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Best Of The Best Part VIII: Dining

The Big Idea: The New Era of Indulgent Dining

Illustration By Shout

We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but we were greedy fools. So overexcited were we by the extraordinary array of dining- out opportunities through the late 2010s — myriad cuisines, at every price level, employing a range of service styles and delivery methods — that we collectively gorged like never before on any food

that was cooked by others. Consequently, we found ourselves racked with indigestion and bordering on obesity — metaphorically, though at times literally. What did we need? No, not a pandemic: no one deserved that level of hellish retribution, but a healthy reset, for diner and restaurateur alike. In 2022, the UK is emerging as a better culinary nation with restaurants that are more authentic, more sustainable, more distinctive — and, crucially, simply more fun to go to.

We are no longer lured in by gimmicky concepts that frequently masked a lack of substance. Restaurants that take themselves too seriously at the expense of the diner no longer hold the same strange appeal. Precision and culinary technique are not goals in themselves but need to be employed in the service of the guest, not the chef. Offering exceptional cooking is not enough; that cooking has to provide deliciousness and, ultimately, joy. It seems the pandemic may have helped us see that just a little more clearly.

Because, thankfully, there is plenty of joy to be found in new restaurants both here and overseas. At Lisboeta, in the capital’s Fitzrovia dining district, you can feel the atmosphere of conviviality when you step through the door, further enhancing food that’s been cooked with Portuguese passion. Up in Perthshire, diners are delighting in a lighthearted but seriously tasty ode to Scotland and its bountiful produce at Killiecrankie House. Down in Kent, pub-goers are privy to Michelin-starred food and highly knowledgeable service without ever having to be on their best behaviour at the Bridge Arms. And if you venture farther afield, Normal, in the northern Catalan city of Girona, will provide an abnormally brilliant meal at abnormally reasonable prices. These beauties and their ilk are mashing up the most attractive elements from traditionally siloed sectors — pubs, bistros, country-house hotels, neighbourhood favourites, metropolitan fine diners — to write their own freshly fashioned narratives.

In a happy but rare confluence, restaurant owners and restaurant goers alike have become more discerning in almost every sense. The best dining establishments are also simply better places, in that they no longer pillage nature or, indeed, people. As a society we’ve worked out that for a restaurant to burn brightly but briefly off the back of exploitation dressed up as perfectionism is ultimately beneficial to no one.

That discernment is more pertinent than ever. When we dine out, it’s imperative that the experience is memorable in all the right ways. Whether we opt for something casual and relatively accessible or snag a coveted reservation months ahead for the most in-demand tables, the restaurant sector can deliver

a taste of the good life when we need it most. Choose wisely, with a little help from your friends…

Yoku’s jauntily named ‘Underwater Kingdom’ 

High-End Japanese: Yoku, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

While some might head to the Cotswolds to wind down, this glamorous new spot in Cheltenham is for those who want to continue the party. The brainchild of fashion entrepreneur Julian Dunkerton and his design- consultant wife, Jade Holland Cooper, Yoku offers a multifaceted high-end Japanese dining experience. The open kitchen is led by talented young chef Jesse Chung, under the expert stewardship of former Soho Farmhouse culinary director Ronnie Bonetti.

The à la carte menu takes in sashimi platters, donburi rice bowls, miso black cod, gyoza and temaki rolls, amongst others, but opt for the nine-course tasting menu and then luxuriate in the immaculate presentations and opulent surrounds. Located in the city’s upscale boutique hotel No. 131, the restaurant even boasts its own adjacent cocktail lounge called Bar Tokyo, so there’s little reason to leave the premises.

Classy Portuguese: Lisboeta, Fitzrovia, London

Lisbon-inspired fare at Nuno Mendes’s Charlotte Street establishment 

Lisboeta is Nuno Mendes’s culinary love letter to the city of his birth, and we can all bask in this amorous relationship by feasting on fat scarlet prawns and dry-cured black pork aplenty. Mendes is the highly creative chef behind the rocket- fuelled Chiltern Firehouse, among

others, so he knows how to devise a big, buzzing restaurant. Lisboeta, situated on the gastronomic stairway to heaven that is Charlotte Street, boasts a long ground-floor counter in front of an open kitchen, a spacious first-floor dining room and a more intimate basement area.

