It's that time of year again - where we survey the food we've eaten, the drinks we've imbibed, the stories we've written and the trends we've watched over the past year. So here's our pick of the things that have really stood out for us in 2013.
Up until the summer when in one week we had Shake Shack, Five Guys AND Honest Burgers all opening within days of each other, we'd have had to say London's most enduring trend was burgers for the second year running. But after a slow start, chicken came up from behind to steal this prize. In the run up to Christmas there are two new places serving up chicken - the fried chicken (and soy chilli wings) at Rita's new permanent spot plus the 'guilt-free' fried chicken spot Clutch which has just opened up in Hackney.
Honourable mention: Burgers - let’s not forget burgergate.
The popularity in the last few weeks of 2012 for Sager & Wilde's Old Street pop-up should have been a sign that London was ready to embrace a new age of wine bar.
It began with Covent Garden's 10 Cases expanded with a wine bar beside their existing restaurant, this was swiftly followed by Sager & Wilde opening with their beautiful room on a challenging part of Hackney Road this summer. Then Remedy opens its doors in newly-buzzy North Fitzrovia and Surnaturels in Covent Garden is launching this week by the people behind the Experimental Cocktail Club. Exepct more to follow in 2014.
Honourable mention: Pastry fusion - cronuts. dosants, duffins and many, many more...
Once Berners Tavern opened its doors in September it was, as they say, all over. Designed by Yabu Pushelberg the swoonsome interior immediately found favour with London's movers and shakers. Of course the tables everyone really wants are the banquettes in the central section - but given how hard it is to get a table here, you're going to have to be grateful for whatever you get.
Honourable mentions: The stunning vista from Aqua Shard's bar would impress all but the most blasé of diners. But it's not always about the new - we also tried a golden oldie for the first time with our visit to The Ritz where the dining room is full-on, no-holds-barred glamour.
It is a pretty tiny room, but you'll have difficulty getting a better welcome that we had here at Honey & Co earlier this year. Everyone ends up cooing about the food in front of them and chatting away with the staff - who were sitting down and having a drink themselves by the end of the night. We hear lunch is just as welcoming - but definitely get yourself down for dinner if you haven't already.
Honourable mentions - The return of Rita's has brought back all the buzz of the original and a bit more besides and Russell Norman's Ape and Bird proved that it is actually possible to have a great pub deep in the heart of tourist-filled Theatreland.
Now we should point out that if we actually did eat this dish every day, we'd be the size of a whole row of terraced houses. But that doesn't stop us wanting to eat this perfect mix of toasted bread and brioche from Gail's just off Tottenham Court Road. We've seen the humble ice cream sandwich appear on a few menus this year after this one hit the headlines, but Gail's sarnie is the one that really takes some beating. It really was every bit as good as it looks on that photo.
Honourable mentions: A couple of visits to The Clove Club proved that, while the ever-changing menu always delivers new delights, the buttermilk chicken with pine salt is still just as great every time. We also wish we could make roast potatoes as good as LeCoq.
One of the most popular openings of the year was Karam Sethi's Gymkhana, with critics falling over themselves to praise the new restaurant (ourselves included). But it was the kid goat methi keema which quickly became the must-have dish - a kind of make your own slider - with the option to add minced brains to the mix too.
Honourable mention: Koya Bar's brilliant take on the Full English and anything with a passing resemblance to a cronut.
True it’s pretty darned close to where we live, but even without that - and the fact that you can’t book, so for people like us who are useless about planning ahead it’s perfect - the food’s the thing that keeps bringing us back to this North London chicken shop. The menu changes every week, so you’ll never have the same meal twice and absolutely everything we’ve eaten here has been great. The cocktails and wine are also on the money. The kind of joint every neighbourhood deserves (but so rarely gets).
Honourable mention: We also kept returning to the bar at the Rosewood, a handy new refuge in Holborn.
On the strength of this year's openings, we'd be surprised that there are any places left to open in Soho. 2013 gave us - to name just a few key openings - Pizza Pilgrims, Ember Yard, Koya Bar, Coal Vaults, Soho Diner (now Kitchen and Bar) and Social Eating House. And early next year we have the return of Polpetto and Alan Yau's Duck & Rice to look forward to.
Honourable mentions: Covent Garden continues to be a great place to eat out. Balthazar and Shake Shake were the two big newcomers this year - but there were also Flesh & Buns and the extended 10 Cases to enjoy here too.
Actually almost everything we ate at Story (which got a Michelin star with almost unseemly haste after opening in Spring) was picture perfect and it was actually a close call between this and Tom Sellers’ scallops with cucumber, nasturtium leaves and ash. But the onions (and the dish they were served in) had the edge.
Honourable mention: The beef carpaccio with blackberries at Mayfields - was the most beautiful-looking (and tasting) summer dish.
London's food festivals and events have gone from strength to strength this year. Street Feast and its indoor cousin Hawker House continue to be big hits, KERB is expanding all over London, Night Tales is currently big in Shoreditch and Feast is always a big hit. We haven't managed to hit nearly enough of these in 2013, but the one event that has us eagerly awaiting the follow-up next year was the first London Meatopia. Full of big names cooking food that wouldn't be repeated anywhere else, it was a festival of meat that really delivered.
It promises to be much bigger next year (and won't have an EDL march messing up the supplies chain) and ought to be a must-visit.
