At the end of the list there is a special 'award' (which carries absolutely no prize with it) for our choice of the best restaurant in the UK that we ate at in 2011.
So here we go.
Best starter #1: The Ledbury
Buffalo milk curd topped with grilled onion consomme served with truffle toast by The Ledbury. Brett Graham is a genius and fully deserves all the (many) awards bestowed on him this year. This dish in particular has been copied in many a restaurant but never bettered but what really makes this the best starter is the truffle toast which is utterly mind-blowingly good.
Best starter #2: The Waterside Inn
Pan-fried lobster medallion with white port sauce at The Waterside Inn. The Waterside Inn has held 3 Michelin stars for 25 years for upholding the best in classic French food and front of house service. This lobster dish is one of those dishes so magnificent that the memory of it stays with you forever. So rich, so magnificent, so beautifully done, it is simply perfect.
Best starter #3: Le Champignon Sauvage
Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham is known by many yet it is still something of a hidden gem. When we ate there in January this year we wondered if it might be the UK's best restaurant, the food is that good. Chef-owner David Everitt-Matthias is another genius in the kitchen and amongst the most memorable of his dishes is one of the most intricate and interesting beef tartares we've ever seen. Taste, textures, plating, is has it all. Familiar but original, totally amazing.
Best Pasta Dish: Apsleys at The Lanesborough
The Carbonara Fogottelli served by Apsleys at The Lanesborough is without doubt our winner for best pasta dish of the year (and possibly ever). The pasta is filled with warm liquid Parmesan cheese, so that when you put the pasta parcel in your mouth and apply the smallest pressure to it, it bursts releasing a bomb of flavour in your mouth. Totally sensational.
Best twist: Pollen Street Social
Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social opened to much acclaim in 2011 and there's plenty on the menu to be excited about. The squid 'risotto', using diced squid rather than rice is simply brilliant.
Best Fish Dish: Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
That Restaurant Nathan Outlaw should win our best fish dish vote is probably not a big surprise since Restaurant Nathan Outlaw is consistently voted the best seafood restaurant in the UK - his tasting menu comprises four fish dishes and two desserts. It was all brilliant but the Wreck Fish 'English Breakfast' was standout. So much had gone into this dish including a magnificent sardine ketchup that we were completely blown away by how good it was.
Best Chicken Dish: Coq d'Argent
Coq d'Argent is a restaurant everyone thinks they know, but on eating there this year, we found a standard of food that was entirely unexpected. Head Chef Mickael Weiss has been relentless in driving quality and the food we ate that day was Michelin standard. The signature dish of Coq d'Argent is the Coq au Vin and it is the best coq au vin we've ever tasted.
Best Beef Dish: Alyn Williams at The Westbury
Opening right at the tail end of 2011, Alyn Williams at The Westbury is one of the great additions to the London restaurant scene in 2011; Michelin stars beckon. As well as offering real value, Alyn offers real quality in both the ingredients and the cooking of those ingredients. His Devon red beef sirloin oozed intrinsic flavour; no tricks, just brilliance.
The winner of this dish is not strictly lamb, rather, it is a hogget dish. Packed with flavour, the Herdwick Hogget at Simon Rogan's L'enclume was in a league of its own and faced no real competition. Simply brilliant.
Best Pork Dish: Jose
Is there no home chef that hasn't had drilled into them that pork should be thoroughly cooked through before serving? At the brilliant new Spanish tapas bar Jose in Bermondsey, most people then surely shared our surprise at the Pluma Iberico that arrives at the table looking like a rare steak. It tastes truly exceptional, huge flavours, a revelation.
Best Game Dish: The Kitchin
So many great chefs now serving game, it's hard to choose, but with Scotland the home of some of the country's best game, and Tom Kitchin a master in this field, we're voting our best game dish to be the grouse we were served at The Kitchin. Tom has a deep understanding of game as well as passion for it, both are evident on the plate.
