Cheese and Biscuits: Restaurant of the Year 2022

Since the madness of the Covid Times, you may have noticed that the rate of posting on this blog has slowed down a bit. Where I used to try and do 6 or 7 posts a month, and with that obviously stopping completely while there was nothing open to review, I have since found that 2 or 3 entries a month is a more realistic target for the new, more cautious restaurant landscape.

If we ever manage to see the end of the cost of living and energy crises, and confidence returns to restaurateurs and consumers alike, perhaps I’ll pick up the pace again but then again, maybe writing up a smaller number of better, more interesting places is altogether a more sensible approach for the medium term.

Anyway, for the reasons I’ve mentioned, the pool of candidates for my favourites of 2022 is a bit smaller this year, but glancing through the list I can hardly say the quality has dipped. In fact if anything, the standard of food being produced up and down the country seems to be higher than ever, and is all the more remarkable considering the incredibly difficult circumstances in which it is produced. So with a general “thank you” to anywhere that’s fed me over the last twelve months, here’s a few of the highlights.

Best in London runner up – Bouchon Racine, Farringdon

You’re either fans of Henry Harris’ food, or you haven’t tried it yet, and since the sad closure of Racine all those years ago it feels like nowhere has managed to live up to the gallic-shaped hole it left. Sure, the Coach and Horses (Harris’ next venture) was – is – a very fine gastropub, but was hardly exactly unique in the UK, and not quite the perfect vehicle for his talents. Bouchon Racine, in a lovely bright space above the Three Compasses in Farringdon, takes up where Racine left off, yet seems to be charging a whole lot less than was necessary on Brompton Road for the same unapologetically French, exciting and mature food. This is undoubtedly one of the best French restaurants in London and – whisper it – probably a whole lot better than most French restaurants in France, too…

Best in London winner – Manteca, Shoreditch

Manteca is the kind of place that, if you only had the menu to base your opinion on, you’d quite reasonably decide it’s just another mid-range Italian-British restaurant to slot in next to Padella and Bancone and various other places doing this kind of thing rather well, and it would be worth a quick bite with friends and nothing more.

You’d be wrong. Manteca certainly has the template and heritage of a number of other modern Italian restaurants from Trullo to Artusi and many more besides, but manages to stand head and shoulders out from the crowd by virtue of being absolutely world-class at everything they do. Focaccia made fresh daily, their own house-cured salami, hand-made pastas and a wonderful way with game (mallard, pheasant and partridge have been spotted in recent weeks), this is, as I said at the time, the only Italian restaurant any Londoner will ever need.

Best outside the UK winner – Cascina della Taverna, Desenzano del Garda

I tried hard – very hard – to separate my giddy enthusiasm at being on holiday in one of the most food-obsessed parts of the Western hemisphere and being taken on a long drive out of town to a family-run restaurant where they cook everything on a giant solid-fuel range, from the sober reality of the dishes served up that night. Was I just high on local wine and happy to be part of this authentic, homely experience, or was the food genuinely that brilliant? In the end, I decided it was the latter. Choose the provenance and style of your steak (some very local, some from as far afield as Ireland or Poland), have them grill it over the wood fire, enjoy it with seasonal veg and perhaps a bit of horse carpaccio, which is generally the thing to do. It’s very easy to enjoy yourself in this part of the world, but Cascina della Taverna offers that little extra bit of magic.

Best outside of London runner up – Catch at the Old Fish Market, Weymouth

Despite the obvious benefits of opening a fine-dining seafood restaurant within spitting distance of the fishing boats that supply it, it’s strange how few places outside of the most touristy parts of Cornwall and Devon are brave enough to do so. Catch, based in an old warehouse in the pretty medieval harbour of Weymouth in Dorset, is proof that if your ingredients are world class, and there’s enough talent in the kitchen to make the most of it, you’ll create your own demand and put your town on the culinary map. An impressive little operation indeed.

Best outside of London and overall best of 2022 – The Bridge Arms, Canterbury

Of course, I was always going to enjoy the Bridge. From the same team that brought us the impeccable Fordwich Arms, itself a best restaurant winner back in 2019, they were hardly likely to drop the ball on this their latest project, wrapping up the visually arresting, intelligently constructed food they made a name with in a more family-friendly gastropubby package. But quite how brilliant the Bridge Arms turned out to be was a shock even if as I said, like me, you were more or less expecting to be wildly impressed.

In short, nothing that comes out of the Bridge Arms is less than perfect, whether its throwaway snacks like padron peppers or (a nod to the early Clove Club menus) nuggets of buttermilk fried chicken, to the elaborate techniques and geometrically-precise platings of the larger courses. I mean even the triple-cooked chips come lined up like a regimental drill. This is the kind of restaurant that wows you with style but grips you with substance, the modern lines of the presentation never promising more than the flavour of the top ingredients can deliver. I loved it, and I want to go back as soon as possible, and it’s my favourite meal of 2022.

Despite the ongoing issues with, well let’s face it, more or less bloody everything, there are nevertheless reasons to be optimistic about 2023. For a start, if restaurants were able to still innovate and impress given everything that’s happened over the last twelve months, there’s no reason to think they can’t continue to do so in the future. Already my diary is filling up (sporadically, and slowly, but surely) with interesting bits and pieces, and there’s a very exciting new place in Liverpool that’s going to be one of my first reviews of the new year. In the meantime, thanks – again – for reading, and here’s to hoping to many, many fine dinners over the next twelve months. Happy New Year.



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