It is the tradition at Eater to end the year with a survey of friends, contributors, rovers of the industry, and professional eaters. Even a year like this one. For 2020, the group were asked 13 questions, covering the best meals and the worst tweets alongside community responses, and coronavirus pivots. Their answers will appear throughout this week, with responses related in no particular order; cut and pasted below.
Having surveyed the best meals, the best delivery, the most memorable moments, the proudest pivots, the saddest closures, the most exciting returns to look forward to, the most promising newcomers, and the tweets, it’s time to highlight the restaurants that really stepped up for their communities and customers in 2021.
James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: Speaking locally, Pulp, Element Coffee, Roti Rolls Hut, and The Ealing Grocer. Particularly the former, which cannily amalgamated two great businesses into one.
Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: I interviewed one of the founders of Made in Hackney and hearing about what Angelina did to make their work happen was great; the numbers they did was truly breathtakingly / heart-breaking. The Duke of Richmond, who have been responding in small but specific ways — raising money for Black Minds Matter, free soup and bagels, free kids’ lunch.
Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: I sound like a fucking broken record but 40 Maltby Street. It became a grocery, it became a small outside bar where you could have wine and snacks, it became a sandwich shop, it became home to the best frozen section since Iceland opened ─ soups, stews, ice cream, shepherds pie, even frozen pastry to take home and use yourself. It genuinely made the first lockdown bearable.
Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: I don’t know, as I have not been to any restaurants during the pandemic, and the ones in my immediate neighbourhood look completely empty. Hats off to every venue and individual who cooked for charities and NHS staff even when they themselves were struggling.
Emma Hughes, freelance food writer and Eater London contributor: I’m lucky enough to live a quick cycle away from Stockwell Continental and Italo, both of which kept the general store/provisions arms of their businesses going between the lockdowns and beyond, and went the extra mile in so many ways to take care of their regulars.
George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor: The three places I will always associate with 2020 are Nasi Economy Rice, Jolene and The Quality Chop House Shop — just by staying open, in some form or other, during lockdown they provided the single most vital piece of community service that I was able to benefit from. Mandy at Nasi, in particular, has had some brutally tough breaks — not least opening her doors for the first time literal days before lockdown v1 — and has been refreshingly honest about her situation every time I have popped in for a curry puff or six and yet she has also worked tirelessly to keep going, whatever the latest setback — opening up for delivery, organising outdoor seating, pivoting to meal kits and pre-portioned sauces on Pezu. By far the easiest thing to do would have been to shutter her doors and see what happens six months down the line; instead she has stuck by her staff and customers. It seems a tiny thing, but the ability to talk to someone outside your household, and then eat hot food, that that same person had cooked, was a rare restorative highlight in a year pretty short of them.
Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: Seeing how Thattukada managed the daily queues across the block for some of their free food was really overwhelming and heart-warming — especially as so many of their customers were students and furloughed or unemployed people far away from their home countries. It was great to see them on the BBC being recognised for this.
Gemma Croffie, writer and Eater London contributor: Not that I know of.
Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: Everyone who helped in the efforts toward providing meals to the NHS at the start of lockdown and to provide free meals for children and families over October half-term. And all against the backdrop of dealing with the impact of the pandemic. But in particular Zoe Adjonyoh who launched a crowdfunder to cook for vulnerable people and NHS workers in the community while also paying staff who would otherwise be out of work. She also co-founded Black Book with Anna Sulan Masing and Frankie Reddin as a global representation platform for the Black and non-white community within hospitality and food media.
Ed Cumming, writer and restaurant critic: Not my local community I’m afraid but LIDS did great work in Liverpool at the height of the pandemic.
Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: There are far too many to name that has gone above and beyond this year to help others in a time of need. I know it’s not a restaurant technically, but it’s food-related so that counts, right? Riaz Phillip’s Community Comfort cookbook was one of the most important books of 2020. In mere months, he created a digital cookbook filled with recipes from a diverse line-up of more than 100 chefs and food writers, including the likes of James Cochran, Ravneet Gill, Vivek Singh, Benjamina Ebuihi, Romy Gill, and many more. The book raised over £20,000 in two days and all proceeds went towards helping the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community, who have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus.
David J Paw, food writer and Eater London contributor: I feel restaurants that were able to use their cash grant to create meals for anyone that needed them over half term deserves credit. That said, I can only really speak to my area, and like innumerable small neighbourhood businesses, I’m grateful that Tash Sayliss at Mae + Harvey managed to protect and keep her entire team on, provide meals for Bow food bank, and provide those who chose to frequent the café with some small comfort and a light at the end of the tunnel.