By Flavour Feed contributors: Philip Owens, Sudi Pigott, Ashleigh Togher and Matt Fleet
At Bespoke Menu Design and at Flavour Feed, we’re acutely aware of the forever-evolving, highly dynamic nature of the trends we discuss. That’s why, as much as it is just immensely enjoyable, exploring restaurant scenes far and wide is so crucial to our insight.
On Flavour Feed, we track these insights via a feature called Editors’ Eats: our short, snappy synopsis of our team’s favourite finds. And looking back on 2016, we can see key trends in action and how they evolved, mainly New European, Regional Asian, Comforting Nostalgia, Global Flavour, Out of Town (non-London) and Middle Eastern.
So we’ve rounded up the best of our 2016 finds, in a selection that signals to what’s in store for the year ahead: hinting at a mood for food that’s bolder, braver and more indulgent, theatrical and authentic than ever.
For the sort of neighbourhood restaurant everyone wishes that they had at the end of their road. Their confident approach is powered by excellent ingredients, accessible dishes, a sense of ownership and a keen understanding of hospitality.
- - Porchetta, radicchio, roquette, anchovy dressing
- - Morcilla on toast, fried egg, watercress
- - Wild sea trout, asparagus, Jersey Royals, mayonnaise
- - Rabbit leg, peas, bacon, girolles and lettuce
- - Impeccable cheeses: Schlossberg (a buttery mature Emmental), La Teoulette (a soft, creamy sheep’s milk wrapped in ash) and a fruity Basque Bleu – unadorned without garnish or frills
For a warm welcome and a fabulous interior that’s shabby-chic, cosy, quaint and full of character. There’s a real sense of ownership too (we’ve only been twice and already we feel like regulars), plus plenty of intuitive cooking: no fuss, all thrills.
- - The famous sourdough bread – burnished fresh from the wood grill with burnt onion butter
- - Super fresh Cornish crab spiked with hispi cabbage – straight from the wood grill, giving it smoky notes and a textured crunch
- - Wood-grilled whole lemon sole – perfectly cooked, nothing else needed
- - Nespoli, vanilla and buttermilk rice pudding – chilled rice puddings are having a moment (as is buttermilk)… a cool, creamy and comforting conclusion to a great meal
Cupboard love: this homely, tiny neighbourhood restaurant must have one of the smallest kitchens in London (and a loo in what appears to be a small wardrobe!), but it manages to produce top-notch European sharing dishes – at last, small plates that are reasonably portioned and make sense to share. Sensibly sized, honest, boldly flavoured food.
- - *That* seaweed and cider saucisson with cornichons
- - Padron peppers – watch out for the hot ones
- - Butch muscular flat-iron steak tartare, smoked anchovies and yolk
- - Grilled mackerel, pickled beetroot and horseradish
- - Roast hake – singing with the flavours of Provence – with sweet roasted peppers, smoky aubergine and black-olive tapenade
For the best of Paris “bistronomy” with a British slant. The chic, grey dining room shows how beautiful a narrow space can be – it also boasts a gorgeously quirky cloakroom.
- - “Snacks”: golden bacon scones served warm with clotted cream and eggs mimosa with preserved lemon – irresistible and delightfully nostalgic
- - Pea gazpacho with Ticklemore cheese and black olive – a savoury punch
- - Cornish pollock, Jersey Royals, lemon verbena and a hint of green curry – ethereal in both taste and presentation
This brilliant restaurant by Stevie Parle and his protégé Alex Jackson offers up home-style cooking inspired by the dishes of Southern Europe, from the Languedoc to Sicily. The cooking is rugged, self-assured, hugely flavoursome, well priced and appealingly presented.
- - Radish, crème fraîche, bottarga – the best snack so far this year: colourful, vibrant and pleasingly salty and fishy, a novel idea that really works
- - Clams with peas and air-dried sausage – a light, essence-of-summer dish with beautiful colours bringing fresh meaning to surf and turf
- - Lamb ficelle with white beans, anchovies and green sauce – said to be inspired by a BBQ on Hackney Downs: smoky, rare, earthy and redolent of summer
- - Fish en papillote – a great combination of bream and red mullet, perfectly cooked with courgettes and tomatoes… simple theatrical thrills
- - Crêpe with stewed plums, raspberries and apricot-kernel ice cream
For confident, intuitive cooking with chefs bringing the food to the table – and it’s great to see an independent restaurant specialising in and excelling at new-wave British bistronomy.
- - Isle of Wight tomatoes and seaweed – super fresh sweet tomatoes (notably unrefrigerated) balanced with natural saline notes of seaweed and the raw texture of green courgettes
- - Smoked pork neck, broad beans and black garlic – perfectly cooked and vibrant with the funky black garlic adding depth and umami
- - Cod with cucumber and oyster – three key ingredients in perfect harmony… the stunning presentation exceeding all expectations with the oyster wrapped in a translucent, thin kohlrabi and a caviar garnish
For a chic, subtly Nordic-influenced offering, which captures current trends in a natural way, with inspiring use of pickles, fermentation, miso, seaweed, lardo, hay baking and chamomile.
