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The Best Food and Drink of 2016

The Best Food and Drink of 2016

Fried chicken waffle by Waffle On at Maltby Street Market

Yes, everyone keeps saying that 2016 has been the worst year ever.  But when it comes to food and drink, this year has been a cracker.  With more new restaurants and more foodie entrepreneurs than ever, there is no excuse to eat badly.  Here are the best things that I snaffled into my greedy face this year:

Chicken and pistachio shish from Arabica Bar & Kitchen
I wanted to eat everything on Arabica Bar & Kitchen’s menu.  I’ve eaten a lot of samey mezze over the years, but these guys really know how to sex it up.  It’s easy to be bamboozled by choice; however, you should definitely include the chicken and pistachio shish in your order.  Forget all about those dry old shish kebabs you may have had the misfortune to eat in the past.  These little skewers are succulent, dripping with meat juices and are infused with the flavours of the Middle East.

Chicken and pistachio shish from Arabica Bar & Kitchen

Kürtöskalács in Budapest
Yeah I have no idea how to pronounce it either.  But that won’t be a hinderance to you when you visit Budapest because you can find it everywhere.  It’s a chimney cake made from a doughnut style dough and rolled in sugar.  It’s served hot with various toppings, like nuts or desiccated coconut, but I chose good old fashioned cinnamon.  It was huge but worth every stomach-straining bite.

Fried chicken waffle from Waffle On
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to eating at Maltby Street market.  However, I can definitely recommend the fried chicken waffle with maple syrup butter from Waffle On.  Street food is generally naughty but this is really decadent.  The chicken is fried to perfection, and the combination of sweet and savoury flavours here is sheer bliss.

Rabbit risotto from Cafe Murano
Rabbit’s another one that is so often dry and dull.  And a perfect risotto sometimes feels like the holy grail. Not so when these things are in the hands of the chefs at Cafe Murano.  The risotto was creamy, topped off with chunks of juicy rabbit meat and a drizzle of stock.  It’s a wonderfully, sinfully rich dish that stood out on a menu that was full of wonderful dishes.

The Meihua Shan at Oriole
Many bars claim to be “speakeasies” but Oriole probably comes closest to the real deal.  For a start, it’s genuinely hard to find.  I walked past it a couple of times in increasing confusion.  But once you’re in, you’re truly through the looking glass.  Their incredible cocktail list – inspired by the golden age of exploration – helps to transport you to another era and another world.  Again, you can be bamboozled by choice (and some unusual ingredients), but the Meihua Shan is worth splashing the cash on.  Made with Hendricks gin, plum rosolio, juniper chou syrup, egg white and lemon, it manages to be both refreshing and creamy.  And, as with all the cocktails from the team behind Nightjar, it looked like a work of art.

Meihua Shan cocktail from Oriole

All of the cheese from La Latteria
La Latteria specialise in mozzarella, stracciatella and ricotta.  And they do this exceptionally well.  Scoffing down a plate of their ricotta felt incredibly naughty – it was that creamy.  Then I did the same with their stracciatella.  Seemingly simple produce that, when done well, tastes exquisite.  Find them at newbie food destination, Mercato Metropolitano.

Pork confit bao from BAO
Yes, this has become a bit of “a classic” but justifiably so.  Judging by Instagram, I think everyone in London has now eaten this but, if you haven’t, then brave the queue at the door of BAO.  This little squidgy mouthful is worth it.  As is the rest of the menu.

Goat kofte salad from Gourmet Goat
Goat is a much under-rated meat but, when it’s handled well, it’s delicious.  Gourmet Goat know exactly what they are doing and their goat kofte salad is delightful.  The meat is tender and flavoursome, and the salad is one of the tastiest I have eaten.  It was packed with beetroot, chickpeas, goat kurd and came with a punchy chilli “pistou” – and I gobbled the whole thing up in a matter of minutes.

Goat kofte salad from Gourmet Goat

Everything I ate at Rotorino
Admittedly, I’d had a few shandies before my friend and I decided to grab a bite here.  But everything I ate here was delicious.  So much so, that it managed to make an impression through the fog of gin that surrounded me – and one that has lasted.  My starter of marinated mackerel with pinenuts, almonds and breadcrumbs was fresh and zingy.  The roast chicken on toast (yes, toast!) that followed was one of the tastiest roast chooks I have eaten (although annoyingly a little under-cooked in places).  The buttermilk pannacotta with rhubarb for dessert was perfectly executed.  Can’t wait to go back.

Chicken livers with pomegranate molasses from Meza
It’s taken me 7 years to get around to going to Meza in my ‘hood of Tooting.  I now can’t believe that I have gone without their chicken livers for so long.  Melt-in-the-mouth with a sticky, sweet, tangy dressing and a great smack of Middle Eastern spices.  I think I might have to nip up the road and get some now….!

“Strawberries and Cream” from Fifteen 
This wasn’t a dish of strawberries and cream.  It was actually a cocktail, made for this year’s London Cocktail Week.  The list of ingredients was as long as my arm but the end result was simple and elegant.  It really did taste of strawberries and cream, reminiscent of those old fashioned boiled sweets.  And of course it looked as pretty as a picture.

Strawberries and Cream cocktail from Jamie Oliver's Fifteen

Slow cooked beef cheek pie from The Holly Bush
My second choice dish from the menu at The Holly Bush in Hampstead actually turned out to be the right decision after all.  This “proper” pie was fully encased in buttery shortcrust pastry and stuffed full of the most tender chunks of beef cheek I have ever eaten.  It came with a rich, dark gravy and every mouthful was a pleasure.  Comfort food at its best.

