I can’t go near The Guardian at the moment without happening upon a review of the year gone by in politics, music or movies. Even The Telegraph jumped in on the action with its heroes and villains and sports images of the year, and when The Independent added its portfolio of 2011 in pictures, I figured I might as well add my top ten restaurants of 2011.
10. Pizza East Shoreditch on a Monday. This is probably my most controversial choice of the year. However, upon making my list and checking it twice I spent a decent amount of time thinking about my favourite restaurants of the year in London and Pizza East kept on surfacing its pretty green head. On a Monday night there’s 50% off should you have the Pizza East key ring so this selection is based on that premise. The large restaurant is packed on a Monday night, I’m assuming in large part due to the 50% off offer and every song that comes on is a tune. It feels like Saturday night. We usually get there around 9pm having visited the Aubin cinema nearby. Best on the menu is the prosecco (£16.50 a bottle), followed by the lamb meatballs (£2.50) and obviously pizza – spicy sausage and broccoli is a favourite (£6.50). The lemon pot (£2.50) is good also for dessert but really there’s no need for it. Give it a miss. Get your PE key ring, make a booking, rock up on a Monday, and eat the night away to some great music.
9. Spuntino. I sent the website link of Spuntino to a friend inviting her for food at Spuntino midweek one evening during the year. Her response was something to the effect that she had never seen a more pretentious website in her life. Essentially the website gives a limited amount of information; and by limited I mean the name, address and opening times. No telephone number and no reservations. In an era of multiple communications methods, I find it refreshing to just have to turn up somewhere. Remember back in the day when we said we were going to meet someone at a certain location at a certain time, and you had to show up otherwise the person was hanging around like a spare tool? Spuntino reminds me of those times when you went to where you were meant to be. Now I have trouble keeping up when I text someone to receive a facebook message back, but missed the skype call before spotting the tweet, listening to the voice message before sending an email to reconfirm that I’ve confirmed that we’re going to meet. It’s tiring, and I’m a luddite so peel it back and keep it simple. This is what has happened at Spuntino, and it works. Get there early is my advice because queuing is never fun in any circumstance. Sit at the counter, order the lamb and pickled cucumber slider followed by the steak with egg. Eat the popcorn while you wait and chat with the pierced and tattooed lads and ladies as they prepare the drinks. And above all, enjoy yourself.
8. Breakfast at the Wolseley. It probably doesn’t need any additional plug from me, but for breakfast in a beautifully ornate building, it’s quite spectacular. Above all, I still lust after the pastries made on site, in particular the cannelé bordelaise and amandine pain sucré. I do still wonder about that almond croissant.
7. Bocca di Lupo. Now I like to avoid tourists in the same way as I like to avoid Tuberculosis. In particular I like to avoid places where tourists congregate with their come rob me eyes and their lazy walk that says I’m on holidays. In London and the world over it’s as though shite restaurateurs are attracted by the smell of this most unsuspecting of prey and set out to take their cash from them whilst filling them with terrible food. Soho is one of these locations. Amidst the crap however, a number of jewels exist, Spuntino being one. Bocca di Lupo is another diamond in the rough, an excellent Italian restaurant in the heart of Soho offering wonderful cold cuts, pasta dishes and stews. An evening out there is as enjoyable as an evening watching Mark Rylance in Jerusalem.
6. Yum Buns. When I think about an individual piece of food that is perfect in its essence, it’s hard to think past the delicious slow roasted belly pork in steamed buns with hoi sin, cucumbers and spring onions that are sold at Netil Market, and which made a welcome appearance at the Long Table in December.
5. Nopi. Three visits in the year, each as good as the previous. The breakfast/brunch merits its position in my top 10. In particular the borlotti bean stew with chorizo and fried egg; the rice, coconut milk, banana and mango; and the carrot, ginger and apple juice really excel. That and the visit to the toilets. Excellent work by Yotam Ottolenghi.
4. Hawksmoor, Spitalfields. On the edge of the city and down the road from Liverpool Street, this venue has got to be pretty special when it’s strongly frequented by b(w)ankers. Yet, I love the place, primarily due to the quality of food on offer, and in no small measure due to the bar staff. On each of the three times I ate there in 2011, I concluded that their steak is the best I’ve eaten in London. It’s not cheap – a fillet is £32 of 300g, but you pay for quality. The steak should be enjoyed with a sweet potato which is baked and served with salt crystals. The sweet potato sounds simple but no matter how often I try (twice), I cannot replicate it at home. The English lettuce and herb salad is also something to write home about. Should you wish to avoid the bankers, sit at the bar; the bar service will be more enjoyable and intelligent, and unlike bankers, they’ll know what they’re talking about.
3. Zucca. Great Italian food, served at affordable prices, in a beautiful and minimalistic designed building. The restaurant was an instant success upon its opening back in 2010 and I have visited there on average once every 3 months. I have a list of things I like about the place. In terms of aesthetics, I like the white simple design ensuring that the White Cube gallery fits in the Bermondsey neighbourhood. I like the sommelier who recommends excellent Italian wine. I love the plate of bread and focaccio that is served once you sit down with olive oil. The focaccio in particular is oily, with a crunchy exterior and salty taste. It is excellent and is made on the premises. Both the starters and main courses are extremely elegant in their simplicity and incredibly tasty. I tend to opt for the fish choices and they have never failed me. In terms of affordability, I don’t know of any restaurant in London to compare in terms of both food quality and price.
2. Bentleys Oyster Bar & Grill. What can I say; this place would be my number 1 if I could afford to dine there all the time. However, as I can’t it takes the very reputable second spot in my top ten. The problem with a place like Bentleys is that its reputation precedes it, and any letdown will impact the judgement of the punter and by punter, I mean me. Suffice to say my experience was without blemish and the same was said for the other 4 at the table.
Having lodged at my cousins house for what was meant to be an initial 2 weeks and what turned into 3 months, and with my belongings at a friend’s place while contracts were exchanged and finalised on my own home, I decided to take the good Samaritans to Bentleys by way of thank you for putting (me) up with me rent free for a prolonged period of time. So, in January I made an appointment for 5 at Bentleys on Swallow Street and excitedly arrived on a Saturday night to imbibe champagne, indulge in fish and devour dessert. The table roundly agreed these people deserve a medal for the amount of happiness their comestibles bring to those who indulge. The service was immaculate, the food divine, and the drink heavenly. Richard Corrigan I salute you, a fine son to emerge from Leinster.
1. Jose Pizarro. And so to the top spot, and I cheat only slightly. For the finest Spanish tapas and Spanish restaurant travel no further than SE1 Bermondsey Street where you will locate the recently opened Pizarro’s sit-down restaurant and further down the street Jose’s tiny tapas bar now well established since June. Jose Pizarro and his wonderful team surely deserve the accolade for the best new restaurant of 2011.