Of course, what good would a year-end post be without that hackneyed favourite of work-shy journalists the world over? Yes folks, it's time for a top ten list! I did a similar post last year and really enjoyed the exercise of reminiscing over some fantastic meals, so I thought I'd repeat the process.
So, without further ado, in reverse order here is a list of the best things I ate in a restaurant in 2011:
10. Roast Lobster – Hanami, Oslo
9. Butternut Squash Velouté – L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, London
I always tend to overlook soup in a restaurant, believing it (wrongly) to play a mere supporting role to other, more substantial dishes on the menu. Here, at what has to be one of the most underrated 2 Michelin-star restaurants in London, a creamy butternut squash velouté is transformed by vibrant garnishes of citrus, coriander, cardamom, giving it fragrant notes of warming winter spices.
8. Pig Face – Girl & the Goat, Chicago
This fantastically named dish is the American Mid West on a plate – homely and inviting, but gutsy and direct. Meat from the pig's chin and jowls is pressed into neat discs and roasted in a wood oven so that the outside is crisp while the inside just falls apart into pieces of fatty porky goodness. Sitting on top is a fried egg, matchstick potatoes and a tamarind & coriander dressing. PIG ... FACE. Sort of like a cross between Patrick Bateman and manna from heaven. It was bloody gorgeous!
7. Foie Gras Fries – Big & Little's, Chicago
Perhaps the most outrageous dish I've ever had was at this Chicago hole-in-the-wall. Fresh, hand-cut fries are cooked to order before being crowned with two glistening pieces of seared foie gras. However, the pièce de résistance, the crowning glory, the dénouement comes when the pan juices from the foie gras are gently drizzled over the hot fries. A wicked juxtaposition of the luxurious and the everyday; I regularly have warm fuzzy dreams about this dish.
6. Pluma Ibérica – José, London
5. Black Truffle Explosion – Alinea, Chicago
last year's list. I was lucky enough to return to Grant Achatz's legendary 3 Michelin-starred restaurant in 2011 and this signature dish still tastes every bit as good as I remembered. A delicate ravioli was filled with the most intense warm black truffle broth. It was eaten in one bite, releasing a cascade of complex earthy truffle flavours that were totally intoxicating.4. Coconut, Corn, Egg, Licorice – Next, Chicago
3. Kantareller (Chanterelles) – Maaemo, Oslo
Maaemo, and this dish is a classic example of why I love this place so much. What are basically two ingredients are transformed into a dish that is as amazing in its seeming simplicity as it is in taste. Duck heart from Holte Farm in Drangedal is served with pickled chanterelle mushrooms, small blobs of the most intense chanterelle purée, and a scattering of bright yellow winter cress flowers. The meatiness of the tender hearts is offset by the acidity of the pickled chanterelles, while a concentrated chanterelle purée and crisp peppery winter cress balance things nicely. I adore this dish. Profoundly.
2. Yoghurt, Beetroot, Apple & Sorrel – Young Turks at The Ten Bells, London
The roving culinary geniuses that are the Young Turks finally have a semi-permanent home in the Ten Bells, an old East End boozer I actually used to own. A dish of yoghurt, beetroot, apple and sorrel was the highlight of our meal there and was quite simply one of the best conceived and tasting desserts I've had. The humble red tuber was transformed into something very special indeed. Beetroot granita and beetroot meringues were paired with poached apples, fresh yoghurt and a sorrel sauce, the combination of which was revelatory. It was a perfect balance of sweetness, freshness, acidity, and earthiness. Simply heavenly!
And so, the best restaurant dish I ate in 2011 was... (drum roll please) ...
1. Oysters – Maaemo, Oslo
So that's my top ten restaurant dishes of 2011. The highlights of the year have definitely been my meals at Maaemo. This is a restaurant that is quite simply redefining the concept of Norwegian cuisine and I've no doubt we'll all be hearing a great deal more about it in the near future.
So, what about you, what have been your standout dishes of the year? What is your top-ten food list of 2011?
Here's wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!