Inspired by annual restaurant roundups from fellow bloggers, many of which have resulted in yet more additions to my ever-burgeoning restaurant wish list, I thought I'd share some of my highlights from eating out in 2011.
Follow links to read the full reviews for each restaurant.
Best Starter (Joint Winners)
Now and then I talk about ordering a much-loved starter again for dessert. It's not often I do it. But we both loved the Warm Flan of Foie Gras Bordelaise at Club Gascon's 13th birthday so much, we actually did order a second one later in the same meal. It's a light but incredibly rich savoury custard packed full of foie gras flavour in a slightly sweet red wine reduction sauce. So fabulous we grinned at each other over every single mouthful.
Souffle Suissesse at Chez Roux in Inverness is described as Albert Roux’s twice baked floating soufflé with Mull cheddar and Gruyère cheese. It's one of the best cheese dishes I've ever eaten. So light I dreamt I was eating a cloud, it was served in a cheese sauce that packed so much cheese flavour it was cheesier than solid cheese! And yet, thin and light, not thick and oily and gloopy. Truly a delightful dish.
I've dined in a fair few hotel restaurants this past year. My meal at the Waldorf Astoria London Syon Park's restaurant The Capability stands out, in good part because of one truly magnificent dish. My hay baked Cornish mixed lamb with pan haggerty and green sauce included slow baked belly, fried tongue, sweetbread, cutlet and kidney all of which were perfectly cooked, as was the cheesy, pan haggerty, something I'd not had before. The two sauces, a fresh and vibrant green herb sauce and a sinfully rich reduced wine and stock sauce, were also excellent.
I've enjoyed the enormous Hot Roasted Shells platter at Bistro du Vin twice, once at the Clerkenwell branch, and again at the Soho property. Served on a platter, but unlike the traditional fruits de mer, grilled under the Josper and served hot. It's a feast of epic proportions and I loved every messy, juice-spurting moment of it!
Sadly, it seems to have been taken off both menus, which is hugely disappointing.
Best Vegetarian Dish
Everything we ate at The Mall Tavern was fabulous – it's not for nothing I call Jesse Dunford Wood a nutter genius. But, to my surprise, it was his red-wine poached eggs with chestnuts, cipollini onions and mushrooms on smoked mashed potatoes which really blew me away.
Also in the running was the Braised Crispy Bean Curd in Brown Sauce at Pearl Liang.
My Lucky Chip Sheen burger was fantastically good – juicy, full of flavour and very satisfying. Well worth the journey, the cold winter weather and the outdoor seating.
I've not blogged this one yet, but I can't not include the patisseries which form part of the help-yourself chocolate afternoon tea served in The Lounge, at Chancery Court. Sandwiches, scones and tea are served to your table but the rest of the sweet goodies are laid out for your delectation. As well as two chocolate fountains with fruit or marshmallows to dip, there are cakes, brownies, cookies and meringues, chocolate coated nuts and then the rather fantastic patisseries. The only word for these is magnificent and the Blackforest gateaux (a light reinterpretation of the classic cake), raspberry chocolate macaroon stack, the coffee panna cotta with baileys profiterole and the one that tasted like an extremely posh jaffa cake are firmly embedded in my mind.
Best Never-had-it-before Experience
Pumpkin koroke (croquettes) don't, on the face of it, sound that appealing even to someone who likes bread-crumbed deep-fried things and sweet soft pumpkin flesh. But having ordered them once, at Sushi Japan, they're now the item I most often start dreaming about, and which prompt our regular return visits.
Best Sharing Plates
I can't round up the year without mentioning the wonderful platters of Parma ham and Parmesan cheese served as part of every meal the group enjoyed during my visit to Parma and the surrounding region. Also in the photos above is culatello, another delicious local product.
I hope you've enjoyed my roundup of some of my favourite eats of 2011. I can't wait to get my teeth into 2012!