To say 2022 has been turbulent is putting it mildly. With a change in monarch, three Prime Ministers (one outlived by a lettuce) and four Chancellors in the space of a few months, the only constant in that time was probably your store cupboard ingredients. As for UK hospitality, the perfect storm of staff shortages resulting from Brexit, recovery from the Covid pandemic, the highest inflation since 1982 and breathtaking increases in energy bills have battered an already distressed market; sadly, we predict many more closures and crushed dreams in 2023. This year we also saw Corbin and King being ousted from the company they co-founded, various closures (The Glasshouse in Kew and Simpsons Tavern to name a couple), the sad passing of legendary restaurateurs Andrew Edmunds and Alastair Little, and the return of avian flu. But despite all the despondency there were great food and drink experiences to be had, new openings to be excited about and there are still things to look forward to next year even if the general outlook is bleak.
As per Palate tradition in December, it’s time to reflect on the year gone by and look forward. In this roundup J A Smith (JS), Amanda David (AD) and Mike Daw (MD) compare notes on their highs and lows of 2022, as well as their hopes and predictions for 2023. But before we start the discussion it’s time to announce our New Restaurant of the Year award…
Palate’s new restaurant of the year award
This traditionally goes to the restaurant that Palate’s writers were unanimously impressed by and feel has the most promise for the future. Previous winners include Lorne (2017), Cornerstone (2018) and Sessions Arts Club (2021). This year’s winner, Caravel (pictured above), joins such illustrious company.
Restaurants on canal boats are not a new concept (cf. London Shell Co) but at Caravel brothers Fin and Lorcan Spiteri have already impressed with their understated yet romantic floating restaurant. Since the Spring they have been delivering quietly confident bistro dishes that aren’t necessarily ground-breaking but somehow elevate old comfort favourites (including, of course, their unique take on prawn toast). They’ve just opened a new cocktail bar to accompany it, Bruno’s, so we have high hopes.
Other outstanding openings of the year
AD: For me my other outstanding new restaurants have to be Lisboeta, Apricity and St John Marylebone. Obviously Nuno Mendes has serious form so I’m always ready to try his food; also, as someone without a particularly sweet tooth, the pork fat custard intrigued me. Whilst I miss Tredwells, it’s good to see Chantelle Nicholson really spreading her wings and I have been impressed by Apricity. The commitment to sustainability is real and passionate, extending to the staff uniform, the furniture, light fittings – everything! Another St John venue is always welcome and this is everything I had hoped: the restraint and classic simplicity of the other restaurants but with its own personality. The deep-fried rarebit was delicious but it was the fresh mackerel that stole the show for me; this new Marylebone venue is already on my list of regulars.
JS: I had very high expectations of Apricity this year and I was not disappointed. The sustainable, waste-avoiding ethos is a great example for others to follow but the execution of the dishes, service and ambience are all great too. I’d also add Honey & Co on Lamb’s Conduit Street. Technically this isn’t a new restaurant – it’s just moved from its old location – but it hit the ground running and has only enhanced what is already London’s best street. And whilst it’s too early to say, I have a very strong feeling that Bouchon Racine will be a huge success.
MD: Lisboeta for me was very impressive. St John Marylebone was delicious. But I have to give a very special shout-out to bonkers Miznon which has opened with complete abandon of any kind of restaurant convention.
Memorable meals of the year
JS: The poularde de Bresse demi-deuil dinner at Otto’s was a truly exceptional meal. There’s no restaurant quite like it in the UK. For me I’d also add the randomness of discovering Le Confessionnal in Belgium, the garden-to-plate wonder of De Kas in Amsterdam and Lorne’s five-year anniversary dinner back in February. And a recent new entry, just in time: Restaurant Twenty-Two in Cambridge really impressed me. I also had some great meals at old stalwarts like Noizé, Medlar, Andrew Edmunds, Parsons, Saint Jacques, The French House and The Quality Chop House – long may they remain reliable go-tos.
AD: The chicken dinner at Otto’s was a dreamlike experience – I still can’t believe that meal happened. I also very much enjoyed F.K.A.B.A.M. (Formerly Known as Black Axe Mangal) at the counter – as close to feeling the passion and pride that drives hospitality as you can get and huge flavours. Also the mussel soup and perfectly cooked venison at Kitchen W8. It’s also a lovely, welcoming dining room.
