2018 was a year of some memorable meals out, from fine dining to street food and plenty in between. Here is a selection of some of my favourites from the year – in no particular order.
Top-notch and stripped back cooking in this restaurant in a former strip club in Shoreditch, headed up Tomos Parry, ex-head chef at Kitty Fishers. It seems to be topping everyone’s end-of-year favourites lists, and has already been awarded a Michelin Star.
Whipped cod’s roe on charred toast – ephemerally light
Newly re-opened with Henry Harris in charge of the food – this is British cooking with a French accent at its best. Keep an eye out for his next venture, The Crown in Chiswick which is due to open in January 2019, with a Mediterranean focused menu.
This was probably one of London’s most talked about, and expensive, openings this year, with Ollie Dabbous in the kitchen and Hedonism Wines curating the impressive wine list. Like Brat, it’s also now been awarded a first Michelin Star. The menu here brings the nearby Green Park inside and it blossoms with foraged, floral, botanical, grain and pure natural notes.
The best rendition of dan dan noodles I have had, at this authentic, Northern Chinese restaurant, and regular lunch stop. Slippery soft noodles with bite, spicy fried minced pork perky mustard greens and a poky sesame dressing that tingled and numbed the tongue with Szechuan pepper. A side of spinach with ginger juice provided virtuous vitality and balance.
An outpost from Paris, where it has been long-established as a Japanese fine-dining hotspot, this is the first restaurant in London where it is possible to actually watch soba noodles being made from scratch, with chefs grinding the buckwheat within a dramatic glass-walled room. The menu also offers tempura, including courgette-flower, and classic robata dishes.
This new British fish brasserie cum restaurant from the folk behind the nearby 10 Cases has received universal acclaim from the critics (see Fay Maschler’s review here) – in these challenging times, its refreshing to see independents such as this thriving.
Nieves Barragán Mohacho, previously executive chef of the much-exalted Barrafina, reigns supreme again here with her culinary vision of Spain – only the set and cast has changed in her new restaurant backed by the JKS Restaurants crew.
This has become a favourite go to southern Thai lunch spot – there’s seriously no cooking by numbers here. The curry pastes, which are made in-house, only seem to elevate the experience.
This small shabby-chic Soho restaurant has a hand-written weekly changing menu that is informed by seasonality and ingredients, with an understanding of how to elevate these ingredients from standard to outstanding. I visited to attend a book launch lunch for How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry – a collection of menus and stories evocative of the seasons, inspired by travel, time and place – my book of the year. One of my favourite menus of the year – short, simple and seasonal.
Arguably the best tapas to be found in London, the 4th and newest Barrafina opened in the new Kings Cross Coal Drop Yards in October, and it’s just as good as the others, albeit with some new dishes and menu tweaks.
Lunchtime favourite at this Malaysian cafe, hidden in Rupert Court, it’s cheap and cheerful and one of the best places for a punchy laksa or authentic beef rendang.
This Hackney Wick seafood restaurant, opened by chef Tom Brown (ex-head chef at Outlaw’s at The Capital) received many glowing reviews from the critics and is confident British fish cookery at its best.
This Bombay style Irani cafe continues to impress with its consistency, which it succeeds in maintaining despite continual expansion (it now has seven sites across London, Manchester and Edinburgh) – the daily queues are testament to its popularity.
The 3rd site in Coal Drops yard has opened – it seems the Hart brothers are spearheading London’s Mexican food revolution and doing for tacos what they did for tapas.
Global and unashamedly inauthentic Thai at the London outpost of this Bangkok cafe.
Honey & Co
Honey & Co, the tiny Middle Eastern restaurant in Fitzrovia run by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, remains as good as ever. They’ve now also opened the larger Honey and Smoke, their take on an Israeli grill house, around the corner.
More shakshuka shake ups at La Goccia, one of two new Pertersham Nurseries restaurants in Covent Garden. Here elevated with Haye Farm eggs, spiced tomato, oregano, yoghurt and nduja.
This much loved Japanese noodle bar has recently opened new branches in the Bloomberg Arcade and Market Halls Victoria – all as inventive and excellent as the Soho original. This was a regular go to lunch spot throughout 2018, so it was only fitting that I was back for my last lunch of 2018 before heading off next week on culinary travels. It pretty much sums up why Koya remains one of my favourite places – the clarity to the cooking is beguiling, restrained and understated and IMHO it serves the best salads in London.
Out for Lunch in Majorca
Two excellent lunches overlooking the beach at Cala Deia in Majorca in August.
With coral wallpaper, fish-skin-patterned and green velvet banquettes, the grand, yet invitingly informal, Neptune, at the newly refurbished Principal Hotel, is the impressive new restaurant from Bret Redman and Margaret Crow, whose produce-driven Elliot’s in Borough market remains a firm favourite. All too often beef carpaccio is sliced too thinly, but here it’s sliced thicker so there is proper texture and flavour – and served atop a notable cicoria Caesar salad.
A Weekend in Seville
A salmorejo of dreams at Az-zait in Seville – langoustine, olive oil ice cream
Arroz de Senorito at La Azotea. Chef’s style rice with alioli, fish and seafood, and a clever riff on the traditional crispy socarrat paella rice crust, here used a base to serve the fish and seafood on a specially designed tray and board
You can’t beat The Wolseley for a sense of occasion and for old school favourites.
The Drop Wine Bar
This one of the four new restaurants opened by the Hart Brothers in the brand new Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross and it has a short British-leaning menu alongside an impressive wine list.
Jacob the Angel
One of my favourite spots for a morning espresso and a bite to eat – somewhere that is raising the game for innovative breakfasts in London. It proves that by using top-notch ingredients, keeping the menu simple and being creative, the lack of space and full kitchen facilities doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality.
An excellent avocado and eggs on challah (a traditional Jewish bread) – topped with a hazelnut dukkah and exuding a Middle Eastern warmth from the toasted spices, it was both a generous portion and great value for money
This recent opening backed by the forward-thinking JKS Restaurant Group has a menu full of classic crowd-pleasers and flavours that really pack a punch – there’s pretty much nothing on the extensive menu that doesn’t look enticing. Brigadiers is one of a new breed of restaurants in London that are re-inventing and elevating Indian cuisine into something altogether more contemporary and exciting – your traditional curry house this is most certainly not.
The French House
Neil B has taken over the upstairs dining room at The French House in one of the years most under-the-radar (no PR-drive here), yet best openings. With only 16 covers the pared-back, hand-written menu is full of dishes that you want to eat, the cooking is simple and confident, the portions generous and the room an ideal space to while away a few hours. One of my favourites of the year.
The cheeseboard, which is left on the table at the French, sums up the generous sense of hospitality and honesty here, all too rare in these table turning, margin driven, deposit taking, precarious restaurant times
Just opened in Soho this fast-casual and takeaway kebab house takes the street food of Tehran as it’s inspiration and elevates it with top-notch seasonal British produce and accomplished cooking. Like Brigadiers it’s also backed by the JKS restaurant Group.
This New York City export in Covent Garden, with its playfully inauthentic Chinese-style fusion dim sum, was the perfect spot for an end of year staff meal.