- Chefs schooled in world's top restaurants are opening their own, more casual eateries
- High-end cuisine available at less-than-gourmet prices
- Luksus (New York) and Amass (Copenhagen) are two July openings from former Noma chefs
Fine food doesn't have to involve fancy crockery or choking prices.
Chefs from some of the world's Michelin-star kitchens are launching restaurants designed around small menus and casual eating.
These restaurants, not exactly hidden, but not as high profile as their Michelin-starred parents, offer dishes similar in quality to Michelin-worthy fare, without the high prices.
Matt Orlando is the former head chef of Copenhagen's Noma, the Michelin-two-starred restaurant rated the world's best restaurant for three straight years.
On July 17, he'll open Amass in Copenhagen, a 60-seat restaurant in a warehouse space that follows Noma's ethos of all-local, creatively prepared produce.
Prices run about DKK 575 ($100) for a multi-course tasting menu or DKK 375 ($66) for a simpler three-course lunch with wine pairing.
Compare that with the DKK 2,500 ($438) you'll fork out at Noma for a tasting menu with wine pairing.
"We want to create a restaurant you can visit every week," Orlando says.
In contrast, Noma is invariably a one-off experience for most.
Orlando keeps things affordable by limiting the quantity rather than quality of his ingredients -- for example, foie gras is smoked and shaved over beetroot as a flavoring rather than the star attraction.
For Orlando, Amass is a personal project.
He wants to recreate the informal, open feel of a gathering with friends and family.
But with lower overheads and a larger potential clientele, casual dining restaurants are also a safer investment, particularly with a star chef on the bill.
Their menus involve simpler, cheaper ingredients, so chefs get to dazzle with basic dishes.
At burger joint &Made in Singapore, founder Bruno Menard, of triple-Michelin-starred L'Osier in Tokyo, creates burgers made of three different types of beef, then cooks them sous-vide ("under a vacuum") before a turn on the griddle to create a perfectly juicy patty.
Single-dish classics from hot dogs to Japanese ramen have gotten the Michelin makeover, particularly in London where informal restaurants and reinvented comfort food are huge right now.
Nuno Mendes is the owner of Michelin-starred Viajante and the founder of London's annual The Long Table pop-up food market.
In 2011, he opened Corner Room, an informal cafe with a menu styled on Viajante's.
It sits just across the hall, sharing the same production kitchen and the same chefs so that, Mendes says, people from his neighborhood can enjoy his cooking in a similar but more laid-back -- and affordable -- environment.
"Fine dining is expensive [for restaurateurs] and a dying art," Mendes says. "A lot of it was getting too serious, and Londoners see dining as fun.
"They're catching on to restaurants with no tablecloths and relaxed service, where wine is fun and you can share your food."
London is fertile ground for chefs-turned-restaurateurs, and Noma is an equally busy training ground.
Its alumni, from chef de partie to executive chefs, have gone on to open restaurants in London, Oslo, Dublin, New York and Warsaw.
"When you're management at Noma, you're very independent and you develop a sense of ownership over your job," Orlando says.
"I think that's the trigger for people to start their own projects."
Orlando says he'll cook at Amass every day, while Mendes continues to oversee the Corner Room kitchen on-site.
Casual dining has never been finer.
12 bargain gourmet restaurants worth visiting
1. 22 Ships, Hong Kong
Chef: Jason Atherton, former head chef of Gordon Ramsay's Maze (one Michelin star) and owner of Pollen Street Social (one Michelin star).
Does he cook here? Yes, when in Hong Kong.
Cuisine: A massive menu of modern Spanish tapas that covers classic seafood and meat dishes -- Iberico ham included, of course -- then gets more experimental with salmon ceviche and watermelon, or pineapple carrot sorbet with coconut tapioca.
In keeping with the informal setting, there's a no-booking policy -- and no service charge.
Prices: From HK$70-140 ($9-18) for one tapa, compared with a seven-course tasting menu for £75 ($113) at Maze.