MD: It was an incredibly good year across the board, despite difficult circumstances. The absurdly generous and delicious dinner at Otto’s and Marco Pierre White cooking Redefine Meat [plant based meat substitutes] at Kitchen Table will certainly stay with me for a while. I also had a delicious old school dinner at The Canton Arms, one of my favourite places in London. I’d also say Arepa and Co. for a fabulous discovery of Venezuelan food, Myrtle in Chelsea which is strangely underrated, and Chishuru which introduced me to some incredible African cooking.
Most outstanding dish of the year
AD: There are many contenders for this. The deep-fried bread and butter pudding at Café Cecilia is destined to be one of London’s iconic dishes. At Darjeeling Express the Tangra prawns are so good that someone once stole one through a window from a diner’s plate! Then there’s the fazzoletti with duck ragu and duck fat pangrattato at Manteca. And finally, the prawn toast at Caravel: a generous, grown-up version – and that chilli dip!
MD: There has been a bit too much to choose from this year, so I’m giving out shared kudos to the following wondrous dishes: the poularde de Bresse demi-deuil en vessie (chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder) at Otto’s; deep fried sweetbreads cooked by Gareth Ward of Ynyshir; anchovies on toast with honey at Bottle and Rye – incredible; fried boudin noir wontons at Le Servan in Paris; stuffed pigs trotters with morels at Chez Bruce; and the ‘Jubilee’ trifle from Scott’s to celebrate the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
JS: Picking out individual dishes is always tricky but strangely it’s all chicken for me. The charcoaled chicken and corn dish at Nebbia in Milan blew me away with its flavour and texture. Then the poularde with vin jaune sauce and morels at Le Confessionnal – a perfectly executed classic at a restaurant that can only be described as the love child of Otto’s and Quality Chop House. And more recently, the “life cycle of the chicken” starter I had at Restaurant Twenty-Two in Cambridge. I must also give an honourable mention to the chickpea doughnut at Apricity!
Most impressive bars or pubs of the year
AD: From a foodie point of view, The Pelican in Notting Hill and The Tamil Prince in Islington are both fab. I’ve also just kept going to a lot of established favourites: The Drapers Arms for great food and THAT wine list; The French House for Soho history, the cosy bar and the random conversations I have at every visit (the phone policy works!); and Bar Termini for its old school style and those Negronis poured straight from the freezer.
MD: Yes, The Pelican certainly deserves a very special mention here. I’d also give a shout-out to The Canton Arms which is cooking some very strong food right now. This year I rather re-discovered an admiration for Guinness, so Mayfair’s Guinea Grill, The Coach and Horses in Soho and The George in Fitzrovia all require recognition for serving an excellent iteration of the stuff.
JS: I love all of those places. But there’s one stand-out new(ish) bar for me: Amaro in Kensington. I’m eternally grateful to the very knowledgeable co-founders of The Martini Club for introducing this classy cocktail bar to me earlier in the year, as well as nearby Publiq. I’m also a fan of The Thin White Duke in Soho, which opened in March, and pleased to see Swift’s expansion with a third bar in Borough. Unseen Bar in Milan with its floppy disks for coasters and inventive drinks impressed me. I’m interested to see where Salvatore Calabrese’s new bar Velvet at The Corinthia goes and Caravel’s new ‘side project’ bar Bruno’s.
Low points of the year
AD: There were a few low points, sadly, from the takeover of Corbin and King’s business, to the way Simpson’s Tavern has been treated by its landlord. We also very sadly lost Andrew Edmunds (though, thankfully, his restaurant is still going). I can’t think of a particularly bad meal I’ve had though this year. Maybe I’ve just wiped them from my memory!
MD: I think Corbin and King’s ejection from their own business, literally and figuratively, by a brand who I happen to know have misled staff, is a pretty chilling reminder of how operators, no matter who they are, can be treated. Sea Containers for me was by far the worst meal of the year, possibly the worst meal I’ve ever paid for in London.
JS: My last meal at The Wolseley was in January (an omelette Arnold Bennett to be precise) and it’s particularly sad because I didn’t realise at the time that would be my last meal there. I know some broadsheet critics and former devotees have gone back to support the old staff who’ve stayed on but I just haven’t been able to do it yet. I’m sure Corbin and King have something up their sleeves though so let’s see.
