Monday 28 January 2013

The Electric Diner, Notting Hill

It's easy to dismiss Electric Diner as the latest in a long line of copycat American comfort food outlets, and indeed I'm going to do just that, but it's also too easy to forget that outside of a select group of bloggers, critics and Twitter-stalking restaurant fanatics (and I have a horrible feeling I qualify for all three), this kind of thing is still a relative novelty. If you find yourself inwardly groaning whenever you learn about a new no-choice chicken restaurant or Soho burger bar, you're in a tiny minority. Most of the population of London haven't been eating at Meatwagon since 2010, still think of ramen as a kind of soup they do at Wagamama, and would consider a new diner selling gourmet hot dogs and cheeseburgers a huge improvement on their local Chicken Cottage or GBK.

It's also worth noting that, Soho or Shoreditch excepted, we're really still not spoiled for choice when it comes to this kind of thing. West London in particular, never at the top of the tree when it came to decent places to eat (the astonishing Ledbury being the exception that proves the rule) is one of those affluent restaurant deserts (see also Hampstead, Chelsea) that would welcome anyone trying to do something even slightly different. So perhaps I shouldn't be to harsh on Electric Diner for being a bit derivative; it is, after all, better this than another bloody Strada.

So I'll try and stress the positives. It's a beautiful room, with a long, sleek open kitchen on one side and low booths nestled under exposed brick on the left, stretching towards a gleaming white-tiled back wall. Staff were pleasant and efficient, and despite the dreaded "we'll need your table back by 7:30" (after arriving only just before 6:15) they were at least attentive enough to feed and water us in just under that time. My Hemingway Daquiri was a great example of its kind - unsweetened and forcefully alcoholic, just like the great man used to like them (only he would order doubles - that's four shots of rum at a time).

But I'm afraid my enthusiasm can't stretch to the food. An £8 portion of chicken livers came served with sweet brioche bread and a small pot of congealed butter in case you weren't finding enough fat elsewhere on the plate. Pickles were decent but couldn't win against such a huge amount of grease and sugar, and so the overall effect was pretty unappealing. Also, it was all stone-cold. Surely it wouldn't have been impossible to fry up a few chopped chicken livers to order? It seemed a bit lazy.

Bologna Sandwich continued in the same vein - sliced mortadella (or wafer-thin ham, which was all it tasted of) and cheddar (I think) inside a very sweet brioche bun and with whole mini gherkins rolling around - a bit slapped-together, a bit careless. I know diner food isn't supposed to be too fussy but there was very little to get excited about here, just thin-sliced fat under melted fat between two pieces of fat. For a tenner.

It seems strange to complain about a side order of bacon being too fatty, but these really were 90% lard, and I think I'm entitled to moan about how even the thin strips of red flesh were crumbly and dry, and the fact that the sugary dressing just made the whole thing even more of a challenge to eat.

The "green salad", ordered because the rest of what was coming our way seemed a little heavy (oh how little we knew) was, despite an adequate dressing, nothing more than a supermarket ready-to-eat bag of mixed greens dumped on a plate, and nowhere near worth £6. Chips had a good crunch but were otherwise unmemorable, and for £4 for a small cup hardly represented value.

The bill for two, with a couple of beers on top of the above, came to £57, an amount I would have been happy to pay had I not left feeling so unpleasantly, overwhelmingly grease-sodden and had there just been one dish I could have considered ordering again. Looking back on the evening now all plates of food just merge into one huge, shapeless, lardy blob - the kind of thing you might start to resemble in fact if you ate there on a regular basis. Also, is there a reason they have their lighting so stupidly low? It started off just barely being enough to distinguish between animal, vegetable and mineral on the table in front of you, and halfway through the meal they turned it even lower.

