They say the stomach has a separate brain, neurones that control it independently from your actual noggin. If it could speak then maybe it would disgorge this stream of wonderful culinary memories from the year gone.
Here is a list of my top dining experiences. See what I’ve been cooking up in 2015 in my companion blog.
On a quiet soi off the manic Sukhumvit Rd in Bangkok is an oasis of Thai food, Bo.lan. One of the best restaurant meals of not just this year but of any year. The tasting menu here really justifies using the term “journey” to describe it, because every bite of every dish seemed to uncover new textures, ingredients and flavours. Thai food has never been the same to me since. Backed by the the amazing Isaan and Lanna food in Chiang Mai and some wonderful dishes at Nahm. This was the year I got Thai food.
L’enclume, Cartmel vs noma, Copenhagen
You can read about L’Enclume and noma in earlier posts. I was lucky enough to visit these two a fortnight apart so a comparison however unconsciously would always be in the back of my mind. They share the same philosophies, taking local seasonal ingredients and applying progressive techniques to draw the most out of them but ultimately leaving them as natural looking and delicious as possible. I can’t split them on cooking, both are at the cutting edge, maybe L’Enclume feels less forced. The Japanese influence on some of the dishes at noma and the very special wild duck main course were spectacular. It makes up for some of the more sterile “interesting rather than delicious” dishes of pickled fermented wintery Nordic things. Whereas L’Enclume felt like an invocation of the verdant Cumbrian land and bountiful coast. The menu is consistently delicious with often humble ingredients.
I still can’t decide. An honourable draw then.
Blacks BBQ, Lockhart
BBQ, real BBQ, doesn’t wait for you. You wait for BBQ. This is how it is where they know; Texas. The best of all was Blacks in Lockhart. Every piece of BBQ there was spectacularly good and the brisket is best I’ve ever eaten. Being a little jaded about BBQ, it was reinvigorating.
We don’t do BBQ very well in the UK, not commercially, there are lots of folk who can cook great BBQ but selling it is a different matter. When it’s done right, it’s up there with the tastiest food you can eat. Fly-by-night jump-on-bandwagon BBQ joints denigrate and cheapens this cuisine to slops.
Licha’s Cantina, Austin
I’ve never been to Mexico but I’ve had an appreciation of real Mexican food for some years. Reading about it in Diana Kennedy’s cookbooks and trying to recreate those vibrant complex flavours at home has always been a pleasure. When writing this blog I realised I kept thinking about this wonderful meal at Licha’s Cantina, an interior Mexican restaurant in Austin Tx. The mole poblano duck enchiladas were especially memorable, deep and rich, with a surprising sweetness from cashew nuts. Moist soft sopes and tortillas eaten under the baking Texas sun was a fantastic experience.
Special mention goes the the tamale vendor at Austin Farmer’s Market. The single best piece of Mexican food I’ve ever put in my mouth. Just incredible. Sweet savoury fluffy masa encasing rich chicken mole. We have no idea about Mexican food in the UK.
Equal amounts sadness and joy at this final meal at Shiori. Joy at the perfect meal presented to us by husband and wife Takashi and Hitomi Takagi. Sadness that it was the final one. They’d announced a permanent move back to Japan so we had to eat there one last time. Uniquely in the continuing appreciation of Japanese food in this country, here was a Japanese couple running a traditional kaiseki restaurant with seemingly no compromise. Every dish came with a personal touch that I cannot see ever being repeated in this country. I hope they return one day, in the meantime I’ll look after their yuzu plant!
Manchester Seafood, Birmingham
The most consistently excellent restaurant experience this year. Whenever a blowout seafood feast is required (which was quite frequently it turned out), Manchester Seafood delivered the goods. Being a Cantonese cook I can recreate most the dishes singly and can really appreciate the execution of each one. Especially that steamed eel with black bean, garlic, and the magic hit of aged mandarin peel. It is Birmingham’s best dish.
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