From the classic opulence of haute cuisine to the shiny new creations of molecular gastronomy, the world’s most expensive restaurants range from new to historic and everything in between. In Japan, you can eat in a century-old tea ceremony house. In the Maldives, you can dine underwater. In Spain, you can dine in a virtual reality. In Paris, you can supper amid royalty.The intimate chef’s table experience has made its way to Mexico — and that’s without even mentioning your options in the U.S.
All across the globe, the best of the best in the culinary space from Michelin-starred chefs to emerging food superstars are churning out meticulously selected tasting menus that represent seasons, cultures, and locales. Some experiences are grand and some are intimate, but all will cost you a pretty penny. The most dedicated of foodies would consider themselves lucky to make it to one of these in his or her lifetime. And if you do get a chance to treat yourself, trust the chef and the drink pairings and it will all be worth it — because food isn’t just food when it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of night. Here are 10 from our wish list.
10. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant, Maldives
Cost per person: $500
Sixteen feet below sea level in the Maldives Islands sits the world’s only all-glass undersea restaurant. The luxurious island chain in the Indian Ocean sits only 1.5 meters above sea level (the islands are disappearing due to climate change) and is known for its mesmerizing marine life. Eating a meal inside the restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island hotel offers you a front-row seat.
When diners arrive, they are taken to a waiting area in a small hut above sea level and prompted to leave their shoes behind before descending down a spiral staircase to the coral reef-lit dining room. With only 14 seats and 180-degree panoramic views of the ocean, the experience is like high-end scuba diving at its finest. Schools of rainbow- and neon-colored fish, sharks, and stingrays swim above. Meanwhile, caviar, duck agnolotti, and Maldivian lobster carpaccio decorate the plates below. Dinner, which is adults only, costs $320 per person for six courses, and lunch is a lighter four-course menu for $195. Aside from one complimentary glass of champagne, any cocktails or wines from the massive, underground cellar are an added cost.
Tip: You can check out the restaurant for drinks-only for a $90-per-person cocktail-hour option.
9. La Zebra Chef’s Table, Tulum, Mexico
La Zebra Hotel/Facebook
Cost per person: $600
At the southern tip of the Riviera Maya, this once-hippie beach town has developed into a string of resorts, hotels, and restaurants that now lures tourists to the Mexican jungle. Thanks to the explosion of popularity, lines await at many of the al fresco gems that are mainly walk-in only, especially during high season. Town mainstay La Zebra Hotel is providing a new intimate dining option that not only accepts but requires a reservation (at least three days prior) and guarantees you a seat.
The beachfront restaurant boasts an authentic Mexican approach and reliance on locally sourced ingredients at their open-air Mexican Cantina, and at the new Chef’s Table, local remains key (think chile shrimp ceviche, slow-cooked beef tacos, and homemade corn and tortilla ice cream). Chef Eleazar Bonilla and his team cook for guests nightly (minus Sundays) at a table that fits up to eight and before an open kitchen, so you can watch the up-and-coming chef in action. There are eight-, 10-, and 12-course options, costing $150, $170, and $185 per person (plus tip), respectively, and seatings from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Come thirsty: The menus are paired with signature cocktails, local craft beers, and New World wines.
Tip: There is a minimum spending cost of $590 per person.
8. Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas
(Photo: Joel Robuchon/Facebook)
Cost per person: $600 - $1800
Tucked away inside the bustling MGM Grand and next to the iconic Cirque Du Soleil theatre is this three-Michelin-starred restaurant by chef Joël Robuchon. The intimate Vegas escape — it can actually make you forget that you are on the casino floor — is designed to resemble an opulent Art Deco townhouse. There are checkered, black-and-white marble floors and dramatic purple banquettes, along with an entire wall of greenery and serene Parisian-style terrace. There are only only 17, albeit oversized, tables and a private dining room for 10 to 12 people.
The seasonal new French degustation menu of 16 courses pulls out all of the stops and is presented in four “services,” which consist of three small plates. Black truffle dots the list, appearing over foie gras carpaccio, smoked bacon tart, and langoustine ravioli. And there’s no skimping of lobster or caviar, either. The fine-dining experience costs $435 per person, but your final bill depends on which level of wine pairing you wash down your meal with: $295, $595, or the premium option for $995. The dress code is formal.