But after all, this is Notting Hill, and if it's a choice between the Electric and getting on the tube to MeatLiquor, then perhaps it will find an audience. And as I say, if this was your first exposure to London's new wave of pimped-up US junk food joints and weren't on too much of a budget (both eminently possible if you live in Notting Hill), you may find enough to enjoy. It's a nice room, it would be a good place for a drink and it's better than a number of other places nearby. Oh, and they bring tap water without being asked. So they get an extra point for that too.


Electric Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday 25 January 2013

The Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs&, Fitzrovia

From the moment it was announced that husband and wife team Sandia Chang and James Knappett, ex of Per Se, the Ledbury, Roganic and you-name-it of world-class restaurants here and abroad, were opening their own place, the buzz was deafening. When it was further announced that their first collaboration was to be a small bar in Fitzrovia specialising in hot dogs and champagne, well, some anticipation turned to chuckles.

I loved Bubbledogs. It was - still very much is - a serious cocktail bar that cleverly matches what, for the want of a better description, I'll call "gourmet fast food" with a brilliant selection of grower champagnes and a smart front of house team that never put a foot wrong. It was ludicrously busy from the day it opened in the way these places often are, but there are very few people who ever braved the queues and got a table that would have cause to complain. Tasty food, great atmosphere, and friendly service; a perfect neighbourhood bar.

Ah, but - the story went - the best was yet to come. Behind thick leather curtains at the back of Bubbledogs was to be Kitchen Table - chef James' pride and joy, a gleaming Rolls-Royce of an open kitchen surrounded by just 19 seats, where lucky diners would watch in awe as a 13-course tasting menu was prepared in front of their eyes, each dish presented by the chef who designed, sourced the ingredients and cooked it. A foodie and chef-groupie utopia, a personal chef "experience" that laid raw the creative process of cooking and represented the very pinnacle of achievement in modern British cooking. I was certain I'd love every minute of it.

And don't get me wrong, the food was frequently astonishing, as accomplished as you might expect from a chef with Knappett's pedigree and as good an advertisement for London's place at the top of the food tree as you could possibly imagine. And if it wasn't for a few bizarre minutes halfway through the evening, I would have skipped out of Kitchen Table singing its praises as much as every other Tom, Dick and Marina that's set foot there. But I'm afraid, in the end, my memories of that evening aren't as golden as I was hoping they'd be.

We can start in happier times, though. First course of raw razor clams, cucumber, horseradish and mint was very like something you might be presented at the start of a Ledbury tasting menu - fantastic fresh seafood, lifted by just the right mix of aromatic herbs but still tasting unapologetically of the main ingredient. Loved the presentation, loved the showmanship - a great start.

Sea bass was a cured, largely raw piece of fish with a skin that had been blowtorched over 'wood coal', which as far as I can gather is a state of being somewhere between wood and coal. The smell as these things were being prepared was amazing, like a log fire in a fisherman's cottage, and though the texture was unexpected - chewy rather than flaky - the extra bite just meant the flavours lasted longer in the mouth. That on top by the way is fennel marmalade - a masterful accompaniment.

The next course was chicken skin, rosemary mascarpone and bacon jam. Do you think anyone in the history of the world has never not enjoyed chicken skin, mascarpone and bacon jam? No. I wasn't about to be the first.

"Kale" was a clever thing, a parmesan-soaked sponge of raw kale, topped with flakes of pickled radish. When you bit into a particularly spongy bit of kale the sauce burst out like a kind of inside-out Caesar salad, smooth and salty and fresh.

Perhaps my favourite course of all, "Cod" contained the most perfect gyoza-like gnocchi dressed in cod's roe, topped with fresh shaved chestnuts. There wasn't much more to it than that, but it was crunchy, salty, rich and umami in all the right places and an absolute delight.

