2015 was a big year for us, we launched Eat a City in July, but the ‘research’ started way before then. We ate at over 400 places and drank in more than 100 bars during 2015...hard work!. Some were great, some were superlative and some were forgettable. The restaurants we loved were small places that focus on sourcing and using high quality ingredients, or places trying new things and thinking outside the box. As we launch our site upgrade we thought the timing was right to recap the best restaurants of 2015. This our list of the favourite places were ate at during during the year, there isn’t a boring plate of food in sight.
It’s easy for a chef to cherry pick fine ingredients if you’re willing to import everything you cook. It’s much harder to work with only local ingredients. Nobelhart & Schmutzig are super focused on local produce and being constrained means you have to be inventive. Everything that comes from the kitchen of Micha Schäfer says local and quality. You would think that a locally-focused restaurant in Berlin means the winter menu consists of potatoes, potatoes and potatoes. To get around this Micha plays with fermenting and preserving. Considering they haven’t been open very long and already do this so well, one can only imagine what they’ll cook up with a few more winters under their belt.
Couple this with front of house man Billy Wagner’s wine knowledge and everything comes up perfect. You have to be a wine lover to get the most out of Nobelhart & Schmutzig (not a problem for us). Billy is constantly walking up and down the bar on the lookout for empty glasses, and opening enough bottles of wine to ensure their accountant must have a cardiologist permanently on hand. He loves natural wines and introduced us to orange wine (spoiler alert: it’s not made from oranges). You’ll be introduced to wines you never knew existed. Settle into a fur seat at the bar and enjoy one of the world’s best dining experiences. Billy will take good care of you. Nobelhart & Schmutzig is everything we want in a restaurant.
There’s very little that’s ‘little’ about Little Bao and there’s a lot more happening than just bao. The bao are great, but where Little Bao rises above the other bao restaurants popping up around the world is their willingness to experiment with Hong Kong food. What exactly is Hong Kong food? It’s one part Cantonese, one part colonial British, and one part rest of the world owing to Hong Kong’s standing as a truly international city. Little Bao takes very traditional ingredients like cheung fun (steamed rice rolls) that would evoke childhood memories for any Hong Konger and turns it into a delicious take on mac n’ cheese. The fries with shiitake, tempeh, truffle mayo and pickled daikon infuses a very Western concept of “truffle fries” with influences from all across Asia - how do they coming up with this stuff? The icing on the cake here is that the service is superb. Within 5 minutes of sitting down you’ll feel at home, then the food starts to arrive and you realise that this is nothing like any place you’ve ever been.
We have a soft spot for chefs that care about where their ingredients come from. Bas Wiegel knows where his ingredients come from - some of them from the greenhouse about 6 yards from his kitchen, others from local farmers, and the rest from the restaurant’s farm just north of Amsterdam. The restaurant is also a working greenhouse, albeit a very fancy greenhouse. Because of this the dishes aren’t meat driven, there's still meat but it forms part of the dish along with seasonal vegetables. It’s food that tastes great and will add years to your life.
While Fergus at St John started the race for British nose-to-tail eating, James Lowe at Lyles has taken the baton and is running with it. Not content with just serving some of the best modern British food, Lyles is now becoming a creative hub for chefs. Their monthly kitchen takeovers offer up some of the most inventive menus in London - if you can get a seat. We were lucky enough to get a table at their annual Game dinner with plates from some of our favourite chefs around the world; David Pynt, Matt Orlando and Daniel Burns, among others. On any given day Lyles delivers great food using lesser known local ingredients like smoked wild eel from Lincolnshire. Even if you miss one of their special events, you’ll still get the best of modern British.
We never intended to visit Kiin Kiin. A Michelin starred Thai restaurant in Copenhagen? Impossible. It was only after a friend of ours, Sam Stewart from Food Expectations insisted we try it that we gave it a go… and we’re so pleased we did. Kiin Kiin really elevates Thai food. Chef Henrik Yde Andersen is a very talented guy who knows when to dial up the Thai flavours and when to pull out an inventive delicate touch, for example freeze dried red curry. Meals start with a few ‘snacks’ on the sofa on the ground floor before before taken up the formal kitchen upstairs. It’s proper hands on hospitality.
