Kebabs in Istanbul, sea urchins in County Cork, a sensational lobster pasta in London: top cooks and food writers share their favourite meals this year
A ++ iya Sofrasi and KadikAPy market, Istanbul
RenA( c) Redzepi
Chef-patron, Noma, Copenhagen
Walking through KadikAPy market in Istanbul you see dried aubergines hanging from stalls, dried chilli peppers and fresh dA1/ 4rA1/ 4m, and Turkish tea being poured all throughout. You hear street merchants calling out their catch of the day, maybe a pouch of sardines, turbot from the Black Sea or a kilo of mussels. I was there en route to A ++ iya, in the heart of this picturesque marketplace. A ++ iya to me embodies the perfect restaurant: full of tradition but not afraid of innovating, with a generous and welcoming space. The snack is a cornucopia of all there is to offer from Anatolia lamb stewed with dried cherries, chopped parsley with vinegar, rice cooked with raisins and fistfuls of whole spices … I would blithely set myself on a plane just to go and have lunch there on a beautiful springtime day.
Pickled herring platter at Russ& Daughters, New York
Chef and food novelist
It was a platter of pickled herring fillets with three sauce alternatives on the side cream, mustard and curry along with schmaltz herring fillets and then matjes herring fillets. In the centre were pickled onions, roll mops and a beet and herring salad. I had it for breakfast, around 11 am, and it left a sweet( albeit fishy) taste in my mouth for the coming few days.
I love the cafe, which opened last year and is strongly modelled on the long-established store. Sardines, chubs, rugelach, pickles, boxes of matzo, halva sold by the block, rye bread to blow your socks off, Bloody Marys: these are the flavors which define New York for me.
IdiazA! bal cheese, Urbia mountains, Spain
Chef-patron, Arzak, San SebastiA! n
This spring I made an idiazA! bal cheese with a shepherd in the Urbia mountains in the Basque country. We used natural rennet which the shepherd made from the stomach of a latxa lamb. When I went to pick my cheese up this autumn( after the ageing process) it had all the rich true flavor of the milk, but you could also sense the environment in which the mother had grazed. I could close my eyes and imagine myself on that windswept mountain top. The fact I constructed it heightened the flavor. I ate it with their own families, either by itself or with walnuts, quince jelly and apple jelly.
Dashi-simmered asparagus, tofu and egg at Koya, London
Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
Chef-owners, Honey& Co, London
We went to Koya a couple of days before it shut and had an amazing goodbye snack. The asparagus and tofu dish was so delicious, we ordered another for dessert. It had those really fat English asparagus, blanched and chargrilled, with tofu, bonito flakes and a dashi broth. It was so nicely balanced and full of flavor. The next day, Itamar went back with our head cook to eat it all over again. The food in those last days of Koya felt very organic, more like dishes Junya[ Yamasaki, the head cook] would make at home than normal restaurant stuff.
Sea urchins from County Cork
Chef-patron, Bocca di Lupo, London
From now until February or March, you can get amazing ocean urchins from Ireland. I had my first one last week and it was mindbogglingly good. You can get warm-water ocean urchins, which tend to be bigger and more impressive-looking, all year round, but they are much less intensely flavoured. The Irish ones mine received from John Chamberlain in Dunmanus Bay, Co Cork have an enveloping fishy flavour. Theyre wonderful stirred through pasta or with sushi, but I prefer them on their own with just a tiny squeeze of lemon. You slice them open, clean out the gunky stuff, rinse them in sea water and scoop out the eggs with a teaspoon. It makes you realise how amazing nature is, and how little we should mess with our food.
Sea-salt ice cream in Dingle, County Kerry
James Jocky Petrie
Group executive growth cook, Gordon Ramsay Group
In Dingle this summer, during a chowder rivalry with lots of Guinness and live music, I tried a sea-salt ice cream at Murphys. It was one of those things that attains you go, damn, why didnt I think of that? Everyone loves salted caramel, but this is different: just plain ice cream with ocean salt. It voices odd but it truly works: the sweetness of the sugar balances the salty character. Its almost savoury but not quite its only a sweet salt. People come from miles around to eat this ice cream.
