. But of course, El Bulli endures as an inspiration to thousands, embodied in the El Bulli Foundation, which champions the ethos and philosophy of one of the most iconic restaurants in the world.

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Sublimotion, Ibiza, Spain – one the most expensive and iconic restaurants in the world

What do you get when you spend $2000 on a meal? At one of the most iconic restaurants in the world, called Sublimotion, they’ll tell you that you get more than a meal: you get a gastronomic performance which turns your table into a stage. This place is about so much more than the food. Founder Paco Roncero employs engineers, stage directors, composers, performers (oh, and chefs as well) to give twelve diners a three-hour multi-sensory experience at a single long table with luxurious chairs in a closed room. The food of course is exceptional, prepared by Michelin starred cooks, but guests are also treated to an immersive sensory overload with video projections on every surface, VR-headsets that transport them to other worlds, music composed specially to match the food, magic shows, cocktails that fuse chemistry with cuisine… you name it! Even though Sublimotion is seen as one of the most legendary restaurants in the world, purists might wonder if food needs to be such a performance but, at prices like this it’s unlikely they’ll ever get the chance to find out!

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Solo per Due, Vacone, Italy – the smallest restaurant in the world 

If you’ve ever been frustrated at having to wait for a table in a restaurant or been placed at some tiny table near the restroom because you are only in a party of two, Solo per Due might be the answer. As the name suggests, it’s a great restaurant for two people – hence its claim to be the smallest in the world. Located just north of Rome, it’s the perfect place for a romantic dinner and, as the only customers, you can count on 100% attentive – but very discrete service. To call the waiter, for instance, you just ring a tiny silver bell. The whole experience is focused on the two guests. You choose your menu of fine Italian dishes and wines in advance, you can even choose the music and flowers for the snug little room with its single table, leather armchairs and roaring fire. Optional fireworks are extra. €500 will buy you a 4-course meal but remember to book well ahead, otherwise you miss out on one of the most legendary restaurants in the world!

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Disfrutar, Barcelona, Spain – innovative and original thinking in food 

The fact that Disfrutar has ‘an R&D kitchen’ on the first floor tells you a lot about what this great restaurant is all about. Its three chefs learnt their trade at the legendary El Bulli and then created Disfrutar (which means ‘Enjoy’ in English) to explore their passion for avant garde dining. The multi-course tasting menus rooted in Mediterranean flavours are out of this world. Think: vinegar infused frozen gazpacho ice cream sandwiches, doughnuts filled with caviar and cream cheeses, or pesto molecules with pistachio and eel. Feeling more daring? Thrust your hands into a vat of dry ice and fish out the most perfectly cooked prawns you’ve ever tasted. Or, for around $500 per person (wine not included), try the ‘Living Table’ where the whole idea of food experimentation will be taken to a new level before your eyes. The chef trio describe their philosophy as providing food that’s “daring, fun, and modern” which, to be honest, is very hard to disagree with. Well, are you already considering trying their iconic dishes from around the world?

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Gino a Toto Sorbillo, Naples, Italy – keeping the tradition of pizza alive 

There are pizzerias and there are pizzerias. This one is a bit special. Sorbillo’s has been around since 1935, with stewardship passed on from generation to generation within the family. The original owners were Luigi Sorbillo and Carolina Esposito who, according to their website, gave birth to 21 children – all of whom became pizza chefs! Their simple but great restaurant is on the so-called ‘Via della Pizza Napoletana’ in the ancient centre of the city where, if you queue for long enough, you can enjoy the quintessential Neapolitan pizza – large, thick crust, thin base and loaded with the finest tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella cheese and a host of other top quality (and increasingly organic) ingredients. Today, Gino – the latest Sobillo descendent – is one of Italy’s most beloved pizza makers, known worldwide for his iconic and perfect Pizza Margherita and Neapolitan pizzas. So iconic, in fact, that he has opened multiple world class restaurants with the same dishes in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Tokyo!

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De Nieuwe Winkel, Nijmegen, the Netherlands – world’s best plant-based restaurant 

In 2022, De Nieuwe Winkel (The New Store) was voted the best plant-based restaurant in the world by a jury of experts at the Gastronomic Forum in Barcelona. Not convinced? How about two Michelin Stars? Plus a Michelin Green Star! This great restaurantin the Netherlands is redefining the world of vegetarian cuisine. For founder Emile van der Staak, the big idea is ‘botanical gastronomy’. In a world of overconsumption, he believes we need to do things differently. Collaborating with local sustainable produce suppliers, he and his team combine flavours from all around the globe to create quite out of this world dishes. Anyone for grated turnip with pickled egg yolk and miso style broth? The restaurant with iconic dishes from around the world has established itself as a pioneer in meat- and fish-free cooking and continues to delight with new culinary ideas to help make the world a better place to live in.

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Imagination, history, style, tradition… all these things (and more) contribute to what makes a great restaurant great. Maybe check with your customers what they love most about your establishment and build on that to create your own legend!