Then, just as the second glass of bubbly was having its desired effect and it looked like this was shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable evenings in a long time, it all went a bit wrong. Not with the food - that continued in a similar stellar vein - but with the atmosphere in the room. Halfway through my cod course I looked up and saw Knappett's face twisted into something halfway between anger and agony. I have no idea what had happened - as I say you wouldn't have known anything was amiss from what was presented to us to eat - but from the obscenities shot at his sous chefs to the way he was suddenly throwing plates and pans around, he was clearly not a happy man. In fact, he looked furious, the kind of rage I'd only previously seen from a man dressed in chef's whites on TV in a programme involving Gordon Ramsay, and the reaction from all around him was immediate - the waiters racing around wide-eyed, the juniors in whites chopping and slicing and prepping in an even more terrified and frantic fashion.

I looked around in astonishment to see if anyone else had noticed what was going on. On the face of it, they hadn't - people were chatting and enjoying their meals in much the same way as before, but then actually very soon, so was I - in the face of such an abrupt change of attitude, your first reaction is to pretend nothing's happening and hope it blows over, in case acknowledgement of the issue makes things worse. Even when one poor member of serving staff got called a "lazy c**t" (I don't think I'm paraphrasing) over the shoulder of a bemused Australian diner, nobody reacted. Could this be the kind of thing people were expecting?

Well, I wasn't, and I didn't like it. Call me a big old softie but I shrink when people lose their temper in any situation, never mind one in which everyone is taking part in the same interactive dinner, and I found the whole thing excruciatingly embarrassing. In a few minutes Knappett had gathered himself together enough to introduce the next course but by then the damage was done and I can't say I really found my appetite again. Which is a shame - for everyone - because food as good as this deserves an atmosphere suitable to enjoy it in, and front of house staff as good as those at Kitchen Table deserve to not have their efforts overshadowed by a head chef with a short temper.

So, in a thin semblance of normality, the evening continued. The calcots and cod dish, seemingly the cause of a kitchen meltdown, was wonderful - flaky cod fillet, smoky veg and a wonderful sharp homemade romesco sauce studded with toasted almonds.

Sous-vide mallard with blood orange and chard wasn't my companion's favourite dish but I am yet to not enjoy wild duck and thought the orange and olive combination, while definitely experimental, not wholly unpleasant.

Roebuck venison, served with roast cauliflower and damson yoghurt, was just about the best bit of bambi I've ever eaten - so full of flavour despite (we were told) not being hung at all, tender and fresh rather than gamey and bitter.

More venison came in the form of ragu under house pasta and smoked egg yolk, topped with panko breadcrumbs and tarragon. Again, lovely.

And a cheese course was a blob of unpasteurised Stichelton with some dainty curls of champagne-compressed apple.

Desserts, if not as wildly successful as those that had come before, still spoke of real skill. Alphonso mango purée (frozen when they were in season, they were careful to point out) and yoghurt ice cream was like a posh Solero (in a good way), lemon and cream cheese curd even survived the addition of beetroot ice cream (something I'd previously vowed to hate forever more) and finally a rhubarb "Tunnock's tea cake" was a clever and powerfully-flavoured last bite that contained a great mix of soft and crisp textures.

But what to make of it all? Perhaps much of my discomfort is a personal thing, and the more emotionally grounded amongst you could have shrugged off the Incident as just one of those things that must happen from time to time in any professional kitchen. It would be naive to think they don't happen, in fact, in restaurants all over the world every hour of service. But my point is, I'm not that naive. I know these things happen. I just don't want to see it. And even if you are the kind of person who can happily sit through the sight of a chef/owner striking the fear of God into all around him, only a real sadist would enjoy watching sous chefs and sommeliers desperately trying to do their job and pretend all's well while all hell breaks loose behind them.

And even if this was a complete one-off, and normally Knappett is as level-headed and composed as Mahatma Gandhi on a spa break, the Incident still made me question the whole logic of having the process of preparing food so nakedly on display. Is not some of the joy of eating stunning fine-dining like this the mystique of not knowing exactly how the magic happens?

