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A chef plates a dish at Cafe Cecilia.
Finishing touches on a dish at Cafe Cecilia, site of some of the best meals of 2021.
Michaël Protin

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The Best Meals of 2021

According to Eater London’s year-end committee

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 2021, the group were asked 13 questions, covering the best meals and the worst tweets alongside 2022 predictions and dining standbys. Their answers will appear throughout this week, with responses relayed in no particular order; cut and pasted below.

Following the best newcomers and restaurant standbys, here — whether in a restaurant or taken away — are the best meals of 2021.


Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London: Out of London, by mail: it will never not seem like a trick of the mind when remembering eating Ombra’s lasagne in the Lake District; nor unpacking and boil-in-a-bagging several courses of intricate Laughing Heart dishes on Valentine’s Day.

Back in London: 2 x sandwiches and 2 x tarts at 40 Maltby Street on the palettes with J. Nunn in the summer; tasting menu with (lots of Slobodne) wines at Kol in Marylebone with J. Hansen in the autumn; rabbit and saffron rice at the Clarence Tavern for my dad’s 70th; brunch at Lighthaus; roast chicken for Sunday lunch at Cafe Cecilia; amazing pork cheung fun at the excellent Dim Sum and Duck; and just before the year was out, phenomenal breakfast tacos from Sonora.

p.s. not strictly a “meal”, but Bake Street’s fried chicken makhani sandwich, Dole whip and pineapple sorbet, yikes.

James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: Through the year: the first Tetote Factory visit of 2021, with its wonderfully nostalgic pizza bread, to start January. Koya’s udon by mail, in a very cold February. St John’s ox cheek hash bap and madeleines on a Shoreditch bench in March. A slice of British Americana with a cheddar and chilli scone from Cafe Deco in April. Joké Bakare’s wonderful attasi bowls on a table plopped on the Gray’s Inn Road outside Catalyst in May. Hypebeast dumplings at Dim Sum and Duck in June. The shortest east London restaurant crawl of Brat, Smoking Goat, and Lyle’s for dessert in July. A meeting of legends at first Bake Street — with yakitori danger, kilishi, and majestic soft serve — then Cafe Cecilia, and a Francophone blow-out at Noble Rot Soho in August. Painterly majesty at Sessions Arts Club in September. Decatur’s Quality Wines pop-up, first frozen outdoors then warm in the shop in October. Tacos from Sonora in November. And the new Leather Lane essential of Prufrock Coffee followed by Balady lunch in December.

Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor: Gosh. So many moments had so much joy and meaning attached to it — the meeting of friends, the joy of A Restaurant. I don’t have just one, sorry. Kiln with an American friend — being at the bar, feeling the buzz of the place, being able to show off London, the excitement of a friend from out of town visiting! Delicious too, of course.

P.Franco when Ben Chapman was cooking — again, that exciting buzz of hospitality. I do love the bar dining experience! One dish reminded me so much of home I almost cried. Both Kiln and here, I said to pal I was with “this is joy to me”. Bright, not long after being allowed to eat inside — just incredible hospitality and the menu had a lot of surprises. Singburi — in the comfort of a friend’s home with my sister and her wife. Truly exceptional food, best food in London.

Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor: A summer’s meal at The River Cafe which was perfect in every single way up to and including me not footing the bill.

Chris Cotonou, writer and Eater London contributor: I’m really, really loving Willy’s Pies, the delivery-only business started by chef Will Lewis. Every Monday, he releases a new menu using the freshest ingredients, and they sell out fast — only catering to certain areas in the city. I remember staying at a friend’s place in the East End so I could be within the delivery zone and ordering a pie with braised lamb shoulder, chilli and labneh. Everything about that pie, from crust to filling was perfect and I can’t wait to try more in the future.

Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor: I had excellent Indian vegetarian dishes at Manthan, Chourangi, Hyderabadi Spice, Shree Krishna Vada Pav and Madhu’s for an article; and the best falafel and sabich in the whole of north London at Pita in Golders Green (though if you do navigate their frequently-long queues, maybe get the red and green hot sauces from Taboon down the road first — they’re better.)

Emma Hughes, writer and Eater London contributor: A glorious birthday-slash-book-launch lunch outside the Garden Museum Cafe in early August with Anna Sulan Masing.

George Reynolds, writer and Eater London contributor: The best single bite of 2021 might well have been the fried courgette blossom stuffed with langoustine and ceps at The Climpsons Arch incarnation of Brat, which reminded me of the old French adage about ortolan — “one is bliss, two is gluttony” — and is probably the closest I will come to the diabolical interplay of textures, temperatures and varying stripes of richness that you only get when crunching down on a tiny songbird drowned in Armagnac.

The best meal of 2021 may well have been the virtuoso display that was the final night of the Decatur pop-up at Quality Wines Farringdon, in which Tom Zahir delivered an immaculate recital of every conceivable New Orleans classic (authentically lethal Vieux Carrés and all), before shrugging off a final, ultimate flex in the form of a Viet-Cajun shrimp boil.