Best Pies: Guinea Grill
Who doesn't like a good pie? For us, there's only one place to go in London for top notch pies and that's the Guinea Grill; three times National Steak & Kidney pie champions is just one of the many accolades their pies can claim. The quality of the ingredients used sets them apart from the rest and they're made with total love and care. And of course they're totally delicious.
Best dessert #1: Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 Restaurant
This is one of the outstanding dishes (not just desserts) of the year. What it shares in common with so many of the dishes in this list is that it lives on in your mind long after you left the restaurant such that you find yourself dreaming of it in idle moments and even just thinking about it brings you great joy. It is A Trip to the Fairground by Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 Restaurant. Paul was a contender in so many categories here because his food is brilliant and he gave us one of the great meals of the year, but in having to choose one dish, who does not love a trip to the fairground?
Best dessert #2: Hibiscus
When something comes along and shakes up the conventional, it can be very special and the Cep Tart served up at Hibiscus was (yet another) touch of genius. Tell people that you enjoyed a Cep tart and they assume it was a starter, to make it a dessert, and to make it a dessert that worked is simply fabulous. And the pastry, possibly the best pastry we've tasted, so rich in toffee caramel notes. Yum.
Best Dessert #3: River Restaurant at The Savoy
Former home of Escoffier, River Restaurant at The Savoy served up the most wondrous chocolate dessert. Brought to the table as a chocolate sphere, hot chocolate is then poured over it, melting the chocolate sphere and revealing a treasure chest of other sweet naughtiness like white chocolate and marshmallows.
Best Steak Restaurant: Goodman
Goodman ticks all the boxes: range of the highest quality meats stored in their own ageing room, cooking to perfection, comfortable surroundings and friendly knowledgeable staff. We seem to keep going back and find something new to get excited about every time. With branches in Mayfair, the City and now Canary Wharf, we're never far away from a great steak.
Best Restaurant in Scotland: Castle Terrace
We love so much of what Scotland has to offer, and we love The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart, but... we concluded that Castle Terrace deserves our Best Restaurant in Scotland vote. Plate after plate of amazing and original food arrived, each perfectly done and each eliciting real joy. Chef Dominic Jack is a massive talent and we're delighted that he received his first Michelin star this year. If you are in Edinburgh, you simply must eat there.
Restaurant Surprise of 2011: Lumiere
It is generally hard to be surprised by a restaurant these days and it's very hard to discover somewhere remarkable before other people, but in the case of Lumiere in Cheltenham, we discovered a gem. The surprise was of course the quality of the cooking; Chef Jon Howe's food is simply sublime, as good as anything we ate in 2011. It is only a matter of time before Lumiere gets its (well deserved) first Michelin star and with Jon still so young, quite frankly, he could achieve anything over the coming years. Jon Howe and partner Helen Aubrey who runs FOH are shining examples of the future of food in the UK.
Best Restaurant in the UK: L'enclume
This was actually an easy decision, a very easy decision. Simon Rogan's restaurant L'enclume is mind-blowingly good. It's original, it's natural, it's precise, it's technical, and it's a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. The breadth of ingredients used is staggering, and what's fantastic too is that Simon not only sources most of his ingredients locally, but many come from his own farm, picked by his own hand in the morning to end up on the plate in the evening. The word has been used a few times in today's post, for it's a post of good company, but Simon really is a genius.
Every serious foodie in the UK should in our view make the trip to Cumbria to eat at L'enclume but if that isn't possible, you can now visit Simon's two year pop up restaurant Roganic in London. Here talented Head Chef Ben Spalding shows a remarkable affinity with Simon's ideals to provide a brilliant meal which resulted in Roganic being voted in our Reader Survey the best restaurant opening in London in 2011, beating Dinner by Heston Blumenthal into second place.
Below are just a small selection of pictures highlighting the brilliant food of Simon Rogan.
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