Hands-down one of the most gorgeous new spaces to have a drink in London. With a roaring fire the back, live band at the front, brilliant staff - led by the ebullient Giovanni - and some crackingly strong cocktails to boot, Scarfes Bar at the new Rosewood in Holborn is a dream. It opened in October and we’ve already been back an unseemly number of times both to have lunch and work our way through the bar snacks menu.
When so many people, whose opinion you value, rave about their amazing experiences at a pub out in middle of nowhere in Kent, after a while you’d be a fool not to try it out. The Sportsman came burdened with such a degree of fulsome praise that any other joint would find it hard to live up to, to but it more than did. Our meal here was hands-down one of the best of the year. Take the day off work and go - and make sure you have the tasting menu.
It's hard in a way to pin down just what elevated Mayfields to our favourite eating out memory of the year. Maybe it was something to do with the glorious summer evening we visited, part of it was down to the warm welcome, a lot could be laid at the door of an eclectic wine list and of course the food was very good. Whatever it was, we just really, really enjoyed our dinner here.
Honourable mention: We continue to love everything The Clove Club does and their restaurant this year was another winner.
The personal favourites from the Hot Dinners team this year were as follows:
Catherine Hanly (Editor)
"It was actually Gavin who ordered this, but we ended up fighting over who got to finish the last scrapings of a saucepan of butternut and pecorino fregola topped with lamb marrow crumble at Berners Tavern. The ensuing battle wasn't pretty but I'm only slightly ashamed of it."
Gavin Hanly (Producer)
"It's usually Hawksmoor that manages to impress me and this year is no exception as the bacon ribs at Foxlow were everything I was hoping they would be. Falling apart, delicious and despite being massive left me wanting more."
Rebecca Brett (Writer - @hungrybecs)
"My best dish of the year has to be the cherry wood roasted Peking duck at HKK. Eat the ultra crispy skin first, as is traditional, with golden sugar and hoisin sauce, then go for the sauce again but this time with a cut of the tender breast and finish with the shredded leg meat rolled in a sesame pancake. Perfection. I visited before the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in October, this dish alone was worth the accolade."
Georgie Travis (Writer - @GeorgieTravis)
"My choice is the heritage potato, turnip and coal dish from Restaurant Story. This dish from the highly acclaimed tasting menu at Restaurant Story succeeds in its pure simplicity. Carefully sourced, seasonal ingredients with just enough of a touch of the absurd from the coal oil emulsion made for the best mashed potato of my life, creamy and decadent, yet utterly unique. Gastronomy meets home cooking. Tom Sellers, I salute you!"
Felicity Spector (Writer - @FelicitySpector)
"I’ve had SO many amazing things this year it was rather impossible to choose. In the end, I had to go for a dessert. And it’s the sticky toffee pudding at Quo Vadis – a huge slice of incredibly rich, soft sponge, dense with dates and drenched in a vast lake of exemplary toffee sauce. With superhuman effort, I managed the lot. I’ve had a lot of sticky toffee puddings in my time, but none better than this. In second place, by the way, was the greengage almond clafoutis at Arbutus. Decadent, sticky, warm and very, very rich: serves two, said the menu. I put paid to that."
Bethan Rees (Writer - @bethan_rees)
"The best thing I've eaten all year is the Mac 'n' Cheese with Ginger Pig bacon from the Fat Bear pop-up residency at the Sun and 13 Cantons, Soho. It was shamelessly creamy, smokey, and all round gluttonous. A great British twist on a US staple."
Adysson Pope (Writer - @AddysonPope)
"The best thing I ate this year was easily Ollie Dabbous's 'Mash & Gravy' as part of the tasting menu at his celebrated self-titled restaurant. Don't be fooled by the unassuming name - it's by far the creamiest, most moreish and smooth bowl of potato you will ever taste, smothered in a rich and meaty jus. I could have eaten it forever. Comfort food at it's finest."
Lucy Self (Writer - @joelwporter)
"As positive as vendors getting permanent sites is for London's restaurant scene, there's nothing like eating it as the street food god's intended, in the open air. It was like this (perched on an old crate at Night Tales tucking into a chilli-laced, meat-juice-down-the-chin 'Jazzy Jeffery') that I remembered why Patty & Bun was so great in the first place."
Joel Porter (Writer - @joelwporter)
"There was a lot of great fried chicken to be had around London in 2013 and I did my best to eat a lot of it. My favourite fried bird wasn't to be found at the successful Roost pop-up, however, or even at The Clove Club with their celebrated buttermilk and pine salt version; no, it was the Chicken Karaage at Tonkotsu that had me hooked. Although more famous for their ramen, which is also fantastic, I really kept going back to Tonkotsu (time and time again) for that chicken."
Louis Fernando (Writer - @tuckandvine)
"The best thing i've eaten all year was the Ox Tail in coal oil dish served up at Simon Rogan's new opening, The French in Manchester. The dish combines Ox tail tartare with kohlrabi, pumpkin seed and sunflower shoots dressed with a 'coal oil' which has been steeped in charcoal. This marked the high point of the spectacular ten course tasting menu there and has won many fans including the likes of Times Critic Giles Coren who commented I'd walk to Manchester barefoot in the rain for one more mouthful..' . I'm eagerly awaiting the 2014 opening of Simon Rogan's restaurant at Claridges Hotel to see if he can repeat the success of The French."