The food of the Mediterranean and the Middle East is deep, diverse and enriched with over 3,000 years of history. Ottelenghi is leading the way in introducing Middle Eastern food to the UK, but Polamar is the place in London to experience this rich culinary history. Beyond Palomar’s lush interior, snappy service and tasty plates of food like beef tartare with burnt aubergine cream, it’s hard to ignore that there’s something special here. Whilst the decor says young and hip, the service says “we’re a family, we’ve been doing this for a long time, and you’re in good hands”. Maybe it’s the menu that lists all the staff by name, or the open kitchen where you see the cooks helping each other, or possibly it’s Papi popping in occasionally to whip up some freebie snacks for waiting patrons. Our only problem with Palomar is that it’s a little too hard to leave. Every plate is layered with flavours, perfectly sized, and priced just enough that you can never seem to say, that’s enough.
A traditional Japanese Kaseiki meal is very seasonal and follows a strict format of appetizers, sashimi, soup, grilled, hot pot, rice, and finishing with dessert. The Michelin guide love kaiseki restaurants, they throw more stars around Tokyo than Ninjas in a bad karate movie. And whilst most of them deserve their stars they aren't all created equal. Kihuu adheres to the tradition, but doesn’t feel like they are restricted by it. Every plate of food was perfect but the surprising highlight of the meal was their rice cooked with beef and caramelised onions, spiced with whole sansho pepper berries. It’s like having dinner at a friend's house, if your friend happens to be a super talented Japanese chef with a designer kitchen who also knows where to find great sake. While in some Kaiseki restaurants you feel like you can't talk without offending the chef or other customers, at Kihuu you’re encouraged to engage with the chef, to ask questions like “what is this”, “should I eat now”, or “more sake please!”. They may not always know the answer in English, but they will try.
The modern French dining scene is moving past stuffy fine dining restaurants serving tiny plates of fancy food. Instead there is a growing list of places serving sharing plates, seasonal produce, and embracing international influences - the best places are not constrained by strict French cooking techniques. And of course, the excellent natural wines. There are many places we ate at that would fit this description - Au Passage, Le Bistro Paul Bert, Semilla - and every one of them is excellent. What makes Le Clown Bar stand out is that every plate of food surprised and wowed. From the beef tartare with anchovy and burrata to the clam veloute with veal sweetbreads, not only do these dishes work, they were absolutely delicious. For such a casual dining space you’d expect the prices to be a little lower, but the food more than makes up for it.
Why? Excuse me reader, but did you read the name of the restaurant? “Burnt Ends”. Burnt ends are the delicious, slightly charred bits of a grilled piece of meat. For a long while Singapore was dominated by either very casual hawker centres (you can read our favourites here) or “celebrity chef” joints housed in expensive hotels. But times have changed in recent years and leading the way is Burnt Ends. Singaporeans have gone nuts for it. Expats have gone bat-shit-nuts for it. The restaurant is dominated by a massive wood fired oven and accompanying grill. But it isn’t BBQ in the typically American or Australian style. Aussie chef David Pynt has really pimped up BBQ and taken it to a whole other level. Something happens somewhere between the massive grill and the small plates of beautifully presented food and delicate flavours. Taming that fire takes some talent and David has it is spades. We also love the long dining bar that takes open kitchen to new extremes.
Most restaurants on this list represent the best of modern, while Asturianos is the best of tradition. It’s a small restaurant that at first appearance is very underwhelming. But as the food arrives everything clicks. You’ll realise that it’s not a restaurant - it’s a family dining room, with the grandmother cooking in the kitchen. It’s home cooked food from a family that prides itself on proper Spanish food. Their marinated sardines with vibrant tomato sauce is everything you’d want in a Spanish appetizer, while their rich meaty stews will make you feel like you’ve just been wrapped in a cozy blanket. You’ll soon ignore the mediocre restaurant design and just fall into plate after plate of wonderful food.
That’s the best of 2015. Roll on 2016!
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