Speaking of the omelette Arnold Bennett, this is on the menu at the recently-opened Mount Street Restaurant above The Audley. This posh pub and restaurant offering by Artfarm seems to be receiving universal praise in (most probably paid for) social media posts at the moment. It’s a pleasant space full of interesting artwork but the experience left me cold – whilst the food is technically fine, and I know it’s Mayfair, £48 for distinctly average steak and chips is bordering on obscene. (Just for some perspective you can get a couple of three course set lunches at Noble Rot or Quality Chop for about the same price.) I also had a dire meal at The Bleeding Heart Bistro (I’ll spare you the details of the mouse incident) and won’t be returning to faux Italian Il Borro. In each case I just wished I had gone to Brutto where I know I can have a good time for a fraction of the cost. I think this is how we’ll need to weather the next year or so; let’s not give up going out altogether but choose to spend money wisely at reliable places.
What we’re looking forward to in 2023
AD: I’m looking forward to the new Darjeeling Express at Kingly Court with the kitchen back in view where they belong. There’s also a new Chishuru venue, Tom Cenci’s Nessa and I’m very excited about AngloThai. It seems hard-hitting Thai restaurants could be a new trend. And I’m talking proper Thai spices too, not softened for the Western palate.
Of course there’s going to be some concern about rising costs impacting profit, and potentially a shrinking customer base as people cut down on ‘luxuries’. Maybe we’ll see more set menu options across the board, with and without wine, where people can budget how much they will spend on a night out.
MD: West London (particularly around Notting Hill) has seen a slew of great openings this year – The Pelican, The Princess Royal, Caia, Dorian, Sumi, Akub and more. Who knew that Notting Hill would be churning out such great cooking? I think as the cost of living crisis really takes hold, it’s a smart move for operators to head to the more well-heeled parts of town where locals are, let’s say, insulated from any such worries, and able to give them regular patronage.
I’m pretty confident that Indonesian food (thanks for the most part down to the wonders of Rahel Stephanie aka “eatwithsp00ns”) will soon take a much larger place among London’s food scene and as the Thai trend (Speedboat, Plaza Khao Geng and more) continues to grow (AngloThai and Chet’s in Shepherd’s Bush are opening soon).
Despite the recession, top end places commanding £200+ per person will still open regardless. The riot of Bacchanalia or the perfected luxury of a Japanese sushi counter Taku which have opened in November (the month the recession was confirmed), Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London at the Old War Office, Frantzen at Harrods and Ikoyi’s (expensive) new digs at 180 Strand all seem to affirm the strata that unfortunately exist within London’s restaurant scene.
JS: Yes, west London seems to be having a bit of a renaissance right now which I’m sure will continue in 2023. Kensington was a desert for decent cocktail bars until Amaro and Publiq came along recently, and now there are all the great restaurants and pubs you also mentioned Mike.
I’m particularly excited about The Midland Grand Dining Room which is expected to open in March 2023 with Emma Underwood (formerly of The Pem) as GM. The Gilbert Scott closed over a year ago and that iconic space has been left empty for far too long! And the excellent Crossroads bar is leaving its original site in Camden for a bigger venue in Newington Green next year, joining neighbours such as Jolene and Perilla, so that’s all very exciting. And we’ve just seen that Luke Selby will be the new head chef at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, opening a new chapter for the restaurant.
In terms of trends, ‘posh pubs’ are certainly on the ascendancy and there will likely be more emphasis on sustainability (following trailblazers like Apricity and Vanderlyle) though there’s the risk of increasing ‘bandwagoning’ with empty virtue-signalling statements – the government is probably right to be cracking down on greenwashing (where businesses make unsubstantiated claims about their green credentials). And one trend I want to see the back of in 2023 is making bread a course in its own right. If you’re in France it’s served and replenished automatically and used to nibble on between courses, soak up leftover sauce and go with your cheese. It is not a course. It is an accompaniment.
As we’re now in recession and the war in Ukraine continues, things are all a bit worrying and unpredictable. We will inevitably see more closures. Restaurants can only absorb so much before the consumer is affected (as shown by the recent price hikes at Richoux) but it’s good to see already that restaurants like Cin Cin (Fitzrovia and Hove) are being very transparent about how they’re reviewing menu costs month by month and trying their best to help customers with offers like Ten Pound Tuesdays. We’ll see if others follow suit. That’s if we don’t end up in WW3 of course.
This article was published in December 2022 and reflects our views at that time.
Photos by J A Smith, Amanda David and Mike Daw.