It’s a tradition at Eater to end the year with a survey of friends, contributors, industry rovers and professional eaters. Even a year like this. For 2021, the group was asked 13 questions, covering the best meals and worst tweets as well as the 2022 forecast and catering waits. Their responses will appear throughout this week, with responses relayed in no particular order; cut and glued below.
After the best newcomers and restaurateurs, here are – whether in restaurant or take out – the best meals of 2021.
Adam Coghlan, Editor-in-Chief, Eater London: Outside of London, by mail: it will never seem like a shell game when you remember eating Ombra’s lasagna in the Lake District; or unwrap and bag several complex Laughing Heart dishes in a bag on Valentine’s Day.
Back to London: 2 x sandwiches and 2 x pies at 40 Maltby Street on the pallets with J. Nunn in summer; tasting menu with (many Slobodne wines) at Kol in Marylebone with J. Hansen in the fall; rabbit and saffron rice at the Clarence Tavern for my father’s 70th birthday; brunch at the Lighthaus; roast chicken for Sunday lunch at Café Cecilia; incredible pleasure of pork cheung in the excellent Dim Sum and Duck; and right before the end of the year, phenomenal Sonoran breakfast tacos.
ps not strictly a “meal,” but the Bake Street Fried Chicken Makhani Sandwich, the Dole Whisk, and the Pineapple Sorbet, yuck.
James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London: Throughout the year: the first visit to the Tetote Factory in 2021, with its wonderfully nostalgic pizza bread, starting in January. Koya’s udon in the mail, on a very cold February. St John’s beef cheek hash bap and madeleines on a Shoreditch bench in March. A slice of British Americana with a cheddar and chili scone from Cafe Deco in April. Joké Bakare’s wonderful attasi bowls on a tabletop landed on Gray’s Inn Road outside Catalyst in May. Hypebeast Dumplings at Dim Sum and Duck in June. East London’s shortest restaurant tour of Brat, Smoking Goat and Lyle’s for dessert in July. A meeting of legends first at Bake Street then at Café Cecilia, and a French-speaking explosion at Noble Rot Soho in August. Pictorial majesty at the Sessions Arts Club in September. Pop-up Decatur’s Quality Wines, first frozen outside then reheated in store in October. Sonoran tacos in November. And the new Leather Lane essential from Prufrock Coffee followed by the Balady lunch in December.
Anna Sulan Masing, Food Editor and Eater London Contributor: My God. So many moments had so much joy and meaning attached to it – meeting friends, the joy of a restaurant. I don’t have just one, sorry. Oven with an American friend – being at the bar, feeling the hustle and bustle of the place, being able to show off London, the excitement of a friend from out of town visiting! Delicious too, of course.
P.Franco when Ben Chapman was cooking – again, that exciting hospitality buzz. Love the dining experience at the bar! One dish reminded me of home so much that I almost cried. Both Kiln and here I told my mate that I was with “it’s joy for me”. Bright, shortly after being allowed to eat inside – just amazing hospitality and the menu had a lot of surprises. Singburi – from the comfort of a friend’s house with my sister and his wife. Truly exceptional food, best food in London.
Jonathan Nunn, Food Writer and Eater London Contributor: A summer meal at the River Cafe which was perfect in every way until I didn’t foot the bill.
Chris Cotonou, writer and contributor to Eater London: I really love Willy’s Pies, the only delivery business started by Chef Will Lewis. Every Monday, it posts a new menu using the freshest ingredients, and they sell out fast – catering only to certain areas of the city. I remember staying with a friend in the East End so I could be in the delivery area and ordering a pie with a braised shoulder of lamb, chili and labneh. Everything about this pie, from the crust to the filling, was perfect and I can’t wait to try more in the future.
Sejal Sukhadwala, Food Writer and Eater London Contributor: I had excellent Indian vegetarian dishes at Manthan, Chourangi, Hyderabadi Spice, Shree Krishna Vada Pav and Madhu’s for an article; and the best falafel and sabich in all of North London at Pita at Golders Green (although if you navigate their often long queues, maybe get Taboon’s hot red and green sauces down the road – they are better.)
Emma Hughes, writer and contributor to Eater London: A glorious birthday-slash-book-launch lunch outside the Garden Museum Cafe in early August with Anna Sulan Masing.
George Reynolds, writer and contributor to Eater London: The best bite of 2021 might well have been the fried zucchini flower stuffed with langoustine and porcini mushrooms at The Climpsons Arch embodiment of Brat, which reminded me of the old French saying about ortolan – “one is happiness, two is gluttony “- and is I will probably be closest to the devilish interplay of textures, temperatures and different stripes of richness that you only get when you bite into a little songbird drowned in Armagnac.