There's a fine tradition of open kitchen bars in Japan, for sushi and yakitori amongst many others, but these are much different beasts - the sushi master will just press a piece of raw fish around some warm rice and it's done, or place some skewers of marinaded chicken over charcoal as needed - actions calculated to be part of the presentation rather than part of the preparation. Watching a poor junior chef, towards the end of a 12-hour day, desperately shaving as much raw chestnut into a bowl as possible without slicing his fingers off is not fun, or educational. It's just cruel. And had I been shielded from all that, the tantrums and the terror and the toil, I would have enjoyed my dinner infinitely more.

But here we are. And though I didn't enjoy my evening at Kitchen Table as much as I'd hoped, there is still the unavoidable fact that the food is some of the best you can find in town. If I'm the only person to ever catch them on a bad night, then consider the above nothing more than an anomaly, an excuse to pontificate grandly on the whole logic of open kitchens and, all said and done, a report of what I had for dinner one day. By all means, go, eat and drink and be merry, you'll probably love it. But I think I may just lean towards an "ignorance is bliss" perspective from now on - when it comes to eating out, too much reality is rarely a good thing.


EDIT 2: I've received a response from James that stands in such contrast to the usual cheffy posturing on Twitter I hope he won't mind if I publish it here:

Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon

EDIT: Forgot prices. The menu is £68/head and bottles of champagne start around £35 ish. We paid £108/head all in with drinks & service.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Clockjack Oven, Soho

If all you knew about Clockjack was that it was a brand new proto-chain, with a bare-bones menu serving only chicken with a handful of sides, a Piccadilly Circus location, carefully branded interiors and staff t-shirts, then I would understand why you'd steer well clear. I'll be the first to admit my expectations were low; the memory of the last ill-concieved crime against chicken (the risible Chooks) still burns like so much Frank's Hot Sauce and I wasn't in a hurry to see my hard-earned slip down the necks of another corporate blandathon or, for that matter, some Shoreditch art gallery where you can impress your friends with chicken that tastes like it's been rubbed down in Knorr (hang your head, Tramshed).

And yet from the moment the staff at Clockjack hollered a cheery greeting from behind the carving counter, I knew this was going to be the kind of place I'd have to try very hard to dislike. They're very on-trend these no-reservations, no-choice places but only the most stubborn (not to mention stupid) would automatically dismiss anywhere just because they happen to tick a few of the London restaurant cliché boxes, and everywhere deserves a chance. So with an open mind (or at least as open as I can manage in Piccadilly Circus) I ordered 3 pieces of roast chicken with chilli sauce, a side of double-cooked fries and hoped to God I wouldn't have to fill up at Pain Quotidien on the way back to the office.

Tap water arrived unprompted - a little touch that lightened my heart much more than it should have done. Why on earth does this not happen literally every time we eat out? Why are we even still BUYING bottled water? Tap water is available everywhere, is perfectly nice and is, for all intents and purposes, free. How is it, in 2013 I am STILL being made to feel like an inconvenience by answering the "still or sparkling" question with "tap please". From now on I'm going to make a special mention of anywhere, good or bad, that produces tap water for the whole table without being asked specifically to do so. What's depressing is that I expect it still won't happen very often.

As Clockjack is still in its first month of trading, there was a bit of gentle training still going on with some new members of staff. In front of the impressive gas-fired roasting chambers, as a quartet of chickens slowly rotated in comedy wings-aloft poses behind, someone was being given a carving lesson. And as I was the only customer in the place at 12:15 on a cold January lunchtime, I presume they were practising on mine. It sounded like hard work, so I wonder how they'll cope when the orders really start flooding in, but I was happy to be the guinea pig on this occasion.