Dishes are split into snacks, including a delicious Goan-spiced empada; petiscos (or small plates) such as Mendes’s celebrated bacalhau confit-cod dish with crispy potatoes; followed by tachos and travessas, meaning “pots and platters”, featuring the likes of slow-cooked lamb shoulder in a red-wine, turnip- top and bread stew. Ensure you leave room for the extraordinarily tasty egg-yolk and pork-fat custard dessert to experience a full sensory transportation to the Portuguese capital.

Fuss-Free Fare: Sessions Arts Club, Clerkenwell, London

“The slow-burn restaurant hit of the past 12 months…” 

Hidden away in a former judges’ lodging in London’s Clerkenwell Green, Sessions Arts Club has been the slow-burn restaurant hit of the past 12 months, wowing diners with its marriage of idiosyncratic style and flavour- forward substance. As the name implies, the set-up here includes a wine bar and gallery cum event space (as well as a rare roof terrace), but it’s the food that’s the stellar attraction.

The kitchen is in the hands of Florence Knight, who cut her teeth at the late lamented Polpetto in Soho. Knight’s menu is ostensibly simple but succeeds in introducing uncommon, and uncommonly effective, ingredient combinations to the party. There’s no fanfare in the cooking or presentation but plenty on the palate. Furthermore, as you sip your pre-dinner cocktail and survey your surrounds, you can rest assured that you’ve landed in the shabbiest-yet-chicest dining room in town.

Parisian Seafood: Queque Part, Paris, France

Quelque Part – the brain-child of “rock-star chef” Florian Barbarot  Pierre Lucet-Penato

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Comfort Food: Normal, Girona, Spain

Normal, in Girona, is anything but  SALVA LOPEZ

Describing itself as “a normal place on a normal corner in a normal city”, Normal is anything but. This just might have something to do with it being the latest project from the Roca brothers, the fraternal trio behind one of the greatest restaurants in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, also in Girona.

This is the Rocas’ version of a neighbourhood joint, located in the Catalan city’s historic quarter, and it channels the family cooking of their mother and grandmother (Normal’s head chef, Elisabet Nolla, is also female). But the food and drink offerings are, perhaps unsurprisingly, out of this world. Think classic Catalan comfort dishes given a stellar twist: Iberian jamón croquetas; green peas with cod tripe and poached egg; Catalan beans with black sausage; veal tail with marrow and potato Parmentier; baked hake in a cider jus . . . The locally focussed wine list, curated by all-time-great sommelier Josep Roca, is both ridiculously good and highly accessible. So take a trip.

Classic Californian: Horses, Los Angeles

Courtesy Of Horse's

Horses is not trying to reinvent the wheel. That’s kind of the point. Chef-owners Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian’s laid-back approach starts with the space itself. They didn’t build out an entirely new restaurant; instead, they replaced a gastropub, the Pikey, which shuttered in 2020. And before that, from 1937 to 2010, the building on Sunset Boulevard was home to Ye Coach & Horses, a Hollywood haunt where Richard Burton drank and Quentin Tarantino and Tim Roth scribbled scenes for Pulp Fiction on napkins. The chefs — a married couple whose joint résumé includes Noma and the Catbird Seat — gave the interiors a refresh but preserved the place’s vintage charm.

They kept the food classic, too. Johnson and Aghajanian enlisted two more co-chefs (Brittany Ha and Lee Pallerino) to create a menu with unfussy bistro fare that’s as comforting as it is delicious. There are nods to legends of California cuisine but certainly not slavish re-creations.
The smoked salmon on lavash is an oblique reference to Spago’s beloved salmon pizza. And the Cornish game hen with dandelion panzanella is an ode to Zuni Café’s seminal roast chicken and bread salad. Perhaps most importantly, the Horses team has engineered a boisterous atmosphere that’s as much of a draw as the food. It’s hard to find another restaurant as brimming with life and energy as this one.

