It’s 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. After the standbys and the best newcomers, read all about the single meals and remarkable dishes that defined an entire year.
Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: The tasting menu by Zijun Meng at TaTa Eatery, the Compton Arms cheeseburger x2, the 10-course tasting at Ikoyi, 2x plates of cavatelli with sausage, chard, and parmesan at Quality Wines, my birthday at Jolene, a late-night solo dinner at The Laughing Heart, Tubo Logier’s final menu at P. Franco, a plate of rabbit in mustard and creme fraiche at St. John Smithfield, and the first time in a restaurant with our daughter — aged two weeks — at St John Bread and Wine; and a week or so later roti and curry at Island Social Club.
The most extra experience of the year was the evening in late summer when I cycled to Thornton Heath (from Dalston) to pick up a box of jerk pork, jerk chicken, and rice and peas from Tasty Jerk. From there, I took a train to Bermondsey to meet a man called a a dril who’d picked up a portion of tozo (beef) suya from Alhaji and an extra pot of yaji. Royal-tier barbecue. We ate it on top of a barrel outside 40 Maltby Street before going inside to eat all three desserts.
James Hansen, Assistant Editor, Eater London: In London: A winter canalside lunch at Towpath Cafe, with fat Napoli sausages and lentils, a chicken and honking wild garlic broth, and a marinda tomato tonnato.
The textbook wings, aubergine salad, and lardo fried rice lunch at Smoking Goat.
A flawless dinner at Lyle’s, preceded by Clove Club snacks and followed by Marksman pints.
Many delivery bowls of chongqing noodles and liang pi from Xi’an Biang Biang.
A post-talk pizza at Johnny Take UE’.
A whole-menu blowout at Brawn.
A Christmas dinner at Quality Wines.
Not in London: a solo dinner, all of three plates, at Bad Saint in Washington DC.
Keeping a tragically nerdy food list has made remembering the incredible dishes, drinks, and company that much easier.
Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: I think it’s been one of the most challenging years (for many people!) and so I have not ventured to many fancy or even new spots. Rather, the best meals have been places I can enjoy being with the people I love, whilst eating delicious food. A meal at X’ian Impression with one of my closest friends Emma (who works in the industry and picked amazing wine as it’s BYO), and my birthday dinner with a bunch of friends at Island Social Club come to mind. Also, had a delicious, clever, comforting meal at Noble Rot — a permanent fave.
If I can include the rest of the world, Nouri in Singapore. It made me cry — it was so beautiful, delicious and thoughtful.
Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: The meal I really want to write about, a Cantonese banquet in Zone 5, is embargoed until next year so I would say either my birthday meal at Singburi — for which chef Sirichai bought a whole king crab from one of our trips to New Malden — or another birthday meal at Tayēr + Elementary (easily the best tasting menu in London right now), or the whole lamb sajji at Namak Mandi for the company and the pleasure of watching 15 previously restrained chefs and food writers stripping a whole lamb down to its bones. A special shout out to the time me and Adam Coghlan separately went to Al Haji Suya and Tasty Jerk and ate them on a bench outside 40 Maltby Street, uniting the two best barbecue spots in London, and then popped inside the arch afterwards for 3 (three) desserts.
Nigel Slater, food writer: In London, noodles from Xi’an Impression, delivered to my bedside after coming out of hospital.
Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: This year I have visited mostly vegetarian or Indian restaurants for a series of Eater articles, leaving me with little time to dine anywhere else. Perhaps not the best, but the most interesting was Indian Accent. I’d eaten there a couple of times before, but this year, I suddenly “got” it. I got the in-jokes, the homage to famous Indian chefs dead and alive, the little nods to childhood nostalgia, the humour, the clever stuff, the nerdy stuff. I got how an essential component of a main course was left deliberately under-seasoned and under-spiced because the accompanying chutneys were so dazzling that all the flavours would have clashed otherwise. It’s a cerebral experience, and for those who don’t get it, a bewildering or underwhelming one — as was the case with a few diners who walked out or looked baffled on my most recent visit.
