It is the tradition at Eater to end the year with a survey of friends, contributors, rovers of the industry, critics, and professional eaters. This year, the group were asked eight questions, spanning meal of the year to biggest dining grievance. Their answers will appear throughout this week. Responses are related in no particular order, cut and pasted below. Restaurant standbys have been chosen — now it’s time for 2019’s best newcomers.
Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: Bao Borough for drinks and design, Flor for its singularity, Master Wei for its self-assurance, the Four Legs at the Compton Arms for producing the best cheeseburger in London, TaTa Eatery for making the tasting menu interesting again, Lucknow 49 for originality, and Bubala for doing vegetarian for the right reasons.
If 40 Maltby Street and P. Franco exist at two ends of the God-Tier London wine bar spectrum then Quality Wines sits somewhere in between — one of the most truly European places to eat and drink in the city and a genuinely brilliant addition to the industry as it fully found its feet this year.
Too early to tell how much of an impact they’ll make but interesting restaurants to watch evolve in 2020: Trivet and Davies and Brook.
James Hansen, Assistant Editor, Eater London: Flor, which writes the 2019 wine bar textbook while Anna Higham rips up its pastry counterpart with stunning baking. Mei Mei, which is the best casual opening in London in a couple of years and makes the city’s numerous pasta pretenders look foolish. Legare, for making the city’s numerous pasta pretenders look foolish. Tātā Eatery’s tasting counter, which is a must-visit for 2020 but whose impact on the form in London will only become apparent in a couple of years. Peg, which has found its feet in style and adds something special to its parent restaurant group’s particular vernacular for eating and drinking. And Kapihan, which both pushes London’s cafe culture forward and serves its neighbourhood perfectly.
Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: The Sea, The Sea and Peg, both are small, clever, tasty. Technically not restaurants, but I definitely think it counts! Especially as they add to the restaurant world/scene. There have been some new (or new iterations) of supper clubs that are so very exciting — Farokh Talati’s Parsi nights and Zoe Adjonyoh’s Sankofa evenings in particular.
Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: Around this time last year I asked a stranger on Instagram if they’d like to come to Sariyer Balik with me to help me write a Five to Try. Over Turkish fish we discussed our mutually tumultuous year and he told me he was about to open a wine bar under the Quality Chop umbrella. “So like P Franco?” I think I said. “Kind of, but Italian”. I didn’t know then how good a cook Nick Bramham (for it was he) was or that Quality Wines would be my restaurant of 2019, but London has seen an unexpected and decisive swing from Clapton to Farringdon this election year. What I love about Nick as a chef is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously or tries to reinvent the wheel each week, but he has just enough ego to make sure that everything he puts out is technically precise and fucking delicious. With simplicity there is nowhere to hide and when every small detail is just right it becomes pure hedonism. It is, quite simply, food that you want to eat. What really makes Quality Wines special though is the sense of hospitality and bonhomie that Gus, and later Chris, have cultivated — pop in there for some pasta served on one of your grandma’s plates and a glass and it’s like your own version of Cheers with Will Akman as Norm. They’ve had a phenomenal year; meanwhile I’m still stuck here trying to find people for dinners out.
Nigel Slater, food writer: Jolene and Flor. Predictable I know, BUT Flor’s scarlet prawns with green mandarin kosho.
Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: Purely from a vegetarian perspective — Bubala, Naifs, The Gate St John’s Wood, Lucknow 49, and Ooty.
Emma Hughes, freelance food writer and Eater London contributor: I loved Wilder, Darby’s, Maremma, Allegra, Snackbar, Loyal Tavern... All of them felt genuinely hospitable.
George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor: A trinity of nu-wave sort-of wine bars with excellent food — Quality Wines, Peg, and Flor — should probably split the vote, although I’m sure others could also make a convincing case for a trio of nu-wave sort-of canteens: Snackbar, Pophams London Fields, and Bao Borough. My sneaking suspicion, though, is that 10 Heddon St / Manteca may go on to leave the most lasting impression on the years that follow — its casual, affordable, highly skilled takes on some of the biggest trends of the past few years (fresh pasta, in-house butchery, thoughtful cocktails) feels like both a distillation of the best of the 2010s and a template for how to eat in the 2020s.
Hillary Armstrong, food writer and Eater London contributor: Well, these were the ones that did it for me: Mei Mei, Peg, Decimo, Kebab Queen, Kapihan.
Apoorva Sripathi, writer and Eater London contributor: I loved Bubala — and what’s not to like when the menu boasts of bread, hummus, fried aubergine, and a wonderful tahini ice cream! Extremely good veggie food minus the pretentiousness. Also, big shoutout to Bao Borough for serving some of the best fried chicken in London.
Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: The ēekitchencounter by TATA Eatery at Tayer + Elementary, sounds like something from the Microsoft school of naming. The name doesn’t matter as Zijun Meng gives you a tasting menu for people who hate tasting menus. Truly delicious and unique pairings from the best produce, all the while satiating the diners with nourishing food across five courses. Quality Wines on paper shouldn’t be the place for me but the joyous feeling in the room and the precise food on offer make it a top class restaurant that isn’t a restaurant. Chinese Laundry in its new guise is producing food with soul, story and sheer deliciousness which makes it my residency to watch in 2020. Other than that newcomers didn’t hold the same allure as new discoveries or even reintroductions to stalwarts who continue to be the best restaurants in the city.
Ed Smith, food writer and Eater London contributor: Flor, Orasay, Bubala, Master Wei, Peg. Davies and Brook, Silo, The Dorchester Grill and Oren all look pretty accomplished and worth adding to a list (but I’ve not been.)
Josh Barrie, food writer and Eater London contributor: No doubt others will mention in more reasoned detail the likes of Peg and Pophams, Officina 00, and Oren. There’s Flor, of course, Top Cuvée and Allegra. These are each turning out exciting, modern food, and what I’ve had of it has been quite enthralling. I’m very keen to visit Lyon’s if I ever find out where Crouch End actually is.
I’ve also enjoyed all the garish, unashamedly bonkers places that have rolled in. Decimo, The Ivy Asia, Bob Bob Cite, Gloria and Circolo, Siren, Seabird, The Betterment and so on. They bring escapism and the food is probably better than it needs to be in most.
And then so many others worth noting which are harder to categorise. Because this year’s brought quirky fine dining like Da Terra, beautiful menus at restaurants such as Emilia and Myrtle, and then Kanishka, Gazellig, Mortimer House Kitchen, The Sea, The Sea. They’re bold statements and London’s all the better for them.
It would be easy to go on, but I won’t. Instead, here are my top newcomers: The Laundry in Brixton, which is properly lovely and serves sublime baccalau; Nandine, though everyone knows all about that already, and rightly so; Loyal Tavern, which is great fun and has re-imagined pub classics joyfully and without pretence; Darby’s; and Forza Wine. All South, all class.
Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: Flor, Darby’s, Orasay, Island Social Club, Quality Wines, Tayer + Elementary, Nandine in Camberwell Church Street, Master Wei, Peg, Silo, Decimo.
Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: Flor, Mei Mei, Gloria, Master Wei, Snackbar, Tayer+Elementary/Tōu.
Leila Latif, Eater London contributor: Endo at the Rotunda, Emilia, The Sea The Sea, Orasay and Soutine.
Jonathan Hatchman, food writer and Eater London contributor: Bubala — possibly the first time I’ve ever had an entirely meat-free meal without feeling even a little bit short-changed. (Sorry!)