Lamb kAPfte at Sultanahmet KAPftecisi, Istanbul
Chef-patron, Gymkhana, Trishna, London
I went to Istanbul for the first time this year and ate at a place called Sultanahmet KAPftecisi. After visiting the Blue Mosque nearby, we find the big queue outside and decided to find out what was going on. They specialise in lamb kAPftes grilled very simply over charcoal and served with bread, pickled chillies and their house chilli paste. We ordered one and ended up having six. Its tough to find something so succulent and juicy and flavourful. I think its down to the quality and fat content of the meat, and that they serve them hot off the grill, so you can still savour the charcoal. Theyve mastered the recipe over years and years. Its the ultimate kebab.
Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo. Illustration: Nick Shepherd
Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo
Chef-owner, The Richmond, Elliots, Jidori, London
On a research visit to Tokyo at the start of the year, I had a yuzu shio-ramen at a place called Afuri in the cellar of a shopping center in Roppongi Hills. Im not an aficionado but it was the best ramen Ive ever had. They make it with chicken stock, which induces it much lighter than the rich, milky tonkotsu ramen were used to in London. The addition of fresh yuzu is ingenious: the intensity and fragrance of yuzu peel explosions all the way through the stock. It left my head spinning: how do you get so much flavour into this bowl?
Khao chae at Lai Rod, Bangkok
I was going to recommend a snack at the Dragon Well Manor restaurant in Hangzhou every time I go there its the best dinner of the year but then I had something totally amazing today in Bangkok. I was in Thailand for the first time and the food blogger The Skinny Bib recommended I go to an old-school Thai restaurant called Lai Rod. The standout from quite a long lunch was a dish called khao chae: grains of rice in iced water with bloom petals, perfumed with candle smoke. It was served with a platter of deep-fried savors green chilli stuffed with pork, fish floss flavoured with coconut, caramelised beef and some salted radish with a little egg yolk and beautifully cut pieces of green mango, cucumber and a crunchy yellow root with a remarkable taste. The combination of the sweet, salty and umami flavours from the savours and the smoky, perfumed rice soup was a revelation.
Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca
Head cook, Kitty Fishers, London
I went to this fantastic cliffside restaurant the summer months. The whole experience is pretty special: you park your vehicle, jump over a fencing( which remains closed to keep wild donkeys in) and stroll for half an hour through fields with fig trees and goats. The trek is worth it for the food
and the opinion youre appearing out over the bay where they catch most of your dinner. I particularly liked the shrimp, cooked very simply over a grill with wood from the trees around the restaurant. A plenty of the skill in grilling lies in restraint, and these shrimps were barely cooked, so you are able to taste the sea without being overpowered by the wood.
Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca. Illustration: Nick Shepherd
Unpasteurised cream from Ottinge Court Farm, Kent
Chef-patron, The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent
Im somewhat obsessed with dairy produce and this year Ive started buying unpasteurised cream from Ottinge Court Farm near Folkestone. We hadnt been able to get it at the restaurant for about five years because the testing required for unpasteurised milk has become prohibitively expensive for most farms. The difference is just incredible. The pasteurisation process wipes out all the interesting things. In this, I can savour a hint of flowers and a rosewater tone. Theres a slight dung-y savour, which some people find offputting but I really like. You know it has come from a cow as opposed to a goat or a sheep, because it fragrances a bit like when you get near cows. Ive been trying it out with a warm chocolate mousse and a tiny bit of salt and thats probably the best thing Ive savoured all year.
Iio Jozos fujisu vinegar, Japan
Head cook, Lyles, London
In February I visited Iio Jozo, a vinegar-maker outside Kyoto which has been making rice vinegar for 120 years. They oversee all the parts of the process themselves: they brew their own sake and have local farmers growing the organic rice for them. One thing they do is collect the sake lees the fermented rice left over after filtering and pile it into big wooden barrels to age for up to 10 years. It starts out as a white, pure-looking paste but by year ten its black like treacle. The vinegar he makes from it is incredible. He gave me a litre bottle and, at first, I tried to use it sparingly, but I ended up putting it on lots of things at the restaurant. It was gone within a week.
