What a year it’s been
Ah 2015, I barely knew you. It’s been one hell of a year for dining out in London with a bevy of new and interesting restaurants opening in the capital. I usually end the old year and usher in the new with a look back at the restaurants that you, the readers, have been most interested in. This has been based on statistics showing which reviews you’ve read the most and which restaurant website links you’ve ended up clicking on (which I take as a sign of interest and a probable eventual visit).
Except this year, those statistics have been a bit boring and predictable. Ramen, barbecue and bao are more popular than ever. There’s nothing wrong with any of that of course, but it’s telling you something you, in all likelihood, know already. That’s also why I don’t bother with simply listing my favourite restaurants of the past year – my reviews are already tagged and categorised so you can find that out for yourself easily enough from my homepage.
All that preamble explains why I’ve decided instead to look back at the best dishes of the past year. These aren’t just my personal favourites, the dishes I could eat forever on a desert island or as part of my last meal on death row. These are the dishes that are so exceptional, I think they represent the very best that London has to offer and which you can try yourself.
That last criteria explains why this retrospective is so short – the city-wide move towards seasonal ingredients means that some truly wonderful dishes just aren’t available at the time of writing. They get an honourable mention instead – the kitchens that produced them still deserve your custom and time. Quality trumps quantity in my book anyway.
It’s worth bearing in mind that ingredients can vary and kitchens can have bad days, so your experience of these dishes may not exactly match my own – especially if I’ve managed to unfortunately overinflate your expectations. Additionally, if I’ve missed out on your favourite then remember it’s not an attack on your character, your mother or your religion. My opinion differs from yours and that’s fine, so let’s all try and be civil when Commenting, emailing or tweeting.
Right, let’s get on with it.
Chicken and the sturgeon at Nobelhart & Schmutzig
This honourable mention is a cheat as Nobelhart & Schmutzig is a Berlin fine dining restaurant (or fine casual, if you must). But if you still haven’t visited booming Berlin, then this restaurant’s methodical approach to seasonal, local ingredients is a good reason to do so. Although the beginning and end of the tasting menu I tried was flawed, a duo of meaty dishes at the heart of it proved to be exceptional. Chicken with leeks followed by sturgeon with mushrooms in consomme might not sound exceptional on paper, but these two dishes show the fireworks that can result when you pair well-sourced meat with high quality, exceedingly complimentary accompaniments.
Lamb and the turbot with baby fennel at The Newman Arms
Chris Pople of Cheese and Biscuits chose The Newman Arms as his restaurant of the year, and justifiably so. The upstairs kitchen of this relaunched gastropub shows just what can be done with seasonal ingredients sourced from one of Britain’s most bountiful regions. Exquisite lamb redefined my very understanding of this meat, while superlative turbot paired with fresh baby fennel threw down the gauntlet to every other lazy interpretation of this wonderful fish.
Venison loin at Piquet
Piquet will turn up later in this retrospective which should give you an idea of just how highly I regard this French restaurant. The venison loin is still available, but it varied enough across two different meals that I couldn’t quite bring myself to include it amongst the very best. Even when it’s not quite right though, it’s still very good indeed – beautiful deer meat, a fun and filling faggot and expertly cooked quince and chestnuts make this dish the perfect choice for a cold autumn or winter’s evening.
Rabbit pie at Paradise Garage
This is an odd one, as the rabbit pie at the wonderful Paradise Garage is actually part of a dish, the rabbit picnic for two, rather than a self-contained dish in of itself. The middling rabbit saddle and other components are the reasons the picnic is relegated to honourable mention status, but the pie. Oh the pie. It was so unnaturally good that it’s worth ordering the picnic anyway just to have it. It’s a pie that disspelled my long held distrust of pies. Pie, pie, pie.
Ginger ice cream at Jidori
It is indeed ironic that the one truly superlative dish at this Dalston yakitori restaurant isn’t a skewer of meat, but a dessert. But what a dessert. Ginger ice cream, miso caramel, sweet potato crisps and black sesame seeds were masterfully combined into an eclectic, eccentric and truly excellent end-of-meal treat.
Crispy pomegranate glazed lamb and the pear parfait at Oklava
Although the crispy pomegranate glazed lamb at Oklava isn’t the most picturesque of dishes, it’s amply rewarding if you can get past such superficialities. A sublime neo-Turkish concoction of textures and flavours makes this one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever enjoyed. It’s the chef’s signature dish for a reason. A similar sensibility for blending touch and taste elevated the pear parfait to new heights, making this dessert one of the few I’d choose over a plate of expertly baked baklava. And I love baklava in a passionately unhealthy way.
Curry goat tsukemen at Nanban
Although my experiences at Nanban were middling overall, this wouldn’t have been the case if every dish had been as superb as the curry goat tsukemen. Well-garnished, top-notch ramen noodles with an unconventional curry goat dipping sauce was not only delightful in its own right, but shows that fusion food doesn’t have to be daft and that excellence isn’t just the preserve of modernist techniques and expensive ingredients.
Veal sweetbreads and the pressed suckling pig at Piquet
You may be tired of my eternal fondness for Piquet, but this restaurant really is worth your time. The almost excessively rich veal sweetbreads reinforced my love of offal, while the pressed suckling pig is a masterclass in the porcine arts. Vive la France!
Pig cheek, scallop and chilli at Black Axe Mangal
It would be a mistake to buy into this restaurant’s PR that it’s a kebab restaurant, as that could blind you into ignoring some of the smaller, yet more profoundly delicious non-kebab dishes on its small menu. The starter of pig cheek, scallop and chilli is prone to variation depending on ingredient availability and kitchen whim, but it’s so provocatively delicious in all its forms that I’m moved to do dirty, dirty things to the bearded genius in the kitchen responsible for it.
Venison tartare at Paradise Garage
I’ve yet to find a really good beef steak tartare in London, but perhaps I don’t need to given the wonderful venison tartare at Paradise Garage. A small dish of immense flavour, mixing raw and preserved ingredients to exceptional effect. Venison and egg. May the two never be parted ever again.
Olive oil pão de ló at Taberna do Mercado
Every easily-impressed chump with an Instagram account has been bowled over by the pork fat-based abade de priscos dessert at this Portuguese haven in the City. While it is a good dessert, it doesn’t hold a candle to the really postres superstar here – the olive oil and egg yolk sponge cake. It’s a sumptuous treat for two that’s more than the sum of its parts, better than its curiously pedestrian description on paper. In the words of my original review, ‘If I drowned face down in this stuff, it would be an undignified but nonetheless orgasmically satisfying way to shuffle off this mortal coil.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.
– The Picky Glutton