Tip: They offer four- and six-course menus, as well as a two-course menu for $120 per person.
7. Le Meurice, Paris, France
Cost per person: $700 and up
Three-Michelin-starred Chef Alain Ducasse has 24 restaurants in eight countries, and two in Paris that could sit interchangeably here: Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice. At the restaurant inside the Hotel Le Meurice, the famed chef’s collection menu is $509 per person for six courses (without drinks, tax, or tip) and changes seasonally. This autumn, Ducasse’s inventive-yet-natural French cuisine comes in the form of lobster and potatoes “flavored by the sea,” farm hen with cèpes mushrooms, and seasonal vegetables. You can also order a la carte. The restaurant is only open Monday through Friday.
The pure-style food is about bringing the taste back-to-basics, but the décor is anything but simple. As if a haute-cuisine meal overlooking the spectacular Tuileries Garden isn’t enough, the room itself was designed after the Salon de la Paix at the Palace of Versailles and features crystal chandeliers, opulent bronze and marble accents, and antique mirrors and murals. You will truly feel like royalty.
Tip: Have lunch amid the same opulence for a set menu of $130 per person (without drinks, tax, or tip).
6. Masa New York, N.Y.
Cost per person: $800 and up
Inside the Time Warner Center (and next to Thomas Keller’s Per Se), one of the city’s most beloved culinary splurges sits above N.Y.C.’s whirling Columbus Circle. Whether seated inside the intentionally simplistic dining room or at the expanded hinoki-wood sushi bar, diners from all over arrive for the three-Michelin-starred chef’s sushi menu: Chef Masayoshi Takayama is a perfectionist who is said to record what customers eat and how they react.
His goal is to bring “umami to the outside” and that’s what he does at the Manhattan flagship. He imports fish from Japan for toro and uni creations that melt in your mouth, and spares no expense on ingredients, such as foie gras for his signature shabu-shabu. The sushi menu is Omakase only and costs $450 per person for lunch or dinner — before tip, tax, sake, wine, cocktails, or any extras, like the $150 Kobe beef. If you head next door to the a la carte-serving barMASA, the $240 “Masa toro with cavier” is the splurge order (it’s also on the menu at his Vegas outpost and newest N.Y.C. venture, Kappo Massa).
Tip: Canceling a reservation within two days will cost you $200 per person.
5. Alinea, Chicago
Cost per person: $600
Chef Grant Achatz, who trained under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, co-founded the unconventional restaurant of his dreams in 2005. The cuisine is modernist and the set menu of 18 to 22 courses (it’s currently 18) changes seasonally. With three Michelin stars and a James Beard Award for best service to its name, this dinner show has rules. There are 64 seats but no large parties allowed — tables seat two, four, and six. They seat tables every 15 minutes so reservations are booked between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., even though the dining room is open until 9:30 p.m. The menu ranges from $210 to $265 per person with added wine pairings from $135 to $195 (neither includes tip).
The dishes are scrupulously designed and have been described as avant-garde, sensual, and playful. Known for its molecular gastronomy, any food item that you think you recognize on the menu will look and taste differently than you have had before. But when Pacific seaweed is served on a piece of actual driftwood and dessert is a helium balloon made of taffy, the fun is in expecting the unexpected.
Tip: Reservations are through a ticket system: Tickets can be purchased online two months in advance, but are non refundable. Open Wednesday through Sunday.
4. Kitcho, Kyoto, Japan
Cost per person: $600 and up
The topkaiseki (multi-course Japanese haute cuisine) restaurant in Japan is located in Kyoto, where three generations of chefs have contributed to the famous Kitcho name and now-chain. Currently at the helm is chef Kunio Tokuoka, who trained under his father and grandfather, who founded the flagship in 1930. The three-star Michelin restaurant is known for its exclusivity and traditions originating from Japanese tea ceremonies that chef Kunio has maintained, while introducing inventive new dishes.
The backdrop of the formal tea ceremony house is a lush landscape. The antique plates and arrangements are served in private tatami-style rooms overlooking gardens and are just as carefully selected as the food, making for a breathtaking presentation all-around. The courses are themed around the season (all ingredients are local) and the full tasting menu is three hours of 12 to 14 courses, including a hassun course of multiple small dishes, for $600 per person (not including sake, which ranges from house to premium). Reservations are allowed up to three days in advance, but recommended “well” in advance in the spring and fall.
