I have spent much of 2016 boring friends, family and, at times, complete strangers about Lake Road Kitchen. A grower and forager but foremost a preternaturally talented chef, James Cross (he’s the twinkly-eyed imp at the pass), is cooking some of the most original and irresistibly delicious food that Britain has ever seen.
From snails with an emulsion of miso and parsley via his 250 day-aged beef to an extraordinary whole cauliflower, deep-fried in goat’s butter, served with viili yogurt and pine, the revelations keep on coming. My meal here was the best I’ve eaten since Noma in 2008.
All the Just Eat TV ads are excruciating but “I see you baby… chicken madras!” haunts my dreams. Takeaway will never taste the same.
In June, Britain went doolally over Bunyadi, London’s first naked restaurant. Call me uptight, paint me repressed, but there’s no way I’m getting my chipolata out in a restaurant. The whole idea is nuts (something else you do not want to see when eating).
This year, Cloudwater brewery and Hobbs House Bakery reminded me how astounding the basics – beer and bread – can be.
I don’t have space here to explore the complex details of #BoycottByron or the Deliveroo strike. But, for years, we’ve been more concerned about the welfare of the chickens we eat than the people serving us. This must change.
Emergency supermarket lunch of 2016? That nutty, beany M&S superfood salad with the smoky soy dressing. A modern classic.
This summer, I struggled to wedge myself into Borda Berri, gave up on txuleta at tiny Bar Nestor and called down envious curses on those who had bagged a precious table at the (still terrific) La Cuchara de San Telmo. In short, a certain Basque resort that shall remain nameless is now almost too busy. We need to stop talking-up its pintxos. Yes, if you want to swerve the crowds you can head into Gros to Hidalgo 56, but keep that tip to yourself.
At Naylor Towers? Ryvita, that ’70s slimming classic which, if you want a reliable, everyday rye cracker, does the job.
2016’s most mystifying dish? Michelin-starred Italian chef Marco Stabile’s If A Meteorite Falls In Tuscany; a space rock-styled hunk of blackened bread flavoured with cabbage crash-landed in its sauce. In Italy, a country where presentation isn’t a priority, this may look like a conceptual masterpiece. To me, it tasted… OK.
Two (old) cookbooks didn’t so much enter my life as transform it this year: Pieminister’s Pie For All Seasons (page 166’s clapshot pie is incredible), and Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem. Thanks to the latter, I am very much getting my freekeh on.
Best street food
In Manchester, a coalition of restaurants is helping feed the homeless twice-a-week. Follow this heartening project (or donate!) @notjustsoupMCR
Why are mottled, amateurishly glazed hand-thrown plates, bowls and mugs now de rigueur in all restaurants, no matter how badly that crockery clashes with the overall style of the venue?
Sales of ordinary teabags fell a further 5% this year as feckless, flibbertigibbet millennials flirt with green and fruit teas as casually as they do sexual partners on Tinder. The bed-hopping is fine. The tea-swapping is a disgrace. Make mine a builder’s.
Hearing Sebastian Tellier’s La Ritournelle in Grafene, Manchester, a reminder that background music can add dramatic atmos to a dining room. Sadly, that was the highlight of the meal.
Berlin’s Burgermeister (which now has a second unit at Kottbusser Tor), where you can get a sehr gut new-wave burger, fries and a Rothaus pils for €8. Not the £10 to £15 it commonly costs here.
Action on Salt and Health’s report that many ‘healthy’ supermarket dips have high levels of salt is both utterly unsurprising and info which, I suspect, will engender apathy rather than action. If you can’t even eat hummus without worrying about cancer, heart disease or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, what’s the point of trying to stay healthy, eh? Let’s break out the lard!
An improvement even on the Tebay original, Gloucester motorway services is a rare oasis of calm, fair prices and good food in a sector of fruit machines, flat coke and £8.99 fry-ups.
This year, the Iberian-style gin serve (XL glass; small-batch gin; upmarket tonic; exotic herbal or fruit garnish) was everywhere. I saw great examples at Manchester’s El Gato Negro and, remarkably, at the Red Lion, a Best Western hotel in Grasmere. But, already, other venues are cutting corners; putting a bog-standard G&T in a big glass fools no one.
Twice this year, under severe familial pressure, I agreed to eat an extortionately expensive hotel buffet breakfast of grey eggs and desiccated pastries as dry as Egyptian papyrus. Not so much all-you-can-eat, as why would you? In Spain, the cava was flowing at 8am. Even that couldn’t take the edge off.
In July, a little piece of me died when Noma’s Rene Redzepi tweeted: “Lunch today: six people played Pokémon Go the entire meal.”
What were your food highs and lows of 2016? Tweet us at @olivemagazine @naylor_Tony
Image credit: Getty