Indian With A Twist: Bibi, Mayfair, London

Okra Salan at the latest addition to London’s sub-continent repertoire 

Chet Sharma is a downright clever chef — not only because he boasts a PhD in physics from Oxford, but also because his take on contemporary Indian food is genius in itself. Sharma has a culinary as well as an academic pedigree, having trained at the Ledbury in London, Moor Hall in Lancashire and Mugaritz in San Sebastian, all highly acclaimed eateries in their own very different ways. Prior to opening BiBi in September 2021, he headed up R&D at JKS Restaurants, parent to capital favourites Gymkhana, Lyle’s and Sabor.

Now he’s running his own (open) kitchen in Mayfair, turning out light but spicy, flavourful but elegant dishes that build on the subcontinent’s storied food heritage. In the chaat section (inspired by Indian roadside snacks), you’ll encounter Orkney scallops in a nimbu pani ceviche; from the sigree grill come lamb-belly galouti and Lahori chicken; for dessert, don’t miss the Pondicherry mint chocolate kulfi. Ultimately, if you want to experience delicious plates of food that you’re unlikely to have encountered previously, bag a reservation at what is arguably London’s hottest restaurant opening of the past 12 months.

Euro-Asian Fusion: Les Trois Chevaux, New York City

The bar at Les Trois Chevaux is flanked by two Tang Dynasty bronzes transformed into lamps.  Courtesy Les Trois Chevaux

When the Beatrice Inn closed in 2020, nearly a century of history went with it — but so did any obligation to re-create the heavy servings of red meat chef Angie Mar made famous there in recent years. At Les Trois Chevaux, the airy, intimate space she opened next door to the Beatrice, which opened last July, Mar is again both proprietor and chef but now prepares fish and fowl with the disciplined decadence the famed French chef Auguste Escoffier turned into a global standard in the late 19th century.

The seasonal menu blends elements of her own Asian heritage with French techniques. A light, refined foie-gras mille-feuille features Okinawa’s famed kokuto sugar and a subtle dose of white pepper, a staple in Chinese kitchens. The roasted duck breast is cured with cherry blossoms imported from Japan; the rendered fat is flavoured with the tree’s bark and used in the preparation of the accompanying green lentils. It’s a flourish befitting the restaurant’s elegance — and its jacket requirement for gentlemen diners. If you’ve left yours at home, fret not: there’s a closet of vintage YSL awaiting anyone who arrives unprepared.

Taste Of Scotland: Killiecrankie House, Perthshire

Perthshire asparagus poached in beer and honey, seasoned with pollen and flowers, sesame emulsion and a cheese- and-spring-onion sauce  Alexander Baxter

Strike northward from Edinburgh to Perth, then keep going (and going) past Pitlochry to the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. There you’ll eventually happen upon one of Scotland’s finest new restaurants which, helpfully, also has a number of beautiful bedrooms in which to rest your weary traveller’s head.

Killiecrankie House is the passion project of sommelier Matilda Ruffle and chef Tom Tsappis, former city folk who have transformed this Georgian country abode into a super-stylish destination complete with Art Deco cocktail bar, wonderful wine and whisky lists and nightly 13-course tasting menu. Despite Tsappis not being from round that way, his food is both deeply Scottish and refreshingly original: dish names include First Signs of Spring, Five Pound Fish, Dripping Fried Porridge and North Ronaldsay Sheep. Great drinks, great menu, great discovery.

Premium Pub Grub: Bridge Arms, Canterbury, Kent

The Bridge Arms’s traditional roast — like all the fare on offer — is based on seasonality and provenance. 

By all means, pop into this 16th-century rural pub, just south of Canterbury, for a pint. No doubt you’ll be served a good one. But we’d also advise partaking of the generous food offerings, courtesy of rising-star chef couple Daniel and Natasha Smith, while you’re there. Fresh from wowing all- comers at the nearby Fordwich Arms, the duo added this beam-and-fireplace beauty to their mini portfolio last year, after moving into the village of Bridge themselves with their young family.

Many of the dishes are cooked over charcoal in a Josper oven, adding smoky notes to Kentish produce, including seafood sourced from the coast just 10 miles away. Kick off with grilled rock oysters, move on to chicken-liver parfait with Sauternes jelly and then feast on British Wagyu rib eye or whole monkfish tail, not forgetting the exemplary sides on offer. The classic roast option (pictured above), too, is worth a lengthy drive. This is highly elevated pub food in a bucolic garden-of-England setting.

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