22 Ships, G/F, 22 Ship St., Wan Chai; +852 2555 0722
2. &Made, Singapore
Chef: Bruno Menard, former head chef of triple-starred L'Osier in Tokyo.
Does he cook here? No, entrusts it to a chosen chef lineup.
Cuisine: Every type of burger imaginable, from veggie to lamb sauced with choice of seven mayos, four cheeses and extras that include curried raisin onions, shiitake mushrooms and pan-seared foie gras.
Sides include truffle fries, posh salads and lychee milkshakes.
Prices: From SG$38 ($30) for a shake, salad and burger, compared with ¥22,000 ($222) for a set dinner at L'Osier [reopens October 2013].
&Made, 9 Scotts Road, Pacific Plaza, #01-04-06, Singapore 228210; +65 6690 7566
3. Amass, Copenhagen
Chef: Matt Orlando, former head chef of two-Michelin-starred Noma and Per Se in New York.
Does he cook here? Yes.
Cuisine: Modern and fresh, prepared from seasonal, local produce including herbs, radishes and turnips grown in the large garden at the restaurant's front. There won't actually be a printed menu, with the restaurant's offerings based on the vegetables farmers say are freshest, changed weekly, says Orlando, to keep his chefs on their toes.
Prices: DKK 575 ($100) for either a multi-course tasting menu or a simpler three-course lunch with DKK 375 ($66), wine not included, compared with DKK 1,500 ($263) with DKK 1,000 wine pairing at Noma.
Amass, Refshalevej 153, 1432 Copenhagen, Denmark; +45 2696 3963; firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Bistrot Bruno Loubet, London
Chef: Bruno Loubet, former head chef of Raymond Blanc's two-starred Four Seasons.
Does he cook here? Yes.
Cuisine: Modern French from a chef of the old school, with starters such as snails and meatballs alongside venison carpaccio and beetroot ravioli.
Mains like roasted poussin or rabbit ragout can be ordered in starter sizes while the desserts are delectable.
Prices: From £7 ($11) for starters up to £20 for a main, compared to £40 (starters) and £50 (mains) at Four Seasons.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London; +44 20 7324 4455
5. Boco, Paris
Chef: Opened by food journalist Vincent Ferniot, the executive chefs include Gilles Goujon and Anne-Sophie Pic, of three-Michelin-starred restaurants L'Auberge du Vieux Puits and Pic in Valence.
Does he cook here? No, but he and the lineup of eight Michelin-starred chefs who created the recipes regularly test and redesign.
Cuisine: Ferniot calls it "fast fine food," with each dish representing the exclusive recipe of a French star chef and served in a cute jar for self service.
Preparation is quick thanks to a pool of inventive techniques from the classically trained chef lineup -- veal tenderloin is pre-cooked sous-vide for 12 hours, poached eggs are cooked by steaming in their shells for three minutes.
Prices: €14.80 ($19) for a three-course set compared to €78 ($102) for the seven-course lunch menu at L'Auberge du Vieux Puits.
Boco, 3 Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris; +33 1 42 61 17 67
6. Bone Daddies, London
Chef: Ross Shonhan, former head chef of Nobu London, a one-Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant.
Does he cook here? Yes.
Cuisine: Ramen bar with four soups to choose from -- soya, miso, spicy sesame with pork mince and the signature, a piggy tonkotsu broth. Snacks include soft shell crab and yellowtail sashimi with ponzu, while the liquor menu includes sakes, shochus and Japanese beers and whiskeys.
Prices: From £9 ($14) per bowl of ramen, with snacks starting at £5, compared to appetizers that start at £15, hot dishes from around £25 and a chef's menu for £85 at Nobu London.
Bone Daddies, 31 Peter St., London; +44 20 7287 8581
7. Chom Chom, Hong Kong [reopens July 2013]
Chef: Peter Cuong Franklin, who has trained and worked at top restaurants such as Caprice in Hong Kong and Alinea in Chicago.