Ricotta dumplings from The Ship Inn, Rye
This dish.  My God.  Ricotta, sage, pumpkin all forming a perfect storm of flavour.  It was so delicious and so comforting to eat.  The cheese was rich and gooey, counterbalanced by the sweetness of the roast pumpkin.  Exactly the sort of thing you want to eat on a dark, chilly winter’s night on the Sussex marshes.

Ricotta dumplings from The Ship Inn, Rye

Disappointment of the year: Hatchetts
Hatchetts, a new arrival in 2016, had a limited, unimaginative menu that was very over priced for what they offered.  Weirdly, they had a “Christmas dinner” on their standard lunch menu when I visited.  I ordered it because the other three main courses available appealed to me far less than this one did (which is saying something).  It was average.  So was their chocolate fondant dessert.  The plates were stone cold and the restaurant was empty.  When you charge premium prices then you should deliver a premium experience.  This was just lazy and complacent.

I ate a lot over the course of 2016, but I barely scratched the surface of all the amazing restaurants and bars that are only in London  I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions but I think, for 2017, I’m going to have just one: eat more.

If you have any recommendations for me then drop me a line.  I’d love to hear them.  Happy New Year!

The Holly Bush

The Holly Bush

The exterior of The Holly Bush pub in Hampstead

Picture the scene.  You plan a long-overdue visit to one of your favourite restaurants.  You sit down, browse the menu and immediately spot an amazing sounding dish.  This is definitely what you are going to order and you can’t wait to tuck in.  But then – disaster! The waitress informs you that it’s not actually available.  A mistake was made and the menu is incorrect.  Sad times….  This is exactly what happened on my visit to The Holly Bush in Hampstead and, needless to say, I was more than a little irritated.  However, all was not lost.  This story does have a happy ending…

The Holly Bush is a wonderful pub.  It’s tucked away in a pretty corner of Hampstead, a neighbourhood that has more than its fair share of pretty corners.  One of my favourite things to do at this time of year is go for a wander on Hampstead Heath followed by a slap-up meal in The Holly Bush. The pub is made for cosy winter days – a warren of rooms, all wood panelling, log fires and hearty, seasonal food.  It’s the sort of place that American tourists dream of when they think of an English pub.  It feels like the perfect country pub which means you can forget that you’re in the middle of a big city.  And sometimes this is a very good thing.

Game terrine in The Holly Bush pub

Disappointment over menu cock-up aside, we got stuck into our lunch. My starter of game terrine with pickles and bread might have frustrated the We Want Plates brigade, but I quite liked its rustic presentation on a wooden board.  The terrine – made with rabbit and duck – arrived in a sealed jar which was packed full of big chunks of meat.  While the serving was generous, the same can’t be said for the flavour; I found the whole dish a little bland and under-seasoned for my tastes.  However, the meat was lovely and tender, and the pickles provided a welcome sharp note.  My friend ordered the ravioli with artichoke and ricotta in a lemon and poppy seed butter sauce.  This was perhaps an unusual choice but it tasted delicious.  Really light and tangy.

The main course was where I’d had to plump for a “second best” option.  I had wanted roast goose leg.  I got beef cheek pie.  I enjoy a good pie as much as the next greedy bastard, but they’re a bit ordinary.  Or so I thought.  I must admit that I was fully expecting a fairly generic dish of stew with a puff pastry lid and a bit of veg lolling around on the side.  What I got was The Beast.  This was a pie of medieval proportions, the kind of pie that would do someone an injury if you lobbed it into their face.  It was fully encased in shortcrust pastry, which makes it a proper pie in my book, and was chock full of HUGE chunks of beef cheek.  The meat was velvety and just the right side of fatty.  The gravy was rich.  The pie arrived perched, castle-like, on top of smooth mashed potato and some token green veg (which was actually very tasty).  A moat of gravy and mushroom sauce swirled around it.  I tried to eat it all.  I failed.  Not because it wasn’t absolutely bloody amazing, but because my eyes are bigger than my belly.  It did not go to waste, however, because my friend took offence to such a thing of beauty being ignored and gobbled it all up.  After having already polished off a steak.

Beef cheek pie, mash, gravy in The Holly Bush pub

Despite being painfully full at this point, I still ordered a pudding.  This was for two reasons.  Firstly, there is such a thing as a pudding belly, which entirely separate to the main belly and therefore needs filling.  What do you mean “you just made that up as an excuse for your own greed”?  Secondly, The Holly Bush generally does really good puds.  We both chose the apple, pear and blackberry crumble which came with ginger ice cream.  The crumble element was the definitely best bit.  The fruit base hadn’t been cooked down enough, so it was slightly watery and the fruit itself was a little hard.  The ginger ice cream, however, was lovely.  A great flavour to pair with a fruit crumble.

Apple, pear and blackberry crumble in The Holly Bush pub

The Holly Bush is kind of a fairy tale pub and, like all good fairy stories, my lunch came with a few twists and turns.  I didn’t manage to best The Beast single-handed but, with assistance from a trusty companion, the challenge was overcome.  Ultimately, we strolled off into the sunset (thanks to the short winter days) and lived happily ever after….

The Holly Bush, 22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SG
Approximately £80 for two people including drinks