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The Hot Dinners 2021 awards - the complete review of the year

It's that time of year again! We're taking a look back at a year of dining - where we finally emerged from lockdown for an extended (and hopefully permanent) period. London's restaurant scene slowly built itself back up and there were some wonderful new restaurants. Here's our round-up of 2021.

 

Best new restaurant - Bibi

Bibi

Bibi

42 North Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 6ZR

In the run-up to our meal at Bibi, we'd already heard many good things about the restaurant but that still didn't prepare us for just how good it was. Taking Indian cuisine and filtering it through his experience at restaurants like L'Enclume and Moor Hall, chef Chet Sharma has created a menu of non-stop hits. It's one of those restaurants where you declare "I would eat that all over again" as you leave - with delights like the beef pepper fry and the stunning Lahori chicken easily some of our favourite dishes of the year. It's also a highly convivial room and the prices are extremely reasonable for what's easily Mayfair's best restaurant right now.

If you haven't been yet, this should be top of your list of restaurants to visit in 2022. 

Our Bibi Test Drive

More about Bibi

 

Best looking restaurant - Sessions Arts Club

Sessions Arts Club

Sessions Arts Club

24 Clerkenwell Green, Farringdon, London EC1R 0NA

This Clerkenwell restaurant, which also saw the return of Florence Knight in the kitchen, took over what used to be the Judge's Dining Room at the Grade II listed courthouse. The design takes shabby chic to the max, with a carefully weathered look throughout that looks striking in person and quite unlike any other dining room in London. It's an incredibly beautiful room and comes more into its own when the lights go down and the gas-fired roof lighting comes into play. 

Our Sessions Arts Club Test Drive

More about Sessions Arts Club

 

Also see - Nomad and Jose Pizarro at The Royal Academy: Continuing the better-use-of-courthouses theme, the new Nomad hotel in Covent Garden has a drop-dead gorgeous dining room in a covered courtyard. Meanwhile, Jose Pizarro's latest is in the wonderful setting of the Senate Rooms at the Royal Academy. 

 

Best place for a long "clear my afternoon diary" lunch - Otto's

Otto's

Otto's

182 Grays Inn Rd, London WC1X 8EW

We had been told by so many people to go to Otto's before finally making our first visit this year - from those who loved the ceremony of the pressed duck (which we witnessed, although didn't have) and the classic and elaborate French cuisine on offer (these scallops overflowing with Champagne sauce are a good example). However its best attribute, in our minds, is that it's 100% the best place for the occasion that happens too seldom nowadays, the long boozy lunch. Where else would you want to go for a slow lunch that winds its way through the afternoon while you work on delaying your inevitable hangover with another drink. You'll need a fair time to recover after the ministrations of Otto and his team - but it'll be worth it

Our Otto's Test Drive

More about Otto's

 

Also see - Oxeye: Not so much a boozy lunch (though the British-only drinks pairing is excellent), but one where you're taken through an array of beautifully constructed dishes in a very calming environment. 

 

Best dive headfirst into dessert - the tiramisu at Brutto

Brutto

Brutto

36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross St, London EC1M 6BN

The opening of Brutto in Farringdon saw the triumphant return of Russell Norman to the London dining scene. It's also very much the kind of restaurant you'd be happy revisiting again and again - we'd order those "cuddles" any day. But one of the big reasons to visit is their tiramisu. It's a deceptively difficult dish to master and in the past Hot Dinners have been divided on its merits, but Brutto's incredibly creamy version is the living embodiment of dessert as the perfect comfort food. We'd like a portion right now, please. 

Our Brutto Test Drive

More about Brutto

 

Also see - Cafe Cecilia: The deep-fried bread and butter pudding here is an absolute belter. 

 

Best alfresco experience - The Garden at The Corinthia

The Garden at The Corinthia

The Garden at Corinthia London

Whitehall Pl, Westminster, London SW1A 2BD

As the site of our first meal out post-lockdown in April this lunch came with its own in-built rosy glow, but the setting and food certainly helped things along. Is it bad to say that one of the best things about this hidden-away spot at The Corinthia London is that it barely feels alfresco at all, what with the roaring fires, heaters and awnings? Executive chef André Garrett is currently serving up an Alpine menu of tartiflette and baked lobster thermidor to keep any wintry chills at bay.

