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The Biggest London Restaurant Surprises of 2019

Unexpected Michelin stars, food hall after food hall, and more shocks

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. Between restaurant standbys, restaurant newcomers, the best meals, 2019 in a single word, the city’s best neighbourhoods, and the biggest grievances of the year, much restaurant ground has been covered. Now, it’s the biggest shocks, surprises, and gasps of the year.


Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: That there are some who continue to believe that hubris alone is enough.

James Hansen, Assistant Editor, Eater London: Everyone being surprised that Michelin threw Sketch three stars, in the most on-brand move possible for a tyre company that has an influential restaurant side-hustle.

Yo! Sushi getting rid of its sushi counter — and only genuine point of difference — in service of innovation at its newest restaurants.

This awful ad campaign.

The number of influencers who forgot to put hashtag invite on their posts.

The number of critics who raved about middle-of-the-strada Italian food served a la kitsch.

And, in agreement with Feroz, the number of high, high-end restaurants and chefs that think linking up for 24 hours or less to cook a one-off “collab” menu in a kitchen entirely unfamiliar to half of those involved and charging a special — read, high — price for it is both a good idea and a compelling value proposition for diners.

Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: “Plastic” cheese on instant noodles and Korean rice wine! Budae jjigae, army stew, and makgeolli at Jin Go Gae in New Malden. This was eaten as part of a night out for Jonathan Nunn’s best-value restaurants map project. The makgeolli was very much like Iban rice wine — I’m Iban, an indigenous people from Borneo — it felt nostalgic.

Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: That out of the 90 restaurants that I wrote up for the best-value project, eight were Pakistani — by far the country with the most representation in that list. I tried to cut it down but ultimately refused to lose any, which is testament to the strength and quality of the cooking and their inexcusably slept on status. For me, they eclipse both their present Indian counterparts and the Whitechapel grill houses that have entered the canon based only on their reputation 20 years ago. The Pashtun restaurants in particular are putting out the city’s most exciting and ambitious barbecue if you order in advance: the whole sajji at Namak Mandi and Taste of Pakistan are as much a theatrical experience as anything you can see in the West End.

Nigel Slater, award-winning food writer: That wine prices seemed to have stabilised.

Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: Considering Britain’s famous ‘love affair’ with Indian cuisine, I was shocked to discover how little people actually know about the food. In London’s only Kashmiri restaurant, every table was ordering chicken tikka masala. I have seen people order rice with their biryani — and those who think the indistinct sauce that comes with takeaway biryanis is the actual biryani, with the rice being an optional extra. Then there are people who go to Punjabi restaurants in Southall, order South Indian dishes and complain they aren’t as good as the ones in their local South Indian restaurant. There are also people who order peshawari naan with their dosa to scoop up the sambar that comes with it — all kinds of crazy stuff like that.

Emma Hughes, freelance food writer and Eater London contributor: That people are still prepared to pay through the nose for high-profile white chefs’ muddled, lazy, slapdash renderings of “Asian” food.

George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor: The sustained, and if anything, increased investment in the market halls / food theatre model when all the signs are that we are already hugely over-indexed on them. When the first ones opened, they looked like the future: a win-win for operators and punters, a best-of-both-worlds outcome for customers wanting to go out but reluctant to spend 50 quid a head doing so. Now, things are less rosy, as vendors continue to churn and (I suspect) customers return only sporadically; most places are also probably slightly too expensive for lunch and a little too chaotic for dinner. Gopal’s Corner still slaps, though.

Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: Chinatown closures and restaurant relocations.

Hillary Armstrong, food writer and Eater London contributor: Three stars for Sketch, but not one for Indian Accent or Imperial Treasure.

Sudi Pigott, food writer and Eater London contributor: The resurgence of Covent Garden as a dining destination.

Apoorva Sripathi, writer and Eater London contributor: That I discovered many regional Indian restaurants in London beyond the usual curry-tikka masala fare.

Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: The return meal to Chu Chin Chow was a meal of excess and pleasure after a first meal that was enjoyed but fell short of expectations. That elevation was a surprise and showed how valuable proper ordering is to a good dining experience, it helped that we were joined by a regular of the restaurant. Aside from that the biggest surprise continues to be the sheer number of pop-ups and collaboration dishes and dinners London restaurants had in 2019, and how few were any good.

Ed Smith, food writer and Eater London contributor: Who would have thought loads of mediocre mid-level chain restaurants couldn’t withstand the triple threat of rising costs, Brexit uncertainty, and (here’s the big one) their own mediocrity...

Josh Barrie, food writer and Eater London contributor: Manteca, which might have been my favourite meal of the year. I thought it would be good, but I didn’t think it would be that good.

Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: I was sceptical about whether Tātā Eatery’s Iberico katsu sando was as good as everyone said it was but the three-bite snack exceeded expectations. Joint biggest surprise is that the Soho crisp restaurant actually finally closed.

Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: Normah’s over Roti King. Their rotis are far superior and Normah is an absolute ledge.

Leila Latif, Eater London contributor: They took the lemon meringue pie off the menu at Gloria and Sketch inexplicably got 3 Michelin stars.

Jonathan Hatchman, food writer and Eater London contributor: The sheer amount of restaurant closures. Some weren’t necessarily surprising (Flavour Bastard, Hipchips). Kyseri, The Providores, Monty’s in Hoxton and Aside far more so, however.

Roti King

40 Doric Way, , England NW1 1LH 020 7387 2518 Visit Website

TĀTĀ Eatery

152 Old Street, , England EC1V 9BW Visit Website

Jin Go Gae Restaurant

272 Burlington Road, , England KT3 4NL 020 8949 2506 Visit Website

Normah's

, , England W2 4QJ 07771 630828 Visit Website

Singburi

593 High Road Leytonstone, , England E11 4PA 020 8281 4801

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