Does he cook here? Yes.
Cuisine: Modern Vietnamese street food, with Franklin applying French techniques and presentation to classics like charcoal-grilled squid and bun cha pork. This is a neighborhood eatery inspired by Hanoi's bia hoi culture of sipping draft beer on street corners.
Prices: To be confirmed.
Chom Chom, G/F Block A, No. 58-60 Peel St.,Central, Hong Kong; +852 2810 0850, no reservations
8. The Clove Club, London
Chef: Isaac McHale, ex-development chef of the two-Michelin-starred The Ledbury.
Does he cook here? Yes.
Cuisine: Inventive British food, with starters such as a signature buttermilk fried chicken with pine and mains built around meats sided with local ingredients such as spinach, anchovy and mint.
Prices: Five-course dinner for £47 ($71) with a £40 wine pairing, compared with a three-course dinner for £80 at The Ledbury.
The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St., London; +44 20 7729 6496
9. Corner Room, London
Chef: Nuno Mendes, owner and chef patron of one-Michelin-starred Viajante.
Does he cook here? No, but ideas for dishes come from both he and the head chef.
Cuisine: Creative Portuguese food served informally yet reminiscent of its Michelin-starred big brother Viajante, with starters such as aged pumpkin with port and stracciatella, or an Iberico pork main with sides of bitter leaves and "winter" relish.
Prices: Three-course lunch for £23 ($35), or around £8 for starters, and £14 for mains, compared with a six-course tasting menu for £78, or nine-course for £90 at Viajante.
Corner Room, Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, London; +44 20 7871 0460
10. Gustu, La Paz, Bolivia
Chef: Claus Meyer, co-founder and co-owner of Noma, Danish celebrity chef.
Does he cook here? No, but head chef Michelangelo Cestari leads a team of Bolivian chefs trained at Noma.
Cuisine: Indigenous Bolivian cuisine re-imagined. Gustu draws from local roots like oca, herbs like huakataya and khoa whose, taste even the head chef admits can be uncomfortable for some.
Mains include local beetroot prepared with hibiscus, and rabbit slow-cooked in a corn base creamed by lemon juice. Yet the food isn't the full story -- Gustu is part of Meyer's nonprofit foundation aimed at stimulating the Bolivian economy by investing in local resources, whether it's farmers or food research.
Prices: From BOB 65 ($10) for starters, to BOB 80-145 for mains, compared with DKK 1,500 ($263) at Noma.
Gustu, Calle 10 no. 300, Media cuadra de la Av. Costanera, Calacoto, La Paz; +591 (2) 2117491, email@example.com
11. Luksus, New York
Chef: Daniel Burns, former pastry chef at two-Michelin-starred Noma.
Does he cook here: Yes.
Cuisine: Scandinavian-American food using local and seasonal ingredients in the creative preparation taught at Noma as well as the Fat Duck. Ham chips should be on the menu at some point.
The 26-seat restaurant is accessed through a door at the back of Tørst, a craft beer bar also founded by Burns, so there are plenty of unique brews here.
Prices: TBA, but the plan is to create a casual tasting menu.
Luksus, 615 Manhatten Ave., Brooklyn; +1 718 389 6034, firstname.lastname@example.org (web reservations preferred)
12. The Hinds Head, Bray, UK
Chef: Heston Blumenthal, chef proprietor of triple-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck and one-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Does he cook here? No.
Cuisine: The original gastro-pub serving up retooled British classics, like a gently oozy Scotch egg or foamy pea and ham soup, with mains including Cornish cod in a mussel broth and a bubble-and-squeak cake with quail egg and leek sauce.
Prices: From £7.50 ($11) for a starter and £14 for a main, compared with £195 for a 15-course tasting menu at the Fat Duck.
The Hinds Head, High Street, Bray, West Berkshire; +44 1628 626151