Monday, 7 January 2008

Cheese and Biscuits Restaurant of the Year 2007 - Foliage, Knightsbridge

I know this blog hasn't technically been going for a year just yet, but early January seemed an appropriate time to start thinking about those places over the last 11 months that have really stood out and deserve special recognition for the quality of the experience they offer. It's funny how with time and repeat visits you are able to put meals into perspective - good and bad - and I often have to stop myself going back and changing the odd rating here and there. Tayyabs for example probably deserves even more than the 8/10 I gave it back in August just for sheer consistency on such a tiny budget, while my obsession with tapas before the novelty wore off probably boosted places like Barrafina's score to unjustified levels. I should not be paying £12 for someone to slice some ham and put it on a plate, I realise that now.

But while I'd like to say my best meal of the year was at some worthy low-key establishment serving hearty fare for next to nothing, I'm afraid if I'm really going to be honest most of the places I really rate tend towards the higher end of the market. What can I say - I'm a bit of a sucker for luxury, and great food matched with the finest wines known to humanity served in great surroundings with faultless service, these are what make a truly memorable meal. Pearl was stunning, Galvin at Windows spectacular but the crowning glory of all the brilliant meals I've had this year was my birthday at Foliage in Knightsbridge.

As I mentioned at the time, there is something truly special about the dishes we were served at Foliage - something honest and effortless yet at the same time touched with greatness. You get the impression that if you asked Chris Staines (head chef) to cook scrambled eggs for you, they'd be the best scrambled eggs you'd ever had. Or if you asked him to rustle up a fruit salad it would taste as if every item of exquisitely prepared fruit was mixed and arranged just for you. So often in aiming for the lofty heights of gastronomy kitchens bewilder and bemuse just as much as they surprise and delight. I know I liked my meal back at Bacchus in March but could I explain to you half of the weird and wonderful creations I ate that evening? No I couldn't, and there's something slightly alienating about that - I believe that a good portion of the enjoyment I receive from a plate of food is understanding at least some of what is going on with the flavours and textures. The food at Foliage is not "safe" by any means, but it is sincere. It flatters you.

So congratulations Foliage, a deserving winner of best meal amongst very many good meals in 2007.

And only a few days into January, things are already looking promising for the new year. I am currently first on the waiting list for the Fat Duck later on this month, so wish me luck for that, and you never know I may even strike it lucky with a reservation for El Bulli 2009 season. Closer to home, the London restaurant scene no signs of slowing down and despite the odd duff new opener it's still the case that confidence in British cooking has never been higher. I know many people have sneered at Gordon Ramsay's efforts to start a gastropub empire but think how great that would be - a Narrow in every London postcode! Honest British ingredients cooked competently and served informally, on your doorstep. Every Londoner should have a Fox and Hounds to call their own.

Finally, thanks for all your comments over the past 11 months and to everyone for reading, particularly Jay Rayner who after he kindly mentioned me on the Guardian Food Blog managed to increase my readership elevenfold. Admittedly 11 times 1 is still only 11, but you've got to start somewhere. Here's to 2008, then, and wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

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