- - Homemade sourdough with north & south olive oil – infused in-house with Amalfi lemon rind
- - Crudo of char, unripe peaches and elderflowers – the unripe peach adding sour acidity and crunch… a good foil for the buttermilk and squeaky fresh char
- - Tomatoes, raspberries, purple basil and fermented tomato juice – a clever dish with subtle sweetness, floral notes and slightly sour fermented tomato juice water
- - Ravioli of hay-baked carrot and ricotta, brown butter and hazelnuts – textbook thin pasta, demonstrating an Italian classic through a British lens
- - Cornish plaice, rainbow chard, miso and dulce butter – the fermented salty tang of miso ramping up the umami hit of dulce
- - Paris Brest – a choux pastry sandwiching hazelnut cream… delicate and exquisite-looking
- - Scorched nectarine, amaretto, mascarpone and chamomile – the ultimate understated summer dessert: beautiful and delicately flavoured, with attention to texture
Café and music shop by day, bar by night, this venue in Kings Cross feels fresh and new, with a decidedly European vibe. The food is by Ed Wilson, formerly of the excellent Brawn, and the short menu is well sourced and approachable – for the discerning food enthusiast who’s also partial to a bit of vintage vinyl.
- - Gildas – Spanish lollipop of anchovy, green pickled chilli and silverskin onion
- - Impeccable charcuterie and cheese plates
- - On-trend seaweed and cider saucisson with cornichons
- - Hansen + Lynsen smoked salmon and warm potato salad
- - A racy rabbit leg dish – lentils charged with a brunoise of vegetables and a punchy whole-grain mustard dressing
This is master of meat cookery Neil Rankin’s temple to wood-fired and barbecue cooking, with the playful menu navigating the globe via bold and bodacious flavours.
- - Scotch bonnet nachos rich with short-rib ragu and lush melted cheese
- - Sinful beef-fat potatoes with raclette
- - A funky mutton and aged beef kofta
- - Spicy grilled corn, pimped with popcorn
- - Aged cheeseburger taco
- - A thrilling burnt-end Thai larb
- - Smoked and grilled goat on a flour tortilla
Chick ‘N’ Sours
A one-dish new-wave fast-casual that raises the bar for fried chicken. Don’t miss the innovative sour cocktails either, like the Tahona Sour made with tequila, yellow chartreuse, pineapple, honey, bitters and smoked salt.
- - Mexi-nese nachos – funky, down and dirty Chengdu chicken with bacon, green chilli and kimchi cheese
- - Szechuan aubergine – soft, crunchy, sweet and sharp… a recurring flavour theme
- - Cucumber pickles – icy cool, sharp and sweet
- - Guest fry of General Tso glaze, chilli, spring onion – a ridiculously crisp, tender and flavoursome bird packed with personality
- - K-pop bun, Korean fried thigh, gochujang mayo, chilli vinegar, Asian slaw – an absolute whopper of a burger and a knife and fork job
The menu is a melting pot inspired by Ravinder Bhogal’s mix of Sikh, Kenyan and British heritage, as well as her global travels. It’s all about integrity and creating a place that could almost be an extension of your home dining room – a restaurant with real soul.
- - Fried mathis – flaky wafers studded with cardamom seeds, served with a chunky, spicy apple chutney
- - Clever takes on quail Scotch eggs – including a prawn toast with banana ketchup and pickled cucumber
- - Cauliflower popcorn in a super light and crunchy rice-flour batter – spiked with fresh chilli, spring onion and fried garlic chips
- - Lobster khichdee, moilee broth and coconut chutney – the ancestor of kedgeree, this khichdee is charged with mustard seeds and chilli, and is fragrant with toasted curry leaves
- - Spiced scrag-end pie – slow-braised neck of mutton with Indian spices and topped with creamy mash potato… next-level shepherd’s pie
Hailed as New York’s best cookie, we went to see what all the fuss was about at this tiny bakery overrun by a queue of salivating visitors on the Upper West Side.
It’s worth the wait – crusty on the outside, melty heaven on the inside – we had three helpings of their signature walnut, chocolate and cookie dough creation. Go if you get the chance!
For the impeccably sourced Cornish ingredients and laid-back dining room. The kitchen here is run by The Cornwall Project, an innovative collective who source their produce from some of the best farms in Cornwall (they also supply Stoke Newington’s The Three Crowns and Homerton’s The Adam & Eve).
- - Sweet raw peas, sunny rapeseed oil and Corra Linn – an untainted taste of summer
- - A matured Scottish sheep’s milk cheese, nutty and fruity – similar to Manchego in style
- - A traditional Sunday roast of beef barrel rump with all the trimmings
OUT OF TOWN:
Daniel Clifford’s two Michelin-star Midsummer House in Cambridgeshire is definitely one for a special occasion, but worth every penny. If nothing else, go for the lovage-infused house G&T.
