A note: “biggest” does not mean “best.” There are cases, of course, when high-profile PR campaigns, social media virality, and honest-to-goodness quality overlap neatly; more often than not, though — especially in a climate where Instagram is ever-more dominant — the intersection looks more uneven. This list contains plenty of remarkable, delicious food, but first and foremost it catalogues the food people got most publicly, performatively excited about in 2019. An edible record of the year in hype.Read More
The 10 Dishes London Fell Hardest for in 2019
Scarlet prawns, a beautiful pide, and fresh pasta, of course
1. The Fairfax at Eggslut
With a name like that, in 2019 — no chance, right? Well, it’s complicated. IRL, the place was panned, reports of sulphurous reek and inedible baps. On Instagram, though? Shrug emoji! Turns out people really like taking photos of celebrated foreign imports and sharing them with their friends. Like another of 2019’s biggest screen villains, Eggslut was… Inevitable.
2. Paella at Arros QD
Arros QD probably cost a packet to fit out, but already it seems to have fallen into that strange mental hinterland occupied in 2018 by the likes of Duddell’s. It did happen — just look back to the summer, and the scores of images of gorgeous, bronzed discs of seafood and socarrat. Blame faintly bemused reviews, perhaps, a sign of poor product-market fit. Or blame the fact that diners’ relationship with social media isn’t as trustful as it used to be, and a swathe of endorsements no longer cuts the mustard like it used to. Either works.
3. Hand-cut macaroni with chicken wings at Wild Honey St James
It’s not like London got over its fresh pasta addiction in 2019. As with any habit subject to the rules of the hedonic treadmill, what London needed from our pasta got more and more extreme as the year ticked along. By Christmas, restaurants were deep-frying the stuff, serving it under a crustacean tombstone, and dyeing it bright green. So there’s a pleasing irony to the fact that perhaps the year’s most extravagant pasta dish came not from the hands of some smartphone-wielding hypebeast, but from chef’s chef Anthony Demetre. Is 2020 the year that the city’s fresh pasta grows up?
4. Black Sea pide at Arcade Food Theatre
Pizza Express must feel a little aggrieved: an egg has been adorning the cheesy dough of its Fiorentina pizza for a million years, and it has never even come close to being a social media sensation. Then again, on a Fiorentina that egg is also fighting for attention with spinach and olives — the real stroke of presentational genius at Selin Kiazim’s food hall rollout is how it twins visual simplicity with the promise of the sort of excess that makes a post-lunch nap almost mandatory. And lo, a star was born.
5. Caviar on tortilla at Decimo
In a bit of menu one-upmanship that echoes Sean Parker’s ‘A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars’ speech from The Social Network, chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias chose to mark his arrival in London by taking one of the city’s most beloved dishes — the Spanish omelette made most famous by Barrafina — and spaffing an average dinner’s worth of fish eggs on top of it. Was it delicious? Maybe. Probably. Was it exactly the sort of attention-grabbing flex needed to gain purchase in the 2019 attention economy? Sí, señor.
6. Pig fat cannolo at Quality Wines
Not just the best dish at one of the year’s best newcomers, but the signature dish too. It’s elegant but not dainty, accomplished but not cheffy, traditional but not hidebound — all in all, the perfect calling card for a wine bar that is all of the above, and so much more.
7. Cheeseburger at Four Legs
London N1 2XD, UK
The definitive “foodie” calling card of the year; the photo that proved a commitment to the delicious that extended to seeking it out even in slightly-too-low-ceilinged pubs on sleepy residential north London streets. The burger that inspired pilgrimages across London is not an especially melodramatic beast to look at, but as anyone who eats it will know, its directness is the reason it works so well. In a year where London ate with its eyes like never before, perhaps the single most visibly enjoyable dish out there.
8. Scarlet prawns at Flor
It could have been any one of about six dishes at the most flawlessly executed new opening of the year — pastry chef Anna Higham basically owned baked goods Instagram this year with her brown butter cakes, lardy buns and seasonal specials; plus there’s the little matter of those flatbreads and that tomato tart. But the red prawns get the crown, both as the pinnacle of the broader 2019 Red Prawn Craze, and as one of the year’s most widely Instagrammed restaurant dishes. The messy act of head-sucking never looked so pretty.
9. Lemon meringue pie at Gloria
London EC2A 3QR, UK
Presentationally OTT, exuberantly calorific, short on anything resembling real nutritional value — dishes with names like Filippo’s Big Balls and the YouPorn pizza brought the kitschy cringe, but really there was no better avatar for one of the most extra openings of the year than this towering confection. The fact that its meringue topping is basically just confected hot air feels oddly fitting, too.
10. The plates at Peg
An overly-literal interpretation of the word ‘dish’, perhaps, but one could make a compelling argument that these gorgeous pastel pieces are what really allowed William Gleave and co’s beautiful kushiyaki to pop in even the most congested of social media feeds. Factor in floor-to-ceiling windows resulting in some of the most abundant natural light in London and this tiny Hackney wine bar became a must-visit for natural wine nerds and camera-happy Instagrammers alike.