But the most memorable dining experience of 2021 came in the depths of locked-down February, on the way to secure one of Mangal 2’s coveted mackerel pides. It was snowing; I had walked from Islington; I was appallingly underdressed. I found myself outside All Island Grill, which I had remembered seeing somewhere in Nick Bramham’s stories a week or so before. A few minutes later, I was back outside again, holding a plastic container of their curry goat; I was so cold I ate it with my gloves on, staining my fingertips with spices. A few months later I would be at Rochelle Canteen, celebrating the re-opening of restaurants (I presumed for good; it’s heartbreaking that that may no longer be the case.) That was a memorable, fabulous meal in its own right, too. But it’s that feeling of being very very cold, then very very oh-shit-my-lips-are-on-fire hot that I will remember as the strongest sign of what restaurants can do.

Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor: In previous years I would have spoken about the meals that most excited me, a return counter meal by TāTā Eatery at Tayer and Elementary, a meal at the new The Sea, The Sea counter, or a meal at Chishuru. But comfort is how we all readjusted to being back in restaurants so probably the first meal back at 40 Maltby Street outdoors in the chilly winds of April; or one of two meals at Lighthaus that had some flawless dishes; or even the onslaught of food on the penultimate night of Pamela Yung’s time at the helm of Flor.

Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor: A long lunch at Cafe Cecilia was a highlight among many good meals. Port and tonic; bread and butter; fried sage and anchovy to start. Then there was gamey rabbit pasta and onglet swimming (in a good way) in peppercorn sauce. Exquisite chips! Ice cream with nuggets of crunchy, caramelised Guinness bread. Basically all the good things, in a gorgeous dining room, with wonderful company. And the meal was followed by a nap at home — the best sign of a good lunch.

Sean Wyer, writer, researcher and Eater London contributor: I once heard a story of a man who remembered what California was like in the 1960s, who used to tell his friends: “I don’t eat out often, but whenever I go somewhere that isn’t Chez Panisse, I just get sad that I’m not at Chez Panisse.” I didn’t sympathise at the time, but after a perfect evening with my partner at Chishuru in Brixton, I think I get it now.

Chishuru does not feel like Berkeley’s famous Chez Panisse, but it shares a number of the features that make it a great restaurant: a close attention to quality produce; an understanding that “special” does not have to mean ‘formal’; and an ability to make a cuisine with deep roots somewhere else (Nigeria, in Chishuru’s case) feel local.

When we asked chef Adejoké “Joké” Bakare about a yellow bottle behind the bar labelled “banana liqueur,” she gave us a full tour of the plantain-based spirit, which she makes in house, and of the spice, ehuru, which gives it a distinctly West African flavour. Chishuru made us feel warm, and not just because of that hearty digestif.

Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor: I know, I know. I sound like a broken record when I keep mentioning the same place in these lists every year, but truly Singburi. I was lucky enough to have a small gathering in my garden with loved ones for my 30th birthday, sweating my tits off and eating an insane amount of takeaway Thai food on the hottest day of the year. Bliss. As for eat in? Probably the very boujee, very drunken and very bursting at the seams St. John meal. Revenge eating! Eating with a vengeance! Order everything twice! Yolo!

Lucas Oakley, food writer and Eater London contributor: I had a brilliant meal at Brat x Climpson’s Arch towards the start of the year. It was special for a number of reasons. One: because it was the first actual honest-to-God restaurant that I’d eaten at in months. And two: because it was during that meal — somewhere between the puffy anchovy flatbreads and the Basque cheesecake — that my partner and I became “official.” Saccharine? Yes. True? Also yes.

David Jay Paw, food writer and Eater London contributor: A six-hour marathon at Sessions Arts Club, starting off with dinner in their cosy booths, moving to the terrace for dessert, and ending with more drinks on the sofas.

Ed Cumming, writer and restaurant critic: Osip in Bruton.

Hester van Hensbergen, food writer and Eater London contributor: The first meal out after lockdown: Café Deco on a brisk, sunny, late April day, wrapped in a big coat but with bare legs and perched on an uncomfortable stool. The lunch was elegant and Alpine — the pure Anna Tobias form — with a plate-filling magic carpet of schnitzel at its heart, flanked by cold, bright things: lemony potato salad with chives, terrine and cornichons, and golden, buttery wine. Everything twinkled.

Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor: I had a few “best meals” which I couldn’t really choose between! Trying Tasty Jerk’s jerk goat (always been sold out) for the first time in the park, after a two-hour drive/pilgrimage for it across London, on one of the hottest days of the year, a food crawl across Birmingham that involved some wonderful Malaysian food at Kopitiam and balti at Shabab’s, small plates of beef bourguignon and fondue at Lady of the Grapes, chicken tagine and pulled lamb shoulder at Le Méchoui du Prince in Paris...I could go on!