Our Test Drive of The Garden

 

Also see - Campfire where Two Tribes brewery created a wonderful alfresco space near King's Cross and also Tacos Padre, serving up top-class tacos under cover in Borough Market. 

 

Best meal kit - Helene Darroze

Helene Darroze at Home

Helene Darroze at Home

It's almost hard to fathom now, but as the first three months of the year were spent at home, the meal kit came back with a vengeance. This time we noticed that there was a little less emphasis on preparing everything from scratch yourself and Helene Darroze's At Home dinner was the perfect example. Each dish needed very little work, but still delivered something that you could see as coming from a three-Michelin-starred kitchen. The best was this dish of crab overlaid with caviar - one of the best things we've eaten in or out of a restaurant this year. 

Our Helene Darroze at Home Test Drive

More about Helene Darroze at The Connaught

 

Also see - The Clove Club: A late entry to the at-home game, but The World's 50 Best restaurant did it with style 

 

Best cocktail - The Egerton slurp

@hotdinners

There’s no delicate way to take your first sip of the legendary martinis at the Egerton House Hotel in Chelsea… ##london ##martini ##chelsea

♬ telepatía - Kali Uchis

The Egerton

17-19 Egerton Terrace, London SW3 2BX

This is a drink that really needs a video to explain it. The Egerton's martini is not new, but it's something that's really come to our attention this year. (Our thanks to fellow martini aficionado and restaurant PR Hugh Wright who brought it to our notice and coined the term the Egerton Slurp). The glass is poured to the absolute rim with frozen vodka and only then moved to your table in the most delicate of operations. Your only option at this point is to lean down and have a sip before you can even think of lifting the glass yourself. All that and it's a very, very good martini. It is also, very, very strong - one of those cocktails that very much needs a two-drink limit (unless you have pre-booked a room to collapse in upstairs). 

More about The Egerton Slurp

 

Also see - Side Hustle at Nomad: Yes, of course we were won over by a drink that's served to us in a huge metal skull. it was a great cocktail, sure, but we need that "glass" in our life for all our drinks. 

 

Best snacks - Jose Pizarro's spicy prawn fritters

Jose Pizarro at the Royal Academy

Jose Pizarro at the Royal Academy

Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

He's behind some of London's best tapas already and his restaurant at The Royal Academy seems like a perfect fit. This is just the kind of food, accompanied with a nice glass of Cava, that we'd like when we need a little rest from all the culture. These spicy prawn fritters were the real winner of our meal there, pure tapas perfection. 

Our Jose Pizarro at the Royal Academy Test Drive

More about Jose Pizarro at the Royal Academy

 

Also see - Hackney Coterie: The bite-sized thousand layered Szechuan potatoes with black tea mayo are probably the best potatoes we've had all year. Prop up the bar here with them and a glass of wine and you'll be very happy. 

 

Best scene - Cafe Cecilia

 Cafe Cecilia

Cafe Cecilia

Canal Place, 32 Andrews Rd, London E8 4RL

How a Hackney 'cafe' became a fully-fledged 'see and be seen' spot this year is down to various factors. Owner Max Rocha trained up at St John and the River Cafe and brought elements of both to his first standalone restaurant off Broadway Market. It didn't hurt that his family's fashion connections (his dad John and sister Simone) meant that the crowd here are beautifully attired too. Early word of mouth meant soon meant that getting a table here became the restaurant equivalent of scoring seats on centre court for the Wimbledon finals with ensuing foodie bragging rights. Book now if you fancy a table before Easter.

Our Cafe Cecilia Test Drive

More about Cafe Cecilia

 

Also see - The PlimsollIt's a hard thing to turn a pub in Finsbury Park into one of the hottest places in town, but Four Legs have completely reinvented this pub. It's nigh on impossible to book a table, but well worth it when you do, and not just for that burger (although it's still amazing). 

 

Best reinvention - Kitchen Table

Kitchen Table

Kitchen Table

70 Charlotte St., London W1T 4QG

Closed since the start of the pandemic (although they kept themselves busy by sending out a great meal kit), James Knappett and Sandia Chang's Kitchen Table returned in July in a very different form. While the central premise of the shared kitchen counter remained, everything about the room (including even the counter itself) was completely changed. It also meant that Bubbledogs was retired, now replaced by a bar which has become the start of the Kitchen Table experience. it's a very successful overhaul and one that could well get them that third Michelin star. 

