The Stars of 2016

 

My visits to Michelin star restaurants often take a backseat to my reviews in Nottingham. I love discovering new places around the city (at which point it feels appropriate to plug my recent post giving an overview of new restaurants here in 2016). I also love my special moments at some of the country’s best restaurants where I chose to spend my spare time and most of my spare money.

Many trips were 1 star restaurants that ranged from good to truly excellent. The Crown at Whitebrook was a picturesque stop-off on the way to Cardiff. I would say the food was not exciting enough to warrant a special journey, though I did enjoy a delicate crab dish most of all. More recently a trip to my homeland called and I visited The Neptune in Hunstanton. It is small a charming venue and the food is certainly good. Whilst it isn’t anything that will set the world alight it is a leading light for cooking in the West Norfolk area. Not far away in Cambridge Alimentum is a much more modern establishment. It was closer to the style of food prevalent at some of the country’s top restaurants. The flavour combinations were good, if anything there was just too much going on on each plate. A lemon dessert was the best dish, pretty and clever.

 

Lemon Dessert - Alimentum

Lemon Dessert – Alimentum

 

Talking of attractive food, Simpsons in Birmingham was consistent on that front. A vibrant trout dish stood out as both pretty and delicious. Their dining room recently refurbished was particularly good looking which, along with the excellent service, made for a strong meal. Alongside this I would put Outlaw’s at the Capital. In London’s crowded marketplace it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Nathan Outlaw’s flagship in Port Isaac is amongst the best in the country, a stunning monkfish carpaccio showed that his food can travel. The views of Cornwall are sorely missed, but the five-hour drive is somewhat limiting!

 

Cured Trout - Simpsons - Birmingham

Cured Trout – Simpsons – Birmingham

 

The best one star restaurants of my year were Purnell’s in Birmingham and Fera in London. The former had not appealed to me as I’ve never warmed to Glynn Purnell through his TV appearances. His restaurant appears a little out of the way to someone who doesn’t know Birmingham, set amongst office buildings and deathly quiet at night. The cooking ranged from solid to outstanding. His signature dishes of monkfish and egg custard could have graced the kitchens of any of the culinary elite in the UK. I got what I strive for with these meals, something memorable.

 

Monkfish Masala - Purnell's - Birmingham

Monkfish Masala – Purnell’s – Birmingham

 

The cooking of Simon Rogan is so unique and distinctive that you know when are at one of his restaurants. His central London restaurant, Fera, may be worlds away from the foraging heritage of his main restaurant in the Lake District but it is unmistakably his philosophy. On this occasion, I enjoyed their lunch menu at a very reasonable £39. We had extra “snacks” for £10, though the world snack does these nibbles little justice as they were some of the finest I have had. The dishes proper were good, particularly the pork belly main course that was vibrant and packed with flavour.

 

Pork Belly - Fera - London

Pork Belly – Fera – London

 

I visited three 2* restaurants in 2016. Two of these were revisits, Sat Bains and Midsummer House. They were no less special experiences though, Sat’s clarity of his cooking was stunning as ever. The best dish may have been a beef tartare seasoned with lichen, or duck with rhubarb and cabbage…or a strawberry, crème fraiche and rocket dessert. I just can’t decide. Midsummer House, for my dad’s 60th birthday, was equally special. Whilst the first few courses were excellent the desserts were some of the most memorable I have had. A frozen pear sorbet enchased in a thin layer of white chocolate with oozing blueberry contents will stay with me for some time.

 

Pear, White Chocolate and Blueberry - Midsummer House

Pear, White Chocolate and Blueberry – Midsummer House

 

The new meal of this level was at Sketch in London, a venue that is a popular location for drinking, art and music – as well as that the top floor is the 2-starred dining room that is a picture of luxury. The cooking is the brainchild of Pierre Gagnaire an iconic French chef whose eponymous restaurant in Paris carries the maximum 3 star accolade. I doubt Pierre has been near this kitchen for a while but his style remains. In the case of my starter I was served four dishes; roasted langoustines, a plump langoustine dim sum, tartare and poached langoustine in a lemongrass broth. An array of flavours that were diverse yet in harmony at the same time, a quite unique experience. The main course and dessert followed suit in this style but didn’t live up to the heights of that starter. It didn’t quite make my top meals of all time and the expense is significant but it is firmly amongst the best restaurants in the UK.

 

Langoustine Starter - Sketch

Langoustine Starter – Sketch

 

I have now eaten at 11 of the 19 possible 2 stars, though only one of the 3 starred places in the England. They are often special and enjoyable meals, and whilst there is a degree of variation between them the Michelin guide is still a barometer of where to go for the best cooking and memorable experiences.