The best meal of 2021 might well have been the virtuoso display that was the last night of the Decatur pop-up at Quality Wines Farringdon, in which Tom Zahir delivered an immaculate recital of every imaginable New Orleans classics (Vieux Carrés genuinely deadly and all), before getting rid of one last ultimate flex in the form of a Viet-Cajun shrimp boil.
But 2021’s most memorable dining experience happened in the depths of locked-in February, on the way to getting one of Mangal 2’s coveted mackerel pides. It was snowing; I had walked from Islington; I was terribly poorly dressed. I ended up in front of All Island Grill, which I remembered seeing somewhere in Nick Bramham’s stories about a week ago. A few minutes later, I was back outside, holding a plastic container of their goat’s curry; I was so cold that I ate it with my gloves on, staining my fingertips with spices. A few months later I would be in Rochelle Canteen celebrating the reopening of the restaurants (I was presuming for good; it’s heartbreaking that this isn’t the case anymore.) It was also a memorable and fabulous meal in its own right. But it’s that feeling of being very, very cold, and then very, very oh-shit-my-hot-fire-lips that I’ll remember as the strongest sign of what restaurants can do.
Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and contributor to Eater London: In previous years, I would have talked about the meals that made me most excited, a meal at the back counter by TāTā Eatery at Tayer and Elementary, a meal at the new The Sea, The Sea counter, or a meal in Chishuru. But comfort is how we all readjusted to be back in restaurants, so probably the first meal at 40 Maltby Street outside in the chilly April winds; or one of two meals at the Lighthaus which offered impeccable dishes; or the assault on food during the penultimate night of Pamela Yung’s time at the head of Flor.
Daisy Meager, Food Editor and Eater London Contributor: A long lunch at Cafe Cecilia was a highlight among many great meals. Port and tonic; bread and butter; Fried sage and anchovies to start. Then there was the rabbit pasta and the swimming tab (in a good way) in a pepper sauce. Exquisite fries! Crisp and caramelized Guinness bread chip ice cream. Basically, all the good stuff, in a beautiful dining room, in wonderful company. And the meal was followed by a nap at home, the best sign of a good lunch.
Sean Wyer, writer, researcher and contributor to Eater London: I once heard the story of a man who remembered what California was like in the sixties, who said to his friends, “I don’t eat out often, but every time I go to something. part that is not Chez Panisse, I just get sad that I am not at Panisse. I didn’t hit it off at the time, but after a perfect night out with my partner at Chishuru in Brixton, I think I get it now.
Chishuru is unlike Berkeley’s famous Chez Panisse, but it shares a number of characteristics that make it an excellent restaurant: special attention to quality produce; an understanding that “special” does not necessarily mean “formal”; and an ability to make a cuisine with deep roots elsewhere (Nigeria, in the case of Chishuru) feel local.
When we asked Chef Adejoké “Joké” Bakare about a yellow bottle behind the bar labeled “banana liqueur”, she gave us a full tour of the plantain-based alcohol, which she makes home, and the spice, ehuru, which gives it a distinctly West African flavor. Chishuru made us feel warm, and not just because of that hearty digestif.
Angela Hui, Food Editor and Eater London Contributor: I know I know. I sound like a broken record when I keep mentioning the same place in these lists every year, but really Singburi. I was fortunate enough to have a little reunion in my backyard with loved ones for my 30th birthday, making my breasts sweat and eating an insane amount of Thai takeaway on the hottest day of the year. Happiness. As for eating there? No doubt the very boujee, very drunk and very full of the Saint-Jean meal. Revenge by eating! Eat with revenge! Order everything twice! Yolo!
Lucas Oakley, Food Writer and Eater London Contributor: I had a great meal at Brat x Climpson’s Arch around the start of the year. It was special for several reasons. One: because it was the first true honest to God restaurant that I had eaten in months. And two: because it was during this meal – somewhere between the puffed anchovy pancakes and the Basque cheesecake – that my partner and I became “official”. Saccharin? Yes. True? Also yes.
David Jay Paw, Food Writer and Eater London Contributor: A six-hour marathon at the Sessions Arts Club, starting with dinner in their comfortable cabins, moving to the patio for dessert and ending with more drinks on the canapes.
Ed Cumming, writer and food critic: Osip to Bruton.
Hester van Hensbergen, food writer and contributor to Eater London: The first meal out after confinement: Café Déco on a cool, sunny day in late April, wrapped in a large coat but bare legs and perched on an uncomfortable stool. The lunch was elegant and alpine – the pure form of Anna Tobias – with a magic carpet filled with scallops in its heart, flanked by cold and bright things: lemony potato salad with chives, terrine and pickles, and wine. golden and buttered. Everything sparkled.