2017 may have been an annus horriblis for the world in general, but as far as the London restaurant scene is concerned it was quite a different story. We pick out the restaurants where we had the most memorable meals in over the course of 2017. And don't forget to cast your vote in our Readers' Award.
Sorry to go all North London on you, but it honestly is just pure coincidence that both of this year’s best restaurants just happen to be within walking distance of where we live. Pure coincidence, but something we’re trying darned hard not to be too smug about. How are we doing so far? Westerns Laundry is the second opening by Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell - the folk behind Primeur. And we think they’ve refined their original offering, turning out a wonderful neighbourhood spot that genuinely is worth crossing town for.
Recently, we spotted a longtime fan of Joe Allen talking on Twitter about having been so thoroughly fooled by the restaurant’s lock, stock and barrel move around the corner to new premises that he was genuinely surprised to find the loos in a different place. This year marked our first visit ever to this stalwart of London’s theatreworld (I know!) - and we came out thinking what bloody idiots we were for never having gone before. Don’t be as stupid as us - go and order the zucchini fritti and pecan pie immediately.
We’ve eaten some amazing things in London this year, but the dish that made us just swoon with happiness was the rabbit and bacon pie at Rochelle Canteen’s new spot just up the road from HRH at Buckingham Palace. Actually, this is probably just the kind of dish the Queen would rate. It’s a pie that tastes like the best kind of homemade pie, if your mum just happened to be Margot Henderson (although Ben Coombs is actually the person responsible for this marvellous bringing together of meat and pastry). It’s not life-changing, but it is so mood-enhancing it could end up on the Controlled Substances List.
First, let us give you an explanation of what this is. It’s a baked mini suet pudding filled with liquid salted caramel and surrounded by a pool of custard. I mean, I’m not too sure what more we can add to that. If that doesn’t make you want to go and order it right now, then you may be in the wrong place and I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.
Honourable mention: The madeleines with Chantilly cream at Henrietta
Over 38 days, New York chef Dan Barber turned the rooftop restaurant at Selfridges into the most talked-about pop-up in town. His mantra, to make us think about the food we waste, proved inspirational - the enthusiasm of the brigade brought together for the restaurant was palpable. Months later we can still see its effect from the foraged cocktails at Scout in Shoreditch to Leandro Carreira’s cheese rind dumplings at newly-opened Londrino.
Biggest trend - food quarters and courts - aka why open one restaurant when you can open ten?
2017 was definitely the year where food developments went super-size in London. Things kicked off with Nova Victoria which brought the likes of restaurateurs Jason Atherton and Will Ricker to an area that was once a restaurant wasteland. Nick Jones opened The Ned in spectacular style, putting nine restaurants into the ground floor of the former Midland banking hall. Bang Bang Oriental was a phoenix rising from the ashes of the much-missed Oriental City in Colindale. And the year ended in similar style with the former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, hitting London to open the Bloomberg Arcade where five of the 10 restaurants planned have already opened.
Who doesn't love a good bit of counter dining? And this year there’s been a lot more to choose from. Top examples are Temper City where Neil Rankin is dishing out some smoking curries and also the slightly jaw-dropping bar at Untitled. But we reserve special praise for the gorgeous-looking counter at the Cheese Bar in Camden. It serves up a cheese menu that is an absolute delight to work your way through. Such a cheese-laden affair could have lapsed into gimmick but not here - every dish was a knockout. And sitting at the counter you’re continually ordering just...one...more...
Gilly’s billed itself as a Northern chip shop heavily influenced by the tempura bars of Japan. Finsbury Park, and indeed London, has never seen anything quite like this restaurant opened by local (albeit originally from Sunderland) restaurateur Neil Gill. On the one hand you can order a curry sauce chip butty, but you can also balance that with a dish of sea bass ceviche with chilli. And even all that wasn’t wonderful enough, Gilly's would still have won an award simply for serving up deep-fried Celebrations.
Situated in a Grade II listed 18th century church, which was built by Christopher Wren's master mason Thomas Cartwright and completed in 1703, London’s newest Cantonese restaurant, Duddell’s, now operates inside the oldest surviving part of the original St Thomas' Hospital. The building is also one of the more important survivals of Queen Anne architecture in London, according to English Heritage. And it’s a glorious space, double height with a galleried restaurant and huge stained glass windows. The company responsible for the restaurant design, Michaelis Boyd also did Soho Farmhouse. With all this as a backdrop, it’s a good thing the food more than matches its surroundings.
Honourable mention: Rick Stein Barnes
When the folk behind The Palomar and The Barbary opened their new cafe in Neal’s Yard, Instagram was suddenly flooded with pictures of one dish in particular, the coconut cream pie. Stuffed with desiccated coconut and custard and topped with blowtorched meringue, they were indeed delicious. And the fact that they were only making 30 of these a day helped propel these babies into gotta have it/gotta gram it territory for any self-respecting London foodie.
One of our favourite additions to St James’s Market was Ikoyi which we loved for offering something quite different to the London dining scene - West African cuisine - and then doing it so damned well. There was much to love about our meal there earlier this year - but the Jollof Rice with Smoked Bone Marrow was the icing on a particularly fine cake. After all who couldn’t love a huge portion of rice with two large pieces of bone marrow on top?
Honourable mention: The mash with burnt ends at The Coal Shed in One Tower Bridge. That’s just how we’d like all our mash dishes delivered from now on, thanks.
From the pre-lunch canape picnic basket to the petits four trolley that could have come straight from Q’s research lab our meal at Azurmendi in Bilbao was an utter delight. Easily the best tasting menu experience we’d had in years, lunch at what is currently 38 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list was also a lot of fun too which isn’t something that can be said of most restaurants at this level.
Honourable mention: The Abergavenny Food Festival. We've been hearing about how good this is for so long and this year we finally made it along. You should absolutely be heading here next year.
There’s always at least one place at the end of a year that we look like total idiots for not having visited. This year that restaurant is Darjeeling Express. We’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told us that a) what an amazing person its owner Asma Khan is and b) how fantastic the food is. We’re going to have to rectify this as soon as possible in 2018.
Honourable mention: The Oystermen - again, we've head SO MANY good things about them this year.
So that's what we thought. But what about you? Vote for your favourite new London restaurant of 2017 and you could win a Chase Distillery cocktail kit.