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The five best UK restaurants for 2015

2015's on-trend restaurants embrace the new informality and add another element such as great wine, cool interiors, neighbourhood vibe, connection to the chef/kitchen, and a commitment to keeping prices low. Here is Tony Naylor's guide to the best restaurants of 2015.

No. 131, Cheltenham

One-trick venues, your time is up. Instead, the future lies in fluid, buzzy hang-outs that include bars, restaurant and bedrooms (and often music and art spaces too), where regulars can immerse themselves in the life of the building. Even tweedy Cheltenham has caught the bug at No.131, a restaurant- with-rooms which, as well as serving awesome 28-day aged Devon-reared Ruby Red steaks from its Josper grill, hosts one-off supper clubs, and has a basement bar, Crazy Eights, where you can stay late, listening to live jazz and electro DJs, whilst sipping vintage cocktails. Try the Air Mail from Esquire’s 1930’s Handbook for Hosts, a concoction of rum, lime juice, honey and prosecco…

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Oli’s Thai – Oxford

It is not far from East Oxford’s hip, studenty Cowley Road, but hidden amid houses on a suburban street, Oli’s Thai is deliberately discreet. ‘We wanted a traditional neighbourhood restaurant,’ explains Rufus Thurston, who runs Oli’s (named after their son), with his Thai wife, Laddawan. ‘A lot of my favourite restaurants are in Brooklyn, and it’s not obvious where they are, they’re plain, food-focussed and the customers are people who walk there…’

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Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels – Covent Garden 

Sommelier Julia Oudill used to work in three-Michelin-star French restaurants where the service made guests squirm. Opening, decanting and pouring wine was a hushed ceremony, during which, she says: ‘nobody breathed.’

The vibe at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, a chic Neal’s Yard bolt-hole where Julia is now general manager, couldn’t be more different. ‘Whether the bottle is £30 or £3,000, I want to sit with the guests, open it and talk about the wine. We serve wines alongside great food, with hip hop on the sound system.’ Compagnie des Vins is determined to make wine appreciation fun and affordable. ‘Great wine,’ insists Julia, ‘doesn’t have to cost a month’s rent…’

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Cook House – Newcastle 

It might occupy two converted shipping containers, but eating at the Cook House feels like you are sitting in Anna Hedworth’s kitchen. Warming yourself by the log-burner as the radio burbles in the background, you can watch Anna work at her open stainless steel range, chat and ask questions, as she – during its hours as a weekday, daytime café – rustles up plates of whipped feta and smoked leeks on toast with black sesame, wild garlic and spinach soup, a couscous salad with roast butternut squash, or a blood orange posset…

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Lake Road Kitchen – Cumbria 

Lake Road chef-owner James Cross (pictured below) spent two years working at Noma – and it shows. He is a cerebral chef whose bold, creative dishes such as home-cured brown trout, ramson broth, yesterday’s bread and dehydrated kelp stock are grounded in a rigorous ethos. For instance, James only uses native northern European ingredients. No olive oil. No chocolate. No vanilla…

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This feature was published in June 2015

Photography: Getty, Sam Stowell, Myles New and David Munns.


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