- - A canapé of brik cones with smoked eel, mustard seed, coriander, horseradish foam and puffed wild rice
- - Sea scallop, Granny Smith, celeriac and truffle
- - Sautéed duck liver, pear and chicory salad
- - Signature celeriac – cooked on the Big Green Egg outside and then served from a Baby Egg at the table. The hollandaise was “cooked” in liquid nitrogen at the table – a brilliant piece of table theatre
Orange Buffalo, Brighton
Serving sizzling bites from the back of The Joker pub in deepest darkest Brighton is Orange Buffalo – known for their true-to-form American-style bright orange buffalo wings slathered in hot sauce and served with the classic trimmings: blue-cheese dip and celery sticks – essential for cooling down. Pair with a zesty craft beer of your choice, and you might as well be drinking with your buddies in Williamsburg… proving that it’s not just London racking up the culinary credentials.
With a kitchen full of bubbling clay pots, a wood-burning oven and charcoal grills, Kiln turns out authentic regional Thai food with a touch of Yunnan and Burmese thrown in for good measure. The short menu is full of Thai grills, slow-cooked curries, day-boat seafood and British-grown Thai vegetables and herbs – their fresh lemongrass tastes so much better than the tired stalks commonly found in Chinatown.
- - Aged lamb and cumin skewer – here the fat is threaded with the hogget and as it melts imparts deep gamey notes
- - Smoked sausage with turmeric – soft in texture, mildly spiced and lifted with fresh chopped chilli, shallot rings and lime
- - Langoustines, kaffir lime and sweet mint – Simple and full of freshness
- - Clay-pot baked glass noodles, tangled with Tamworth pork belly and rich, peppery brown crab meat – charged with a zingy coriander lime and chilli dipping sauce
- - Southern roasted long pepper and Tamworth pork tenderloin curry – bolstered with holy basil: light, pungent and vibrant
This Sri Lankan smash hit from the Sethi family is always busy, but to alleviate the inevitable queues they use Qudini – a virtual queuing sytem – allowing you up to pop across the road for a drink whilst you wait. Speaking of the wait, it’s worth it – the dishes are brimming with flavour and vitality, and take us straight back to our field trips to Sri Lanka.
- - Mutton rolls
- - Goat roti
- - Egg hoppers
- - Black pork kari
- - Bone-marrow varuval and roti
Bone Daddies East London venture features a similar menu to the Soho branch, but with the addition of kushikatsu – a deep-fried, skewered street food from Osaka – the first we’ve seen at a London restaurant.
- - Iberico and roast onion kushikatsu
- - Prawn and braised shiitake kushikatsu
- - Scallop, sweet potato and shiso kushikatsu
- - T22 ramen – still as good as ever: full of spice, texture and umami
Anthony Bourdain was recently quoted as saying ‘anytime I am eating a bowl of spicy noodles I am happy’. We couldn’t agree more, and Vietfood’s 150 Pho Chin Hue with slow-cooked beef is a knockout – boasting a great depth of flavour and topping our list for best pho in London.
Shukshuk by Berber & Q
We can’t seem to get enough of the BBQ innovators’ newest outposts across London. At Shukshuk, tucked inside Mick’s Garage by the canal in London’s trendy Hackney Wick, we see their signature high-octane approach to flavour in elevated street-food style.
- - Shawarma spiced chicken leg and mechoui lamb – densely spiced and flavourful
- - Roast potatoes, dukkah, harissa aioli
- - Tahini yoghurt coleslaw
- - Beetroot, whipped feta, hazelnuts
- - Mixed pickles and extra flatbread (because we’re greedy)
Outstanding flavour and atmosphere to match beams from this Neals Yard restaurant, which serves food from the Atlantic Coast to Israel. When they get going, the mood is electric – just sit at the bar and keep the plates coming.
- - Jerusalem bagel – served blisteringly hot, straight from the tandoor and with a bag of za’atar for sprinkling
- - Baba ghanoush – super smoky with a subtle lemony zing… just the ticket for dipping
- - Monkfish chermoula – lightly charred and packed with flavour, we could have had 10
For a treasure trove of ingredients that embrace all that is thrilling about Middle Eastern cuisine.
- - Pomegranate blossoms, urfu chilli flakes, mahreb (an aromatic spice made from cherry kernels), tins of soft, feta-like Turkish cheese and date syrup
- - Muhammara, labneh, kataifi pastry and exotic ice creams (fig-leaf infusion and strawberry and rose particularly appeal)
- - Highly seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits, including multi-coloured radishes and plump Turkish apricots
- - Chicken tagine with sour plums or stuffed aubergine, plus some intriguing rolls with labneh, pickles and flatbreads, and cardamom marshmallows for dessert
Opened by Alan Yau as a response to the poor quality pide he had tried in both London and Istanbul – ‘It seemed to me that nobody was taking particular pride in their pide’ – Babaji offers a modern take on traditional Turkish food: showcasing super fresh ingredients and a wholly Turkish wine list.
- - Coban salad – Sicilian tomatoes, cucumber and red onion: crunchy, fresh and invigorating
- - Chargrilled whole sea bream with red onion, parsley and sumac, complete with a retro vandyke cut lemon
- - Chicken beyti – Turkish minced chicken kofte with spiced bulgur
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