Pasta al forno at La Cantinetta, Barolo, Italy
Chef-patron, Zucca, London
Ive been eating at La Cantinetta since I started going to Piedmont 15 years ago its a very simple little trattoria run by two brothers but it was the first time Id had this dish. They ran it as a special and it was amazing a perfect baked pasta. Pasta al forno is basically lasagne, though the woman serving us insisted there was a difference. This one was quite firm and didnt breakdown all over the plate, which is a good thing. There were loadings of layers we counted about 15 and a very scant quantity of bA( c) chamel and meat ragu, but merely the right amount. The spice was bang on, it was really crisp on the top. Ive had millions of lasagnes over the years, but this blew my head off.
Ochazuke at Ishikawa, Tokyo
Head cook, the Clove Club, London
Ochazuke is a dish of rice, a few bits to sprinkle on top seaweed, toasted things, salmon eggs, shiso, whatever you have with green tea or dashi poured over it, a Japanese late-night fridge buffet. The fresh rice, the cornerstone of a Japanese meal, was a revelation. It was fragrant, simply chewy, almost al dente and constructed me really pay attention to the rice for the rest of our journey. Ive been reading about ochazuke in
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art for 18 years and dreaming of a Scottish version, with Assam tea and pheasant broth over barley. To be served one in one of the best restaurants in Japan, induced my heart sing.
Porcini in Tuscany
Chef and co-founder, the River CafA( c ), London
The family, around 20 of us, go to Tuscany every summer, near Monte Amiata. This year we were there when the first porcini were found. Our gardener brought them for us as a astound, then I roasted them whole with a bit of garlic and thyme, two hours when he was picked. We set them in the oven for a very long time, almost an hour, then ate them with nothing else on the plate. It was the put as much as the flavor; all of us being there together, the excitement of them arriving. It was late August, this is why it felt like a farewell to summer and the beginning of autumn.
Lobster pasta at Hedone, London
Chef-patron, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall
A lot of people told me Hedone was good, but the lobster pasta was the best thing Ive ever eats in England, and Ive eaten a lot of food in England. It wasnt so much the cook as the ingredients. They kill all their seafood fresh to order and that makes all the difference. You dont get a menu. If you ask Mikael[ Jonsson] for one, he says hell send it, but never does. But from what I can collect he took the coral from the lobster and put it into the bisque, which was somewhat aerated. The pasta was just a flat sheet, almost like lasagna, and cooked perfectly. Its refreshing to insure a cook sticking to his handguns and cooking the best produce he can find. The British restaurant scene is much newer than in France or Spain or Italy, and I dont think weve scratched the surface of whats possible in our own country, with our own ingredients.
Sushi at Masa, New York
HA( c) lA” ne Darroze
Chef cuisiniA” re, HA( c) lA” ne Darroze at the Connaught, London
I was in New York with my chefs to cook a special dinner and we went to Masa. Its not the kind of place you can go every day its really expensive but it was an experience. You eat at the counter, and they build everything A la minute, right in front of you. The best thing was a piece where the cook took a kind of white membrane of the tuna not the the meat itself and wove it over a piece of rice into a piece of sushi. The rice was a little warm. It was so surprising: very smooth to eat but then the flavor of the tuna was like an detonation in the mouth. Just incredible.
Sushi at Masa, New York. Illustration: Nick Shepherd
Pizza at Mission Chinese, New York
Chef-owner, Black Axe Mangal, London
I was frightened about opening our new restaurant, and Danny Bowien invited me over to spend a few days at Mission Chinese in New York. I always feel calm around Danny. He has a lot on his plate but he just deals with it. The best thing I feed was a cheese and tomato pizza with mapo tofu on top, cooked in their wood oven. The base is made to a Tartine bread recipe, then the tofu is only rolled around on top. Its quite unusual to have a cheese and tomato DOP pizza on a Chinese restaurant menu, but nothings going to stop those guys doing what they want. I think about that pizza every day. I wish I was eating it right now, in fact.
