When Bacon On The Beech published his impressive ‘Top 25 Meals of the Year’ (see here), it prompted me to think of mine… but it was not all that easy.
Two food fuelled holidays to Singapore and Barcelona meant that meals in the likes of Waku Ghin, Shinji by Kanesaka, Esquina and Jaan (in SG) and Moments, Tickets, Dos Palillos, ABaC and Pakta (Barça) dominated the list… so I decided to just focus my list in the UK.
|Waku Ghin - Abalone with Aonori|
Once this decision had been taken, I struggled to juggle good meals in gastropubs, burger bars and authentic ethnic places such as Yuzu with those eaten in places with ‘Michelin stars’.
|ABac - Smoked Bread Brittle|
So, although overlooking many starred restaurants I have eaten in this year, such as: Apsleys, Galvin at Windows, Seven Park Place, Medlar, Hedone, Simpsons, The Old Vicarage, Pipe & Glass Inn, The Black Swan, Galvin La Chapelle, Lima, Yauatcha, Restaurant Story and Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley… the list that follows may not represent the “best” meals, but for one reason or another, they are my most “memorable”.
|Restaurant Story - Bread & Dripping Candle|
15. Mughli – my first and (subsequent meals) at Mughli are memorable because, since taking over the long established family run restaurants, Haz, Shaz, Was, Sax and Mohammad Arshad have made Indian food on Manchester’s Curry Mile sexy again! Star dish: Lamb Nihari (and the ‘street food’ menu).
14. The Samling, Cumbria – this meal was memorable purely and simply because it exceeded my expectations and was great value. Star dish: Roast breast and confit thigh of guinea fowl.
13. Mr Cooper’s House & Garden – whilst The French and Manchester House are undoubtedly Manchester’s finest ‘destination restaurants’, Simon Rogan’s quirky Mr Cooper’s House & Garden is my favourite place for a drink and meal in town after shopping. Star dish: Cumbrian Rib Steak, truffle pudding and purple potato latkes.
12. Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road – Gordon may be a bit of a shouty knob but Claire Smyth and her team produce faultless food. Star dish: Salt cod brandade ‘tartine’.
11. Raby Hunt – a fabulous meal in a charming family owned restaurant by one of Britain’s most talented young chefs. Star dish: Razor Clam with samphire, almond, girolles.
10. Dinner by Heston – completely different from The Fat Duck, despite (perhaps because of) high ranking on the World’s Top 50 and second star, Dinner by Heston does have it’s detractors. That said, the Battalia Pye was probably the single tastiest thing I ate all year. Star dish: Battalia Pye.
9. The Ledbury – any meal at The Ledbury is always an enjoyable event. Consistently one of the best restaurants in the UK for the last few years. Star dish: Bacon & Onion Brioche.
8. Manchester House by Aiden Byrne – whilst, I feel Manchester House is yet to ‘fully’ find it’s feet and niche in terms of being able to re-twinkle Michelin stars above Manchester, the food is still a good few notches above what is available elsewhere in the city and each one of my four meals there have had highly memorable elements. Star dish: Braised snails, potato & parsley.
7. HKK – quite simply the best and most beautiful Chinese food I’ve had in the UK. Star dish: Australian green abalone in Royal sauce.
6. Fraiche – Fraiche is an exceptional restaurant serving exciting modern cuisine; the fact that Marc works alone in the Michelin starred kitchen makes it all the more magical. Mine and my wife’s favourite restaurant for a romantic meal; we are booked in again for Valentine’s Day. Star dish: Scallops with clams, oyster leaf and yuzu.
5. A Wong – the reason I have placed A Wong above the Michelin starred HKK (and Yauatcha) is all down to accessibility, price and expectation. If I lived nearby, I’d be eating here every week. Also, the best desserts I’ve had in any Asian restaurant. Star dish: 100 year old egg in sweet, chilli soya & marinated tofu.
4. The Clove Club / Upstairs at The Ten Bells – I’m a huge fan of Isaac McHale and the Young Turks food, vibe and ethos. I could split these: The Clove Club is newer and gets most of the plaudits but there is a special place in my heart for the Ten Bells. Star dish: Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Pine Salt.
3. The French by Simon Rogan – as alluded to earlier, Simon Rogan is one of the most innovative and exciting chefs working in the world today (this is why Claridge’s have bagsied him to replace Ramsay). The fact that I can eat L’Enclume style food just twenty minutes from my house in the grand and historical setting of The French at The Midland Hotel makes every meal there a memorable one. Star dish: Spring offerings: vegetables, herbs, flowers, lovage salt.
2. Bubbledogs Kitchen Table – Bubbledogs KT had been on my ‘to do’ list since it opened; cruelly and bizarrely overlooked for a Michelin star I feared it would fail to live up to my high expectations… it didn’t! I love the ‘set up’ here and the way James manages to show creativity without compromising the purity of fabulous produce - truly one of my most memorable meals of the year. Star dish: Scallop, Raw Ginger Mayo, Smoked Roe.
1. L’Enclume – the cooking at “the UK’s Best Restaurant” may have received a perfect 10/10 score by The Good Food Guide but its more than just the ‘food on the plate’ that makes L’Enclume my Number 1 – as much as the creative dishes they create with the ingredients, for me, the ‘farm to table’ and British produce ethos is a huge part of the experience.
The Cumbrian village setting is also wonderful - no trip would be complete without visits to Cartmel Cheeses, Cartmel Coffee and a swift half in the Pig & Whistle.
People of the North West are so fortunate to have a truly world class restaurant such as L’Enclume on our doorsteps… if you haven’t yet been, make 2014 the year you do! Star dish: Cod ‘yolk’, sage cream, pea shoots, salt and vinegar.