I was also very happy to eat the finished product, as my chicken was, thankfully - not to mention completely unexpectedly - perfect in almost every way. I worry about the amount of time freshly-roasted birds hang around before being ordered in these rotisserie places so there's a chance I just hit some kind of perfect sweet spot of timing between too hot to serve and too dry to eat. But I can barely remember a better roast chicken cooked by anyone anywhere - every inch of it beautifully moist, with a golden crispy skin and aggressively (though by no means unpleasantly) seasoned. In keeping with the stripped-back nature of the place itself there was nothing fancy going on in terms of herbs or marinades, but you really didn't miss it. This is incredibly good chicken, free-range with a good strong showing of dark flesh, and yours for £6.95 for 3 joints.

By the time I'd polished off the last of the poultry, my mind was made up. Clockjack was a Very Good Thing Indeed. I could also mention the portion of double-cooked fries which did their job perfectly well, and a nice fresh ranch dressing which I was brought to try alongside the (slightly disappointing) chilli sauce. And if I was going to poke a hole in anything else it would be the rather uninspiring wine and beer list and the embarrassing logos on the t-shirts the women are forced to wear - "UNDRESS ME" they say on the front. Hilarious - but really these things are unimportant.

All you need to know is that chicken specialists Clockjack make possibly London's best roast poultry - and before you scoff at that claim you need to try it yourself - for very little money indeed. My bill came to a touch over £10 which nobody could have any cause to complain about, and I left with my faith in London's ability to cook chicken restored. It really is that good.


Clockjack Oven on Urbanspoon

Thursday 10 January 2013

Wabi, Holborn

There's very few times I feel more self-consciously clueless about food than when I'm eating in a Japanese restaurant. Sure, learning the ingredients and preparations in any foreign culture can be a challenge - I'll die happy the day I can order dim sum and not feel like I'm playing a scratch card - but Japanese food is surely one of the most advanced and perfected cuisines on the planet, and comes in such a variety of guises learning even the basics can seem an impossible task.

For a start, there's rarely anything so straightforward as a "Japanese restaurant". Instead, there are udon bars, ramen bars, yakitori joints, sushi bars, okonomiyaki, kaiseki, Brazilian-fusion and probably a few others I'm yet to discover. The intense skill and focus needed to perfect each of these styles of food results in extreme specialisation, and anywhere brave enough to attempt more than a couple of them at once is setting themselves up for a fall.

If anyone can have a decent bash at a pan-Japanese restaurant though, it's a former Nobu head chef. Nobu, whatever you may think of their showy, A-list bait restaurants and eye-watering prices, always knew how to produce decent food, and Scott Hallsworth has worked in their kitchens in various glamorous locations all over the world for over a decade. The influence of the mothership doesn't just extend to the food, either - the vast basement space on Kingsway is nicely done, the gently spotlit black wood tables and cream banquettes giving a ever-so-slightly bland but familiar Mayfair vibe, and all front of house being very smart and smiley.

Miso soup was, well, Miso soup, but had a couple of shimeji mushrooms bobbing about in the broth to liven things up a bit. I quite liked that they didn't even offer the option of a spoon so I didn't feel too self-conscious loudly slurping it directly out of the bowl.

I'd ordered a single piece of otoro (fatty tuna) sashimi just to see how their raw skills were, and it wasn't bad, but nowhere near as good as the one from Sushi Tetsu a few months ago and just felt slightly less-than-perfectly-fresh. Also, despite sternly being informed on the menu that the sashimi was "not served with soy sauce", it arrived with, er, a little bowl of soy sauce and a specific instruction from the chef to dip the fish in it. Which was a bit odd.

The BBQ grill set, though, was just lovely. Skewers of soft sliced onions dipped in a powerful miso dressing, delicately boned chicken wings with a perfect crispy skin, a good dollop of powerfully-smoked aubergine salsa, and the most wonderfully cooked (if slightly underseasoned) lamb chops that were just so addictively tender I stripped them clean to the bone in seconds. The sesame-ponzu dressing was a great and time-tested match to the charcoal-crisped protein, and a blackened half of lemon topped it all off. The kind of food that, unless you were a vegetarian or had some other kind of eating disorder, you could not fail to appreciate.