Tip: Only a handful of groups are served per night and are staggered so you never see other diners.
3. The French Laundry, Yountville, Calif.
The French Laundry/Facebook
Cost per person: $600 - $2,000
Chef Thomas Keller is the only American chef to have not one but two three-starred Michelin restaurants to his name: The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., and it’s equally lauded and extravagant Per Se in NYC (which offers a nine-course tasting menu for $310 per person). Desiring to bring fine French cuisine to wine country, Keller opened up his now-famed shop inside a century old stone cottage that operated as a French steam laundry in the 1920s. Seating 72 guests at a time, the intimate farmhouse is known for its top-notch service and superb rotating daily menu.
Aside from the signature salmon cornets that start off each meal, popular dishes that sometimes appear more often than others are the beets and leaks, oysters and pearls, and coffee and doughnuts. The nine-course chef’s tasting menu costs $295 per person (same for the vegetarian option) and includes tip, but no menu supplements or alcohol. Depending on the season, delicacies such as caviar, light truffles, foie gras, or Wagyu beef can delight for added costs, and if you are looking to pair your meal with wine, sommeliers are on hand to assist. A destination for wine-lovers, you would be hard-pressed to find a table that isn’t imbibing on some of the finest blends Napa has to offer. The extensive list boasts options from well-known local wineries, like a $1,450 bottle of 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia and a $1,775 bottle of 1985 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars CASK 23, that can send your bill soaring into sky-high territory.
Tip: Reservations are booked 60 days to the calendar day for lunch and dinner.
2. The Restaurant at Meadowood, St. Helena, Calif.
The Restaurant at Meadowood/Facebook
Cost per person: $600 - $1,000
Influenced by the growers and foragers in his local community, chef Christopher Kostow brings thoughtful creations to his modern American restaurant at Meadowood resort in Napa Valley. The three-Michelin-starred chef curates his always-changing menus from seasonal ingredients that are plucked daily. It’s fine-dining but not stuffy, thanks to a warm, home-like setting with comfy leather chairs, a coal- and wood-burning oven illuminating the kitchen, and plates that emphasize a rustic luxury.
There are two dinner options from Tuesday through Saturday: the nine-course tasting menu for $225 per person in the dining room, or the 15- to 20-course counter menu for $500 (including tip), where a few V.I.P. diners can savor what’s in store at the chef’s counter. Additional wine pairing options are $225 or $350 to $500 per person, respectively. You can B.Y.O.-wine to the dining room for a corkage fee of $50 per bottle (up to two), but there are 1,200 labels awaiting in their cellar below. Weekend reservations fill up three months ahead, but try to snag a weekday table for two by booking online or getting lucky with a cancelation. There is no casual wear allowed and kids 12 and up are welcome — as long as they are ready to sit at the adult’s table.
Tip: You can pop in to the welcoming bar and terrace and have the team create a savory-to-sweet snacks lineup for $40 per person.
1. Sublimotion by Paco Roncero: Ibiza, Spain.
Cost per person: $1,900
Chef Paco Roncero, who has two Michelin stars to his name, opened a 15-course gastro show inside the Hard Rock Hotel in Ibiza last year. The multi-sensory concept takes place in a room that has 360-degree projection capability and one communal table for 12. It costs $1,900 per person for three hours of dinner theater, which includes tip, alcohol, an edible entry ticket, and a few rotating goodies along the way (not knowing what to expect is half of the fun).
The meal is designed to blend art, gastronomy, and technology with food to immerse all of the senses. Using virtual reality, edible props, and choreographed surprises, diners are transported from a lush countryside to under the sea and ahead to the year 2050 as they dine on inventive dishes that match their surroundings. A highlight? Plucking fresh salad ingredients from your own mini vegetable garden. There two seatings per night and since the restaurant is only open during the the summer months of “Ibiza season,” reservations must be booked well in advance. Dress to impress, and be ready to dance.
Tip: If you pick the lucky “golden ticket” upon arrival, be prepared to be put on the spotlight mid-meal.