Fine dining isn’t only about the food. Fresh ingredients expertly prepared will deliver a good meal, but it’s the ambiance that makes the tout ensemble of the world’s best restaurants a true experience. These eateries offer up great cuisine in spectacular and unusual locations.
Sani Mountain Lodge
Lesotho is a tiny kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa. It sits at the top of the Drakensberg Mountains, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. Lesotho’s rugged and undeveloped mountain beauty lure thousands of visitors every year and for those who approach from the south, the Sani pass is the only gateway. The Sani Mountain Lodge is a hotel and restaurant right on the border at the top of the Sani pass. The lodge itself, while not exactly modest, is not an opulent building, but its rustic charm is second to none. After a day bumping along miles of potholed gravel road, the rich wood and leather dining room lit by the flickering light from the stone fireplace is the perfect place to relax. The area above and behind the horseshoe bar is papered with currency from-the bartenders claim-every country on earth. But, it’s the view that makes the Sani special. The lush green valley with its lattice-work labyrinth of streams stretches out before you all the way to the horizon. Enjoy it over a traditional meal of oxtail soup with a glass of port.
For most restaurants, energy costs make up about 5% of the total operating budget. At El Diablo on Lanzarote Island, they’re saving money by heating their grill with magma. Lanzarote is a volcanic island off the coast of Morocco, and the westernmost portion of the island is a national park where geysers and lava have shaped the landscape over eons. El Diablo is in a circular building atop one of the many volcanoes. It has 360 degrees of windows offering panoramic views of the Fire Mountains. The real draw is the grill that sits over a deep vent into the earth. The volcano hasn’t erupted in nearly two centuries, but the vent still pumps out air at 450 degrees. Treat yourself to geothermal-grilled pompano with a bottle from the restaurant’s fine selection of Spanish wines.
The Maldives sit like a string of pearls in the Indian Ocean, 500 miles southwest of Sri Lanka. This tropical Eden has been a go-to destination for the wealthy for years, and it is no stranger to extravagance. Hilton hotels took the luxury to new heights – or rather, depths – when they built the world’s first underwater restaurant. Ithaa sits five meters below the waves and is made of transparent acrylic. Diners are surrounded by the abundant life of the shallow sea and can enjoy a meal of tuna sashimi while selecting from the Hilton’s wine cellar with over 1,400 labels. It only seats 14 people, and due to the engineering issues of being submerged, it’ll only be around for 20 years. It would be one of the least profitable restaurants in the world if an average dinner didn’t cost $450.
Whether you’re at the roof of Africa or beneath the waves, a visit to one of these unusual restaurants is an experience not to be missed.