Any criticisms, then, will be largely due to one thing - the prices. It is very easy to spend a lot of money in Wabi and not have a great deal to show for it, and I say that having enjoyed the food there very much indeed. With a (bitterly sharp, presumably a mistake of some kind - it tasted they'd forgotten to sweeten it) salad, some decent pickles and a bowl of rice my fairly modest lunch came to £27, and though I'd happily pay it again, Bincho Yakitori in Soho does better (and cheaper) skewers, Asakusa in Camden does better (and cheaper) sushi and although I didn't try their tempura if it's any better than Koya's I'll eat my kimono.

But for an area that's hardly blessed with great restaurants and for doing what it does with a good amount of style and flair, Wabi is worth a visit. Die-hard foodies will be put off by the very anti-2013 lack of extreme specialisation, but I can only see it getting better as the staff and kitchens bed in, and you'd have to be a real contrarian not to be won over by almost everything about the place. For better of for worse, it's Holborn's very own Nobu.


Wabi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Cheese and Biscuits Restaurant of the Year 2012 - Bob Bob Ricard

A little while ago I wrote a short piece for about the best meal of my life. In it, I rather clumsily attempted to make the distinction between great meals, which can happen more or less randomly and independently of whether a restaurant is regularly enjoyed by anyone else, and great restaurants which have consistency on their side as well as the ability to knock out a decent dish or ten.

In 2012, I had many, many great meals. L'Enclume in July was an obvious highlight, a tour-de-force of modern British cooking that marked Simon Rogan out as a supremely talented chef with a unique style seemingly plucked from thin air. And thank God, too, for Medlar, finally a Chelsea restaurant worth the money they're asking and one that has, by all accounts, only improved since my visit.

But these are, after all, just meals. I don't live close enough to be a regular at l'Enclume, or work close enough to take advantage of Medlar's cut-price lunch menus, and even if I wanted to go back to another one of 2012's high points, a tasting menu at Ben Spalding's John Salt, Ben and his team up and left Islington just before Christmas, leaving in their wake a rather bemusing press release blaming "different directions" and a good few months worth of cancelled reservations. Look out for Ben opening his own place very soon, but in the meantime his residency at John Salt is being handed to Neil Rankin of Pitt Cue, who if the meals I've had in his Soho BBQ joint are anything to go by, is one of very few chefs who could follow that act.

A great restaurant, then, isn't just where you happen to have a great meal, it's a place you look forward to going to more than anywhere else because you always enjoy the time you spend there. It's a home from home, a comfort blanket of great food and great service, reliable but never predictable, where everything on the menu looks like something you want to eat, and everything you do eat you would happily order again. There aren't many truly great restaurants in London, at least not yet, but there's one spot in Soho that I've spent far too much time and money in over the last year and which still, despite the explosion of quality all around it, has the capacity to surprise and delight every time.

Bob Bob Ricard is my Restaurant of the Year because I've just had too many brilliant times there in the last year for it not to be. I've taken friends, family and colleagues for lunch, dinner, aperitifs and digestifs, and it has not once put a foot wrong. If you were to attempt to describe the look of the place you might begin with something like "Russian-American bistro crossed with Orient Express dining car" but in truth, the singular design vision of owner/managers Leonid Shutov and Richard Howarth (aided and abetted by interior designer David Collins) is like nothing that has appeared in London before or since - it's a marble-clad, velvet-lined palace of pleasure, a surrealist wonderland where - brilliantly - there are no bad tables (everyone has a booth) and illuminated "Push for Champagne" buttons attract the attention of waiters clad in pastel pink and waitresses in sky blue.

