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News & Advice

My life in travel: Tom Aikens

‘Travel is finding good places to eat’

First holiday memory?

My father travelled to France a lot because he was in the wine business, so we did a lot of holidays in the Auvergne region. I remember driving from Norfolk, which seemed to take days. We would always stop en route in Paris to see his contacts and friends, and go for a nice lunch.

Favourite place in British Isles?

Scotland, for the adventure, the castles, the game and the fishing. I’ve had a couple of really nice winter holidays there.

Best holiday?

The Maldives. I’ve always liked flying off to the heat in winter. In summer, I tend to go to Europe, with my daughter and partner. We love Ibiza especially, because you can either do the whole party scene or relax on the beaches.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Pack lightly. I always take too much, especially now that I have a little girl. Also, I’ve learnt that, as a chef, going abroad isn’t always about relaxing. To me, travelling is about finding and researching good places to eat. I once travelled all the way from Provence to Girona in Spain by train in a day to find a restaurant. I left at an ungodly hour, got there at noon, had lunch at El Celler de Can Roca, and returned to France in the evening. It was a very extravagant meal.

Ideal travelling companion?

My partner. We both like beach holidays, so we go to Ibiza every summer. A lot of our friends go there too, so we usually go for a couple weeks.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I can’t do a pure beach holiday. I think it’s insane to travel across the world to some exotic place and not move from your sunbed. I like to relax, but also love water sports and exploring a place.

Greatest travel luxury?

A laptop. I can’t go on holiday without it. I’m a bit of a workaholic, but it also means I can watch films with my daughter too.

Holiday reading?

I’m an avid collector of old cookbooks, so I’ll generally take those with me to read. The oldest one I have is from 1850. It’s interesting to see how people made things in the past, without the modern equipment we have today.

Worst travel experience?

They’ve always been in Europe, unfortunately. When you look at the time it takes to get somewhere, it seems so easy. In reality, it can take eight hours, door to door, to get to the south of France. It would be easier to fly, but some of the low-cost airlines charge you for everything and it’s always an absolute drama.

Best hotel?

Claridge’s. I stayed there a few weeks ago with my partner, just for one night. It’s a traditional old English hotel, one of the best in London for service, and the rooms are amazing too.

Worst hotel?

A place I stayed at with my parents when I was younger, just south of Paris. We had rats in the room and there were droppings all over the floor.

Best meal?

Noma in Copenhagen. We went last year, just for a weekend. I know René Redzepi, the chef, very well. We had lunch, stuffed our faces with about 20 courses and wines, ate too much, drank too much – and then I flew back and ran the London Marathon the next day.

Favourite city?

Paris. I worked there a long time ago, and now my partner’s sister lives there, so we often go over to stay with her. I just love all the museums and the markets: I always venture out to the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, the huge flea and antiques market near Clignancourt. I always find something to buy there. I love L’Astrance too, run by chef Pascal Barbot. It’s a small and intimate restaurant, just across the Right Bank. They do very light, earthy meals, using lots of vegetables. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

Where next?

I’m going to Lamu for 10 days, off the coast of Kenya, for a beach holiday with my partner.

Chef Tom Aikens is hosting cookery master classes at the Royal Palm, Mauritius, 25-27 March, bookable via  Beachcomber Tours (01483 445685; beachcombertours.co.uk).