George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor: I’ve been keeping a faintly dorky list of my favourite dishes this year, and only three meals — Magnus Reid’s P Franco takeover, and dinners at Primeur and Allegra respectively feature on that list more than once. But as wonderful as the cooking was at each of those — real talk, if Allegra was in Zone One it would be celebrated as one of the best fine-dining restaurants in the city — my actual answer is somewhat more left-field. By early August, the memory of the first month or so after our son’s birth was starting to fade; he was old enough to sit up by himself in a high chair and had started on solids. The Dusty Knuckle bakery had just started doing pizza on Friday nights; on the spur of the moment we took the Overground across to Dalston. We drank cheap rosé and slightly too much beer from 40ft brewery next door; we had two pretty decent pizzas in the sun and for the first time in a while felt close to normal again. Perhaps it wasn’t the best meal of 2019, but it was definitely my favourite.
Hillary Armstrong, food writer and Eater London contributor: Decimo for service, design, food, booze, views, everything.
Sudi Pigott, food writer and Eater London contributor: Allegra at The Stratford. Impeccable produce, genuinely creative and deeply, luxuriously stylish.
Apoorva Sripathi, writer and Eater London contributor: A bit simplistic but eating tiffin (idli, vadai, dosai, filter coffee) at Murugan Idli Shop at East Ham on Deepavali just brought me back memories of home and the food that I’ve grown up eating. Also kebab shop meals after a long night of drinking are always welcome.
Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: Le Rigmarole, in Paris. Never has everything I’ve ever wanted and also everything I didn’t know I ever wanted been encapsulated in a single evening. Just the most joyous and mesmerising evening of impeccable cooking, unmatched hospitality and sheer wizardry. It scooped most of my personal awards for the year, best skewer, possibly the best fritters, the best pasta, best chicken, best cod’s roe, best chawanmushi, best offal, best pasta again, best flatbread, best kebab, best chocolate. Complete and utter magic.
Ed Smith, food writer and Eater London contributor: No single meal stands out. Which is not to say that among them there weren’t some standout bites: Tātā Eatery’s katsu sando at Tayēr + Elementary (not having eaten at the counter yet is my biggest regret of 2019); Bodega Rita’s mapo tofu baguette; mapo tofu(ish) at Peg; anchovies on fried bread at Orasay, also the prawn and highland beef tartare; my first lardy bun at Flor, the tomato tart, and every ricotta ice cream with fig oil and brown butter cake to finish; panko fried bao and aubergine dip at Bao Borough; smoked mushrooms and green sauce via Eat Lagom.
Vaughn Tan, academic and restaurant consultant: English peas in the French style, two slices of crab quiche, and a custard slice, at 40 Maltby Street.
Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: Snapping breadsticks followed by a heap of spaghetti and meatballs and slab of tiramisu at Ciao Bella in summer — accompanied throughout with red wine, spillages, mates and the restaurant’s old-school paper-tablecloth charm. Also a banging sausage sandwich at Towpath Cafe, countless hangover-soothing gözleme at the caff on Broadway Market, the roti at Island Social Club and the pickled watermelon dish at Black Axe Mangal with chillies, bean sprouts and black beans that blew my mind.
Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: Technically not a restaurant, but Jason Li’s invite-only Dream of Shanghai supper club in his home was such a memorable meal. Loads of remarkable dishes that showed a great level of skill and technique like the oil exploded prawns, drunken chicken, blackened spring onion noodles, drunken hairy crabs and tree sap jelly dessert. Was so full that I had a tactical nap at the table, woke up and carried on eating afterwards. Or, the other incredible feast at Chu Chin Chow in Barnet. Oh man, those butter prawns, salted egg yolk chicken wings and crab, stuffed bitter melon, glutinous rice chicken wings and crab with black fermented bean.
Leila Latif, Eater London contributor: Best meal was Endo at the Rotunda, it is peerless. A shimmering room with views over London, the bartender hand carving perfect spheres of ice and Endo himself is such a compelling presence and his food is unpretentious and extraordinary. Most fun meal this year was downing elderflower river oysters and smoked cods roe potato flatbreads with a big group of friends at Orasay. Jackson Boxer has created such a joyful atmosphere there.
Jonathan Hatchman, food writer and Eater London contributor: The restaurant meals I’ve enjoyed most this year have been outside of the UK. At the risk of sounding predictable, my favourite London meal was a long lunch at St. John in February. A simple salad of dandelion leaves, roasted shallots and shards of brittle pig skin; wobbly calves brains served cold on toast, lavished with sauce rife with parsley; bone marrow salad for the table; late-season hare with nuggets of braised trotter; insalubrious, inelegant Bath chaps with another simple salad; and a dozen madeleines dipped in Cognac, because why not?