Quality Chop House

94 Farringdon Rd, London, Greater London EC1R 3EA +44 20 3490 6228 Visit Website

Sambal Shiok

171 Holloway Road, London, Greater London N7 8LX

Indian Accent

Lodhi Road, CGO Complex, DL 110003 098711 17968 Visit Website

Silo

Unit 7, Queens Yard, London, Greater London E9 5EN +44 20 8533 3331 Visit Website

Black Axe Mangal

156 Canonbury Road, , England N1 2UP Visit Website

Orasay

31 Kensington Park Road, , England W11 2EU 020 7043 1400 Visit Website

Pho Thuy Tay

899 Old Kent Road, London,

Dumpling Shack

Brushfield Street, , England E1 6BG Visit Website

Gymkhana

42 Albemarle Street, , England W1S 4JH 020 3011 5900 Visit Website

The Dusty Knuckle Bakery

Abbot Street, , England E8 3DP 020 3903 7598 Visit Website

Westerns Laundry

34 Drayton Park, , England N5 1PB 020 7700 3700 Visit Website

Quo Vadis

26-29 Dean Street, , England W1D 3LL 020 7437 9585 Visit Website

Xi'an Impression

117 Benwell Road, , England N7 7BW 020 3441 0191 Visit Website

Decimo

10 Argyle Street, , England NW1 2ST 020 3981 8888 Visit Website

Rules

34-35 Maiden Lane, , England WC2E 7LB 020 7836 5314 Visit Website

The Laughing Heart

277 Hackney Road, , England E2 8NA 020 7686 9535 Visit Website

Lagom

17 Bohemia Place, , England E8 1DU 020 8986 2643 Visit Website

P Franco

107 Lower Clapton Road, , England E5 0NP 020 8533 4660 Visit Website

Trishna

15-17 Blandford Street, , England W1U 3DG 020 7935 5624 Visit Website

bao

590 Valencia Street, , CA 94110 (415) 658-7453 Visit Website

E5 Bakehouse

396 Mentmore Terrace, , England E8 3PH 020 8525 2890 Visit Website

Allegra

20 International Way, , England E20 1FD 020 3973 0545 Visit Website

Master Wei

13 Cosmo Pl, Holborn, Greater London WC1N 3AP +44 20 7209 6888 Visit Website

Peg

120 Morning Lane, , England E9 6LH 020 3441 8765 Visit Website

Chu Chin Chow

7 Cat Hill, , England EN4 8HG 020 8449 5156 Visit Website

Flor

1 Bedale Street, , England SE1 9AL 020 3967 5418 Visit Website

Brawn

49 Columbia Road, , England E2 7RG 020 7729 5692 Visit Website

40 Maltby Street

40 Maltby Street, , England SE1 3PA 020 8076 9517 Visit Website

The French House

49 Dean Street, , England W1D 5BG 020 7437 2477 Visit Website

MURUGAN IDLI SHOP

315 High Street North, , England E12 6SL 020 8552 0001 Visit Website

Emile

26 Curtain Road, , England EC2A 3NY 07496 568921 Visit Website

Brigadiers

1-5 Bloomberg Arcade, , England EC4N 8AR 020 3319 8140 Visit Website

Tayēr + Elementary

152 Old Street, , England EC1V 9BW Visit Website

Sushi Tetsu

12 Jerusalem Passage, , England EC1V 4JP 020 3217 0090

Namak Mandi

25 Upper Tooting Road, , England SW17 7TS 020 8767 6120

Bistrotheque

23-27 Wadeson Street, , England E2 9DR 020 8983 7900 Visit Website

Primeur

116 Petherton Road, , England N5 2RT 020 7226 5271 Visit Website

OMBRA

1 Vyner Street, , England E2 9DG 020 8981 5150 Visit Website

BAO Borough

13 Stoney Street, , England SE1 9AD 020 3319 8132 Visit Website

Forza Wine

133A Rye Lane, , England SE15 4BQ 020 7732 7500 Visit Website

A. Wong

70 Wilton Road, , England SW1V 1DE 020 7828 8931 Visit Website

Bake Street

58 Evering Road, , England N16 7SR 020 7683 7177 Visit Website

Tasty Jerk

88 Whitehorse Lane, , England SE25 6RQ

Noble Rot

51 Lamb’s Conduit St, London, Greater London WC1N 3NB +44 20 7242 8963 Visit Website

Smoking Goat

64 Shoreditch High Street, London, E1 6JJ

Brilliant

72-76 Western Road, Southall , Middlesex , UB2 5DZ Visit Website

The Compton Arms

4 Compton Avenue, , England N1 2XD 020 7354 8473 Visit Website

Sollip

8 Melior Street, , England SE1 3QP Visit Website

Bravi Ragazzi

2A Sunnyhill Road, , England SW16 2UH 020 8769 4966 Visit Website

Pho Thuy Tay Cafe

899 Old Kent Road, , England SE15 1NL 020 3105 6453

Endo at the Rotunda

101 Wood Lane, , England W12 7FR Visit Website

Singburi

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

Quality Wines

88 Farringdon Road, , England EC1R 3EA 020 3602 8115 Visit Website

Chishuru

Coldharbour Lane, , England SW9 8LB 020 3915 1198 Visit Website

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