The menu makes equally attractive viewing. The Russian influence is reflected in items like the Zakuski Taster Plate, a bijou arrangement of jellied ox tongue, truffled Russian salad and the like, accompanied by frozen vodka in a crystal shot glass. Pelmeni are a silver bowl of beef & pork dumplings served with sour cream, and if you've ever wondered what caviar tastes like and didn't have the hundreds of pounds to throw at places like Caviar House, £25 gets you a taster portion of 12g of genuine Sturgeon roe served in a pearl-like glass pot. The attention to detail - and whatever you think about spending £25 on 12g of anything, the value - is admirable.

BBR's inexhaustible drive for invention and re-invention has created some truly memorable signature dishes that you can't get anywhere else in London. The lobster burger, for example, is a whole breaded, fried tail of lobster in a brioche bun, presented hilariously with the shelled end of tail poking out of the side to let you know which end to eat from. Venison steak tartare is in danger of sounding like something you might be able to find elsewhere until you notice it comes with the option of 10g of sturgeon caviar dumped on top for an extra £15 (either version is superb). And Chateaubriand for one is another dish unique to BBR - the single-portion version of this usually two-person cut down to the sourcing of beef from special miniature cows. You couldn't make it up.

Of course, none of this style and spectacle comes cheap, but BBR is not a place where you ever feel like you're being taken advantage of. The extra rhubarb gin and tonic, the extra dollop of caviar, the irresistible second push of the Champagne Button, they're all good ideas at the time, and it's why a quick pit-stop on the way back from Oxford Circus can so easily leave you staggering out onto Beak Street at midnight, £70 lighter with your pockets stuffed full of complimentary chocolate truffles. It's a place in which to lose yourself, to eat and drink and ignore the problems of the world for a few precious moments. And that, in a sugar-coated nutshell, is why it's my favourite restaurant of 2012.

Honourable mentions

In no particular order, these ten other places have shown me joy and fun times in the last year:

Duck and Waffle on Bishopsgate, and not just for the stunning views - the food is always worth the journey.
José, Bermondsey. There's still no finer Spanish tapas joint in London, and there is plenty of competition.
Tonkotsu, Soho. The signature dish is unmatched in town, a thing of pure and balanced beauty.
Burger & Lobster, Soho, Mayfair and Farringdon. Lobster and chips, £20. Lobster and chips, £20. No matter how many times you say it, it doesn't get boring. Lobster and chips, £20.
MeatLiquor, MeatMarket and MeatMission, Fitzrovia, Covent Garden and Shoreditch. Still the best at this kind of thing.
Tramontana, Shoreditch. The fourth restaurant by the Spanish food specialists manages to be as impressive as ever.
Rita's Bar and Dining, Dalston. Good value, delicious and inventive American comfort food. The hipsters never had it so good.
Lima, Fitzrovia. Finally fulfilling the promise made by other lesser joints that Peruvian fine dining was worth getting excited about.
Patty and Bun, Marylebone. Doing almost everything right when it comes to burgers.
Tayyabs, Whitechapel. Well it had to be in here somewhere didn't it.

Dishonourable mentions

Of course it wasn't all good news.

Chooks, Muswell Hill. A concept and franchise opportunity in search of food worth eating.
Jamie's Italian, Union Jacks, Barbecoa, Fifteen, various places. Will people please stop giving this man money to open restaurants. He's rubbish at it., Soho. The exception that proves the rule - the one new burger joint in Soho not worth bothering with.
Skylon, Southbank. The kind of thing we desperately need a lot less of.
Pret a Manger, EAT!, pod, etc. etc., fucking everywhere. For making London worse.

There we are then, and whether or not you agree with all, any or none of the above, I hope you had a good 2012 and you'll find enough of interest to keep reading. Feel free to nominate your own best and worst in the comments - as ever, this blog would be nothing without discussion, disagreement, argument, and finely-tuned lunacy. And you can be sure there'll be plenty more of all that to come in 2013. Happy New Year.

Bob Bob Ricard photos courtesy of the extraordinarily talented Paul Winch-Furness, via the BBR website. Photos of Medlar and l'Enclume are mine. As you can probably tell.