Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Cheese and Biscuits Restaurant of the Year 2010 - The Ledbury
When people find out I'm a food blogger, their response is invariably "So which is your favourite restaurant, then?". Actually that's not quite true - their first question is usually "What's a food blog?" but once that has been explained, that's their second question. And without trying to be difficult, my response to that is "I don't really have one." Because I don't - I have many favourite restaurants depending on mood and location and cuisine, and picking just one is pretty much impossible. How on earth do you compare the spice and fire and belly-aching fun of Chilli Cool with the sophisticated French style of Racine or the gutsy, comforting British fare at the Harwood Arms? They're all brilliant places in their own way, equally enjoyable, equally rewarding.
And yet here we are, and I imagine you've already noticed the title of this post, so obviously I do think one particular restaurant has something to mark it apart from the rest. Before I get on to explaining my reasons, though, and in the spirit of various other far more experienced and respected critics, here's a brief summary of the best and worst of 2010.
Best bar is a difficult one, because although I enjoy knocking back a rhubarb gin and tonic as much as anyone in the glittering downstairs space at Bob Bob Ricard, and believe me I have done on far too many occasions this year, we still can't escape the fact that Brian Silva's bar at Rules is still the pinnacle of achievement in this field, and so, for the 2nd year running, it's still my favourite place to pop in for a drink. If you can, try and go while the Christmas decorations are up - with the log fire going and the smell of pine, it's the most wonderfully festive place to guzzle a Negroni.
Best PR campaign special mentions go to Twitter kings @Polposoho and @DishoomLondon, who by simply engaging with all feedback, good and bad, in a friendly and professional way have shown, by example, the very best way to use social media to spread the word about your restaurant. It surely helps that they are both great restaurants, but their energy and commitment are still impressive. The overall winners, however, are the guys behind the Owl and Pussycat in Shoreditch, who left such a thoughtful, reasoned and detailed response to my rather grumpy review that it even made me want to go back and give them another go, which I guess is exactly the reaction they were hoping for. So well done them.
There have, sadly, been plenty of contenders for worst PR campaign, not least of which Cantina Laredo who began by booking in various groups of bloggers to try their new "gourmet" Mexican restaurant, then promptly cancelled them in a fit of pique when we all started writing up our awful meals. Then they tried a different, equally worrisome tactic - inviting rival restaurateurs in for a free meal, taking a photo then posting it on Twitter as if it was some kind of official endorsement. That Cantina Laredo is a hugely overpriced, mediocre Covent Garden tourist trap isn't really the issue here - their cackhanded response to criticism should serve as an example of how not to go about managing the image of your business. But the defensive attitude of Cantina Laredon't pales into comparison to that of Dego, who as the only restaurant ever on this blog to have their PR "guru" openly leave belligerent comments on a bad review of their client, as well as presumably cajoling friends and staff to do the same on this and other restaurant review sites, take the crown for worst PR campaign overall. I am, however, eternally thankful to "jp", "Liza C", "SP" and the rest of the Dego shill gang for being so entertainingly useless.
On a similar note, I'm sure I would be justified in making Dego my Worst overall restaurant, as my meal there was truly appalling, but let's not forget, back in August, a restaurant so diabolical, not just inept but actually pro-actively evil, that in comparison makes Dego look like the Fat Duck. Please, please Aberdeen Angus, I beg of you, please go out of business as soon as you possibly can. London and the world will be immeasurably better off with your demise.
Now, on to best overall restaurant. I had many, many fantastic meals this year, more than I could ever hope for and certainly far more than I can safely mention here without either boring you all senseless or leaving some very worthy contenders out. But honourable mentions should go to Polpetto, a charming and shabbily glamorous room tucked away up an anonymous staircase in Soho that serves some of the very finest and most interesting Italian food in London; Hawksmoor and Goodman, which manage to outdo each other on every visit and are the finest ambassadors to British beef - and British steak restaurants - you could wish for; Brawn, a brave and brilliant new restaurant in Hackney which is an instant classic; and I could hardly go without mentioning my two favourite Vietnamese places, Mien Tay in Battersea and the Viet Grill in Shoreditch, each always great fun.
Why then, overall, the Ledbury? A few reasons, not least of which the food, which is as close to perfection as you could ever want and never fails to satisfy on every single level. The dishes that Brett Graham is turning out are not just wonderfully presented, technically brilliant and bursting with fresh, seasonal flavours, they always have that extra touch of mystery, a surprise ingredient or an unusual texture that speak of a true craftsman at the very top of his game. I can still remember the first time I ate his scallop ceviche with horseradish snow - the sweet plump scallops topped with spicy ice, surrounded by a slick of bright green pesto, a perfect dish if ever one was made - and I'm sure I will for the rest of my days. But add to that the service, professional and friendly without being too stiff or too casual, a bright and comfortable room, and a good value lunch menu, and you have yourselves the best restaurant in London. Much as I was tempted to award less high-falutin' (and let's face it, cheaper) establishments the top gong, I find myself looking forward to my meals at the Ledbury with childlike glee and giddy excitement that is matched by nowhere else.
Looking forward to 2011, trips to Japan, New York and Italy are on the cards if the snow ever melts, but closer to home the first big red mark on the diary is Heston Blumenthal's Dinner, where I'm booked into with a combination of optimism (for a new direction for this obviously talented chef and the team behind him) and fear (for my bank balance). But aside from such big-name arrivals, and mindful of the howls of protest I will surely receive from fans of Madrid or New York or Tokyo, I am fiercely of the opinion that there is no greater place in the world right now to eat out than London. Maddeningly wallet-draining it may occasionally be, but for sheer variety, exuberance and idiosyncratic charm, there is nowhere like it, and nowhere else I'd rather be. So many thanks, as ever, to everyone who has read this blog at any time over the last 12 months, in numbers that bewilder as much as they delight, and all the best for Christmas and the New Year.
Pictures from the Ledbury (1st and last) kindly supplied by Hollow Legs