Our Kitchen Table Test Drive

More about Kitchen Table

 

Also see - The Barbary Next DoorThe Barbary team took its Jacob The Angel cafe and completely transformed it into a tiny version of the Barbary, doing what they do best - creating a buzzy counter dining scene like no other. The reinvention of Bob Bob Ricard City is also very impressive.  

 

Best reason to have the cheese course - The Cheese Barge

Cheese Barge

The Cheese Barge

Sheldon Square, Paddington Central, London W2 6HY

We've been tempted by a good few cheese courses over the year but the Cheese Barge, where the entire menu is essentially a series of cheese courses remains our of our best dining out experiences this year. It's all down to the fun of being on the water combined with an array of dishes where a great deal of thought has been put into how cheese can be used to construct an entire meal. And of course there was some amazing aligot (see above). 

Our Cheese Barge Test Drive

More about The Cheese Barge

 

 

Favourite delivery - Blacklock

Blacklock

Blacklock

London delivery only 

Blacklock had already been delivering some particularly great meal kits during the lockdown portion of 2021, but it was their hot-food delivery that really won us over. Altered ever-so-slightly for home delivery, it's as close to the experience as you'll get without heading to the restaurant. The ash-roasted sweet potato dish remains a winner and the chops travelled well but we remain very much in love with the pig's head nuggets. 

Our Blacklock delivery Test Drive

 

 

Best out of town visit - The Mash Inn

The Mash Inn

The Mash Inn

Horseshoe Rd, Bennett End, Radnage, High Wycombe HP14 4EB

After a long lockdown, any meal out would have been a delight, but the ingenuity and enthusiasm that this rural Buckinghamshire hamlet pub threw into its alfresco dining experience really won us over. Our long lunch kicked off with perfect martinis beside the duck pond followed by a lunch in a tent warmed by log burners, and concluded with epic short rib tacos and finally pineapple baos. Truly memorable and a welcome return to dining in/out.

Our Mash Inn Test Drive

More about The Mash Inn

 

Also see - The Fordwich Arms: It took us longer than we'd have liked to visit this much-lauded restaurant, but it easily lived up to very high expectations. So easy to get to on the fast train from St Pancras, this is highly recommended as a day-trip from London. 

 

Best sushi - Sumi

Sumi

Sumi

157 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2RS

If you're wondering if everything chef Endo Kazutoshi turns to gold, then the opening of his new more casual Notting Hill restaurant would seem to suggest so. Blowtorched nigiri were excellent, but the dish we're still dreaming about were these tamakis, particularly the hotate with its slices of scallops, shiso flowers, soy and salt. Both visually arresting and dreamily delicious. 

Our Sumi Test Drive

More about Sumi

 

Also see: Sachi at Pantechnicon is not only a beautifully designed subterranean dining room, but the sushi here is particularly inventive like the toro tataki with sea dulse.

 

Biggest TikTok - Park Row

@hotdinners

Get a first look inside Park Row, the new Batman/ DC Comics themed restaurant in Soho, London ##batman ##londonfood ##parkrow ##london

♬ Birth of a Penguin (Pt. II) - Batman Returns Soundtrack/Danny Elfman

Park Row

77 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 9ZN

Yes, 2021 was when things really started taking off for restaurant and food-related TikTok (and it's something we've become just a tad addicted to ourselves). As for our offerings, nothing came close to the interest in London's new Batman-themed restaurant Park Row (over 600k views) where followers were particularly with its immersive restaurant, The Monarch Theatre. 

Our Park Row Test Drive

More about Park Row

 

 

Most missed - Joy in Portobello

Joy in Portobello

Joy in Portobello

Portobello Dock, 344 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 5BU

The impact of the pandemic continues to be felt, with many more restaurants closing this year. However, most missed by us will be one restaurant that was barely given a chance, but still made its mark. Set up on the site of The Dock Kitchen in 2020, Stevie Parle's Joy made the area a big hit again and it's a crying shame that it was forced to close for good, barely a year after starting up. All eyes will be on whatever replaces it, because there are very big shoes to fill. 

Our Joy Test Drive

 

Also see -  Frankly, any of the restaurants that closed this year in one of the most challenging periods ever for London hospitality. We only hope that better things lie ahead for everyone involved. 

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