My 2011 meals of the year

I’ve been writing this post for a couple of weeks, better post it before it’s 2012!

Hannah, my co-eater lady* and I have enjoyed many cracking meals this year and it was quite good fun arguing about ranking them. And literally about three people have asked me recently – “Nick, what were your best meals of 2011?”. So I hope you don’t mind this rather self-indulgent post …

And also, I suspect 2012 won’t be much like 2011 eating wise, as our lives are set to be turned upside down at the end of February with a new arrival …

Before we get into the list proper:

A few places which might have seemed shoe-ins for this list didn’t end up featuring. Perhaps most notably El Celler de Can Roca. Given its ranking of “2nd best restaurant in the world” our expectations were consequently sky high. But the experience left us a bit cold, mainly down to the sterile and unrelaxing “international dining” experience on offer, which didn’t tally with the experimental “emotional cuisine” which was always interesting but only rarely pushed any emotional buttons for us.

Another place which had bloggers and eGulleters in a tizzy this year was Hedone, the project of ex-blogger turned professional chef Mikael Jonsson. Whilst a few dishes were genuinely amazing (the slow-cooked egg with girolles being the stand-out) the meal didn’t live up to expectations, with a few dud courses and some inconsistent cooking.

The award for absolute turkey of a meal this year goes to Kenny Atkinson at Rockliffe Hall which served up generally banal food in an excruciatingly awkward setting. A serious disappointment.

On with the list!

10) Turner’s (Harborne, Birmingham, UK)

We ate here several times during the year and I regret it wasn’t more – it’s on our local high street for god’s sake. Turners remains my tip for best restaurant in Birmingham if anyone asks. The meal we enjoyed most was the full-on tasting experience, written up by Lap here.

9) Roganic / MEATliquor, London, UK

A bit cheeky to lump these two together but a truly excellent day of eating saw us take the tasting menu at Roganic and follow it up hours later with cheeseburgers, deep-fried pickles and chilli cheese fries as well as copious lageritas at MEATliquor. A very memorable double-act.

8 ) The Black Country Museum, Dudley, UK

I was genuinely sad to hear that the best chippie in Birmingham – the Great British Eatery had closed down this year. The guys were genuinely passionate about their project, but got caught out with a bad location and a bad egg business partner. But I’m pretty sure they’ll be back with something soon. However GBE was only the second best place for fish and chips in the West Midlands – first place honours belong to the Black Country Living Museum. This also happens to be the best museum, probably anywhere in the world. An open wrap of fish and chips, a pickled egg and lashings of vinegar, eaten on a cold day around a coal braizer, followed by a pint in the Bottle and Glass Inn is one of the UK’s great food experiences. We’ve been countless times since we moved to Birmingham. If you haven’t been, go now!

7) Cochon Butcher, New Orleans, LA

I had to pick somewhere in New Orleans, an awesome place for eating (and drinking, and dancing). In the end I couldn’t decide between Cochon Butcher and a couple of other places, all introduced to me by the very generous Rebecca Penton. The Joint served up some outrageous BBQ ribs in a downhome setting, and Elizabeth’s served one of the most heart-stopping starters of all day – maple praline bacon. In the end I went for Cochon Butcher for their outrageously rich boudin sausage, stuffed with liver, spice and rice … followed by duck sliders.

6) The Cajun Cook-off

Inspired by the food in New Orleans we got the Popstrami gang back together for a Cajun cook-off on a glorious summer’s day. Everyone brought their A-game that day including Tom’s boudin balls, Lap’s BBQ ribs and andouille, Yen’s wop salad and dirty rice. And I have to say my wagyu brisket turned out better than I could have imagined. Hannah’s apple pie with smoked ice cream was a brilliant way to finish this awesome eating fest. Oh, and some picklebacks.

5) Sea Urchins for Breakfast

Eating spanking fresh seafood isn’t usually a West Midlands experience. An early trip to the Birmingham Wholesale market was rewarded by the rare treat of some spanking-fresh sea urchins which were opened gingerly by Lap and spooned onto some sourdough toast for a breakfast of champions. A market experience on par with Tsukiji. The Birmingham wholesale markets are currently under threat – this would be a real loss to the City. Write to your MP.

4) L’enclume, Cartmel, UK

Just a lovely experience start to finish.

3) Ferran Adria’s Tickets, Barcelona, Spain

For sheer theatricality I don’t think you could do better than Tickets. We enjoyed this all tremendously, particularly the miniairbags and the “sparking” rabbit ribs. I’m sorry to say you have virtually no chance of ever getting a reservation.

2) Maeemo, Oslo, Norway

Oslo was a food paradox. The locals seem to live off cheap hot-dogs and pizza by the slice from the ubiquitous Deli De Luca. They splurge sweet pink toothpaste on Ryvita for breakfast. You don’t see change from £20 if you order a couple of coffees and a cake. But at the high end of dining, they had some very good restaurants. We loved our meal at the excellent Hanami. But one place is head and shoulders above the rest in Oslo, and that place is Maeemo. Clearly inspired by NOMA, I suspect you’ll hear about this place more in 2012. I’ve been rather remiss in not blogging this meal (yet) but Nordic Nibbler did it much better than I could, including decent pictures. As we were both having the same menu at the same time, just pretend I wrote it. The oyster dish was simply legendary.

1) Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Rock, UK

Another meal I shamefully didn’t blog about, but lives long in the memory. The short tasting menu was an absolute masterclass in fish cooking, benefiting from subtle applications of curing and smoking (my favourite things as you may know by now). The service was wonderful, from the proferred reading glasses (available in several prescriptions) to the inspired wine pairings. Not the fanciest of experiences but just genuinely enjoyable from start to finish. Even the death defying drive through thick fog with rather sketchy direction finding to get back to our B&B didn’t manage to dampen the spirits.

Hannah’s top 5 (for feminine balance):

5) Nathan Outlaw
4) Hanami, Oslo
3) Maeemo
2) L’enclume
1) Tickets

Honorable mentions: Galvin la Chapelle, Carters of Moseley, Pepe Viera, Ebi sushi, Hand and Flowers, Michael Wignall at the Latymer.

Happy 2012 to all readers of the blog!

* not Jill

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