Wednesday, 28 December 2011

My Top 5 Restaurants of 2011

I was flattered to be asked recently to name my top five restaurants of 2011 for a feature on Toptable, the restaurant booking site. In a year where there have been a few brilliant restaurant meals, many memorable ones and a couple of complete turkeys it was quite a challenge to pick just five favourites, but these are the ones that eventually made the list. My comments as published on Toptable are in italics and, as I'm not constrained by word count here, I've elaborated on why I chose these five (OK, six) out of all the places I've eaten at in 2011.

Brunswick House Cafe, Vauxhall I’ve completely fallen in love with this casual, cool cafe which serves up simple but considered British food at incredibly reasonable prices in the shabby chic surroundings of London’s grandest salvage merchants. Great cocktails and wine list too. 
Since my first visit in April I've been back to Brunswick House Cafe many times and it just keeps on getting better. Well-deserved success and increased renown - all the big critics have visited during the year with only AA Gill leaving less than wowed - have meant longer opening hours and increased size, but the prices remain low and the cooking assured even if service occasionally struggles to keep up. It's impossible not to feel incredibly smug that I live just an easy ten minute stagger away from this true gem.
Brawn, Columbia Road
From the people behind Terroirs and newly-opened Soif comes Brawn, a warm and welcoming room offering superlative charcuterie, awesome offal and blinding bistro dishes. The wine list is clever and reasonably priced with some unusual bins, and prices are a steal.
This was one of my meals of the year for many reasons; not just the fantastic food, brilliant wine and fabulous company, but also because the excitement of the experience dragged me out of a kind of torpor that almost saw me giving up blogging. Although I've not (yet) been back myself, many positive reports from readers and friends who visited on the back of my rave post confirm that Brawn is every bit as good as I remember it being. I'm looking forward to a re-visit soon.
Scott’s, Mayfair
Although there are many pretenders to the crown, including its own new stablemate 34, for sheer glamour and unabashed luxury there’s just no beating celebrity seafood haunt Scott’s. The food’s fantastic, the service flawless and the atmosphere just crackles with excitement. Expensive, but so, so worth it. 

It will surprise exactly no-one that I love a side order of glamour with my main course, and nowhere is it served up more generously than at Scott's. I loved the room, loved the buzz, and on top of it all had an absolutely cracking meal - the pudding particularly was one of the best I had all year.
The Drapers Arms, Islington & The Devonshire, Chiswick
Joint honours for Nick Gibson’s brace of brilliant boozers which he’s thoughtfully located north and south of the river. Both deliver astonishingly good, meticulously sourced food and great wines and beers in unpretentious but elegant pub surroundings. I had my birthday lunch at Drapers and it blew everyone’s socks off - best pork belly anywhere, ever. 
As with Brunswick House Cafe, Drapers Arms has become one of my most frequently visited haunts and my birthday lunch there really was the stuff dreams are made of. The Devonshire (or as I call, it 'Drapers West') has yet to make an appearance on this blog because I've only visited, so far, for 'friends and family'-type feasts rather than as a paying punter. I have no hesitation recommending it however as the food, drinks and welcome have all been first class: a game feast during grouse season was stellar.

Spuntino, Soho It seems that barely a week goes by without Russell Norman and Richard Beatty opening another restaurant, and while Polpetto remains my favourite of their now-five-strong stable, it’s Spuntino that kept me most entertained in 2011. Yes it’s loud, crepuscular and harder to get into than Ulysses but boy is it FUN. Be warned: the deep-fried stuffed olives are seriously addictive.
Spuntino featured in the Top 5 of many of the other bloggers and writers invited to contribute to the feature, and deservedly so. Within the stylish, sophisticated, at times aloof Polpo family, Spuntino is the sexy, rebellious youngster everyone wants to hang out with (and
Mishkin's his new-off-the-boat, groovy Jewish-American uncle). If you've not yet joined the gang, get yourself along to Rupert Street pronto.
Have you visited any of my Top 5? Do you rate them as highly as I do? I'd love to know. Comment below or over on Google+, or tweet me: @HRWright

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