Roast lamb in Segovia, Spain
Nieves BarragA! n
Executive cook, Barrafina, London
When I went to Segovia, one hour north of Madrid, I went to JosA( c) MarAa, a family place where they build the best roast mixed lamb on the wood fire. There were six of us; it was a four-hour lunch. We had two things: the lamb, which arrived with roast kidneys, and the suckling pig, with amazing roast potatoes and grilled peppers on the side. It was stunning: juicy, crisp It sounds quite English, but the centre of Spain is like this, its very traditional all roasteds. Their oven is huge, so beautiful half the size of Barrafina. I would love to have something like that in London.
Tarte tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France
Head chef, Koya Bar, London
We visited Lamotte-Beuvron, an hour or two from Paris, where tarte tatin is originally from. We went to the local bakery and bought the tarte tatin there. I dont commonly have a sweet tooth but it was absolutely beautiful. It was a nothing-special-but-everything-about-it-was-special type of thing.
Goats curd mousse at Lyles, London
Lyles has been my favourite restaurant more or less since it opened, and a few months ago I took two young Qatari friends for dinner as I wanted them to savour James Lowes cooking. It was a perfect dinner, ending with an amazing goats curd mousse. It was sensational: a little bowl with the mousse on the bottom, covered by an apple granita stimulated with estivale apples and sorrel. The apples werent peeled so the flavor was incredibly intense but not too sweet. And then there was this beautiful crunchy cracker a very, very thin sheet induced with apple, sugar and superstar anise. The textures were incredible: creamy, icy and then crackly. My friends loved it.
Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles
Owner, Violet Bakery, London
The thing thats genuinely been on my intellect is this pizza we had in Los Angeles at Gjusta[ a bakery and cafA( c )]. It was one of the best, most perfectly seasoned, chewy, crunchy, doughy things Ive ever eaten. Ive been dreaming about it. Its more like pizza bianca that you get in Rome, but thinner. They make it in big rectangular sheet pans. Really salty and oily, and stretched out. The one we ate had tomatoes, red onion, little bits of ricotta, an egg, and just oil and salt. It was transcendent.
Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles. Illustration: Nick Shepherd
Grouse from Scotland
Cook and food novelist
I was standing on a moor in mid-September just when the heather is in bloom and I shot a grouse. I plucked it myself, wrapped it up and took it back on the develop. Its a nice thing to be able to cook for other people. I made a recipe I learned at the River CafA( c ): you make a bruschetta with roasted tomatoes on top, slosh in red wine this is why it soaks into the bread, then you brown the bird and roast it on top of the bruschetta so all the juices seep in.
Burger at the Four Seasons, New York
Co-owner, St John, London
A perfect burger at the Four Seasons bar in the Seagram Building in New York. I had a dry martini, which is a good way to start lunch, and a is a great pleasure pinot noir to wash it down. A real treat. It was a classic burger but its the put: its a beautiful room, a special place. They have chainmail on the windows, which shimmers. The bar has amazing spikes hanging above it, so everything they serve could be the last thing you ever feed or drink before a spike operates you through, which adds a certain twist to the whole thing.
Grilled cauliflower at Hearth, New York
Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley
In September we went to Hearth in New York. They offered us a seat at the cooks pass( directly in front of the kitchen ), where we enjoyed the most incredible six-course tasting menu right at the core of all the action. The ambiance was electric, the food was incredible the grilled cauliflower with sunflower seeds and capers, and grilled beef neck were especially memorable and typical of cook Marco Canoras food philosophy. His rustic, home-style cooking champs seasonal produce , nose-to-tail eating and a garbage not, want not attitude.
Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy
Food writer, founder of Gelinaz !
Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy. Illustration: Nick Shepherd
Its simple almost provocatively simple. Spaghettoni[ thick spaghetti ], butter and beer yeast. When it comes to the table its almost monochrome between pure white and lightly brown-ish in colouring. The title of the dish is a possibility simple, but of course its not just one butter, but a mixture of three, and the beer has been spread out and cooked in the oven on a very gentle temperature until it solidifies. You have totally al dente spaghetti, the very savoury, milky presence of the butter, the suggestion of the crunchiness of the yeast that adds a dosage of acidity, and a gently insinuating touch of caramelisation. Its immediately recognisable comfort food that also pushes the boundaries. Its an instant classic, something I dread the cook, Riccardo Camanini, will have on his shoulders for many years to come. You cannot add anything else, because you would destroy the balance, the subtle dialogue between these three major ingredients. And if you take something out, it falls apart. For me, thats the definition of a dish, or a piece of art. You eat it in three bites, but it stays with you for a really long time.
Porra de naranja at Arte de Cozina, MA! laga, Spain
Chef and co-owner, Moro, Morito, London
We have a house near Granada and we decided to do a detour and fly into MA! laga to try a restaurant, Arte de Cozina, that one of our chefs had told us about. The standout dishes were porra de naranja and kids sweetbreads. Porras are the precursors to gazpachos but attained with fewer ingredients sometimes simply bread or dried fava beans, garlic, olive oil and water. This one was scented with orange. The texture was smooth and creamy, the flavour subtle with orange, a fruity olive oil and perhaps a touch of vinegar. Topped with chopped almonds for crunch and salty jamA3n to balance the sweetness, it was nectar.
Adidas nigiri at Sawada, Tokyo
Chef-patron, Pujol, Mexico City
Sawada is a tiny two-Michelin-star sushi bar with only six chairs, where the owner, Koji Sawada, and his wife are the only ones taking care of every aspect of the entire omakase. It was a tuna fish nigiri, but a totally different cut, between the chutoro( belly region) and the otoro, with so much fat it actually melted in your mouth. It was named by Sawada as the three lines of fat sort an Adidas appearance, like the three lines of the sport brand. The thing that inspired me the most was to see Sawada doing such an unusual thing but with so much respect for his culture. Innovating from tradition, applying a subtle change or improvement. You can still do new things that honour your roots.
Bonnat Madagascar chocolate bar
The Observer wine novelist
As someone with expensive tastes in wine and whisky( professional hazard) and cheese( just plain greed ), Ive been wary of developing an addiction to posh bean to bar chocolate. The chocolate penny eventually fell with a bar make use of French artisans Bonnat from beans sourced in Madagascar. A sun, fruity, elegant creamy style described as the pinot noir of chocolate, it had me use words Id usually reserve for wine: balance, texture, and most of all, length( the savour lasted for minutes ).
Buttermilk chicken at the Clove Club, London
Wahaca founder, cookery novelist
For my mothers birthday at the end of January we took her to the Clove Club. They blew us away with the food. We had the buttermilk chicken, consommA( c) and 100 -year-old madeira, and an Orkney scallop and orange dish that was so illumination. Its exceptional how much they make from scratch: the charcuterie, the butter, the bread My mother was blown away. Her eyes were glistening like a seven-year-olds at Christmas.
JamA3n from Barcelona
Chef-patron, Murano, Cafe Murano
I bought a jamA3n from Joan La Llar del Pernil, brought it back to London and had a jamA3n party in my garden. I invited Nieves[ BarragA! n] and JosA( c)[ Pizzaro] over, and some of my cooks; I supposed Id get everyone round at 2pm and theyd be gone by 8p m, but, of course, everyone was there until two in the morning. Weve since gone back to Barcelona and bought another jamA3n.
Squat lobster from the Firth of Clyde
Co-founder, Edinburgh Food Studio, Edinburgh
The most delicious thing I feed this year was a astound gift of squat lobsters from a fisherman on the Firth of the Clyde called Ian Wightman. Id ordered a loading of langoustines[ for a celebration I was cooking at in North Ayrshire] and he gave us these as a bonus. We cooked them up the top of a glen over an oak flame, with white wine, butter and some nutmeg. They are one of the sweetest, most delicious meats ever, but not many people use them in fact, most fishermen throw them back because theyre so small and the government had horrible shells that cut into your fingers when youre opening them. But theyre really worth the hassle, and the less you do when youre cooking them the better.