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.
To begin, here are the best meals of 2020.
Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: Of the things I remember that somehow also took place in 2020: There was very early January lunch at Quality Chop House, which stands out for being probably the richest meal I ate this year — parfait, truffle, cod’s roe, olive oil ice cream. In late January, and a terrific(-value) vegan lunch at Andu in Dalston; a phenomenal Cantonese feast at Chu Chin Chow in February; a second phenomenal feast courtesy of Jason Li and Master Wei’s Wei Guirong, also in February; and a spectacularly precise lunch at A. Wong a few days before the shit really hit the fan.
There were two Singburi meals — one in the very early days of the pandemic, which I hoped would have jolted my tastebuds back to life (reader, they did not return for another three weeks); the second came post-lockdown on a rainy night in midsummer, which was truly one of the best meals I ate all year. Somehow, chef Sirichai Kularbwong had improved the unimprovable moo krob dish.
The takeaway cheeseburgers, chips, and lambic beers from The Laughing Heart standout as a high-point in the summer. The pizzas I made, according to the legendary Vaughn Tan method, at home, were probably better than the majority of those eaten on a very enjoyable midsummer’s evening post-lockdown with a load of other pizza nerds in south London. Except for one pizza at Bravi Ragazzi in Streatham. On the subject of pizza, ASAP Pizza is an extraordinarily clever enterprise: ingredients read like Food Dork Top Trumps, but the flavour profile is less gourmet and more 90s trashy takeaway. Expect it to be an even bigger deal in 2021.
A special mention for the stunning takeaway sushi from Sushi Tetsu — one of the capital’s great restaurants, which is far too hard to get into in non-pandemic London. And a special mention, too, for two exceptional, covered outdoor evening meals at Ombra in the early autumn. Hats off in general to Mitshel Ibrahim for one hell of a year at the stove, on the pasta machine, and in the innovation station.
Lastly, for my birthday, I was fortunate enough to splurge on a Gymkhana/Trishna/Brigadiers consignment, which was remarkably straightforward (and also fun) to cook and assemble in the home kitchen — some 310 miles away! The Brigadiers butter chicken wings, prepared by yours truly, were truly one of the most delicious things I ate all year.
James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: A very restorative meal at Noodle Beer on a cold day in January, featuring lang-ya tou dou, crinkle-cut chips stacked like nachos with coriander, spring onion, more of that Sichuan peppered chilli oil, and fermented chilli black bean paste. A chaotic evil beginning to a most chaotic, evil year. Then a positively absurd group meal of egg yolk prawns, poon choi, chilli crab, and Malaysian chicken at Chu Chin Chow. A compelling collaboration between two of the best restaurants in the city, Singburi and Ombra, in February. Vietnamese blood sausage, intestine, pho, duck tongues, and more at a coveted table at Pho Thuy Tay, when no-one was allowed to geotag the fact they had been to Pho Thuy Tay.
Then it was March, and that was that.
Until outdoor tacos and smashburgers at Bake Street, with a chaser of Zanzibari barbecue; a single fig leaf parfait and tahini-orange cookie ice cream sandwich from E5 Bakehouse; several chile verde tacos from Sonora; a single, impossibly friable slice of pissaladière from Cafe Deco. And, as it was 2020, an outstanding meal kit of duck confit from Nick Bramham at Quality Wines.
Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: This is strangely impossible to answer this year, more than others because each meal is imbued with a lot of emotion. But here are a couple of things, Dumpling Shack — the first takeaway we had at the end of lockdown 1. Snacks and wine at Silo; the staff are so lovely there. Mei Mei’s BA — the magic of summer, outside, eating food with friends. Curry Puffs from Sambal Shiok on my birthday.
Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: Either the last Chu Chin Chow meal, which keeps getting better as we (mainly Jessica Wang) work out exactly what the kitchen really excels at (Hainanese chicken rice, pretty much anything deep fried, crabs), and what is just there for show (glossy, skull-sized buns filled with chicken curry), or my third meal at Chishuru where the cooking has accelerated in confidence so quickly I’m scared at how good it’s going to be in 2021. Or the only dinner proper I had at Flor, where I feel Pam Yung is now cooking exactly the food she set out to cook. When Flor opened initially, I found their dinner option austere, technically perfect and borderline unenjoyable. It’s now one of the most fun dinners you can have in London ─ a completely different restaurant.
Chris Cotonou, writer and Eater London contributor: Without a doubt Rising Sun, a sushi bar in Petts Wood, Bromley. It’s out of the way but was frequently suggested to me. The owner learned his craft in his native Japan, before marrying an English woman and moving to the South London suburb. He opened Rising Sun, retaining the traditions and rituals associated with the sushi experience in Japan. It’s authentic, family-run, the eel is incredible, all products are bought daily from Billingsgate, and because of its distant proximity to central London, it won’t break the bank.
Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: None really. I haven’t visited any restaurants since the first lockdown and being a person who does not particularly enjoy takeaways and home deliveries at the best of times (food gets cold, dishes look sloppy), I only had a tiny number of those. At the start of the first lockdown in March, I knew two people who’d been struck down with Covid (one of whom eventually died). The havoc it wreaked on their body and mind made me extra cautious. I do feel guilty about not “supporting” the hospitality industry, and am heartbroken for people whose entire livelihoods have been wiped out, but at the same time you have to respect the often difficult decisions of those of us who chose to stay away. Plus, there’s the enjoyment factor. I would not have derived any pleasure from dining out with the continuously changing rules and regulations, constantly looking over my shoulder, feeling anxious and panicked instead of being relaxed and happy. I’ll be in restaurants like a shot once I’ve had… um, the shot… which is surely only a matter of time.
Emma Hughes, freelance food writer and Eater London contributor: I bookended the first lockdown with meals at Westerns Laundry, both unforgettable for different reasons. The whole chilli crab at Mei Mei did a wonderful job of blasting away the December doldrums, and the delightful Quo Vadis at Home box that came on a Friday gave me a (totally worth it) hangover until Monday.
George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor: Perhaps fittingly in a year that has stopped and started and never really got into gear and has yet somehow lasted well over 500 days, 2020 has been a year of great dishes, but very few perfect end-to-end meals. It has also been a year in which food on the plate has mattered a lot less to me than the people I’m enjoying it with, so the answer here has to be one of three meals enjoyed with the same group of friends: one at Bistrotheque as we emerged from Lockdown v1; the second at Smoking Goat the night before Lockdown v2; and the third a couple of days after my birthday in early December, where we drank frozen margaritas on Forza Wine’s freezing terrace and everything — fleetingly — felt like it might end up OK.
Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: There were two mainly for associated feelings. Firstly, in the midst of so many closures, it was an unexpected pleasure to be able to enjoy a restaurant’s opening night (Sollip). Second, the simple happiness of beautiful seasonal eating at Pique Nique — one of the first meals I savoured after the end of a long lockdown.
Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: If I was looking at it based purely on the deliciousness of meals earlier in the year, then TATA, Singburi, 40 Maltby Street, Pho Thuy Tay Cafe, Brawn, Quality Wines or even the ridiculous Wagyumafia Ramen would have made for easy picks, but in hindsight singular event meals will live longer in the memory, having 20-odd people at Chu Chin Chow for Poon Choi, five people together for a Turkish food crawl after lockdown 1.0 or getting *number redacted* people to crawl South London for average pizza on one of the hottest days of the year. All possibly the best.
Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: It’s a close call between the first meal out of lockdown at Ombra (cocktails! gnocco fritto! pasta! wine! tiramisu! no washing up!), Farokh Talati’s at-home Parsi feast and the lemon sorbet served in a lemon at Ciao Bella while sitting on the terrace on one of the hottest days of the year.
Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: Hands down, Chishuru in Brixton. We went in October just as the 10pm curfew was introduced, ordered everything on the menu twice, then ordered more. Chef-owner Joké Bakare is an evil genius disguised as a lovely motherly type who wants to feed everyone that walks through her door. The care, the passion and great lengths she goes to in explaining West African ingredients, walking through her cooking and how she created each dish. Her exceptional food and warm personality was a real tonic to a shitshow of a year. I’m so happy and lucky I got to try her food and meet her. I’m counting down the days until I can go and eat *that* bavette steak with yaji again.
David J Paw, food writer and Eater London contributor: A meal with close friends at Rochelle Canteen after the end of the second lockdown, featuring rabbit terrine, a comforting dish of poached chicken, ox tongue and vegetables, and a choux bun sandwiching an apple and berry compote and loads of cream.
Ed Cumming, writer and restaurant critic: Duck liver choux buns, roast chicken with vin jaune and a gallon of chablis at the Soho Noble Rot in the gap between lockdowns.
Maazin Buhari, writer and Eater London contributor: Days before London’s second lockdown, one of my friends donated a coveted reservation to me, a spot at the Chef’s Table at KOL. In a bleak, gloomy, depressive, diseased, and malaised year - this five-hour lunch delivered the single greatest dining experience I think I’ve ever had in my life. The restaurant itself, bathrooms and all, is absolutely stunning - but the food is indescribable, out of this world, stupefying, mind-bendingly good. I don’t know what Santiago Lastra has planned for the future of KOL, or in general - but if this single lunch was anything to go by, it’s going to be astounding. Each successive course was more impressive than the last, bulging lobster-tails basted in lamb fat, a heavenly mextlapique, a confusingly brilliant butternut squash sorbet with rattlesnake chilli oil. I play that afternoon back in my head, again and again and again.