The best food they ate in 2015

idiazabal cheese


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The best food they ate in 2015″ was written by Ed Cumming, Killian Fox, Sophie Missing, for The Observer on Monday 14th December 2015 09.54 UTC

Çiya Sofrasi and Kadiköy market, Istanbul

René Redzepi
Chef-patron, Noma, Copenhagen

Walking through Kadiköy market in Istanbul you see dried aubergines hanging from stalls, dried chilli peppers and fresh dürüm, and Turkish tea being poured all throughout. You hear street merchants calling out their catch of the day, maybe a bag of sardines, turbot from the Black Sea or a kilo of mussels. I was there en route to Çiya, in the heart of this picturesque market. Çiya to me embodies the perfect restaurant: full of tradition but not afraid of innovating, with a generous and welcoming space. The meal is a cornucopia of all there is to offer from Anatolia – lamb stewed with dried cherries, chopped parsley with vinegar, rice cooked with raisins and fistfuls of whole spices… I would happily put myself on a plane just to go and have lunch there on a beautiful spring day.

Pickled herring platter at Russ & Daughters, New York

Yotam Ottolenghi
Chef and food writer

It was a platter of pickled herring fillets with three sauce options on the side – cream, mustard and curry – along with schmaltz herring fillets and then matjes herring fillets. In the centre were pickled onions, roll mops and a beet and herring salad. I had it for breakfast, around 11am, and it left a sweet (albeit fishy) taste in my mouth for the next few days.

I love the cafe, which opened last year and is strongly modelled on the long-established store. Sardines, chubs, rugelach, pickles, boxes of matzo, halva sold by the block, rye bread to blow your socks off, Bloody Marys: these are the flavours which define New York for me.

Idiazábal cheese, Urbia mountains, Spain

Elena Arzak
Chef-patron, Arzak, San Sebastián

This spring I made an idiazábal cheese with a shepherd in the Urbia mountains in the Basque country. We used natural rennet which the shepherd made from the stomach of a latxa lamb. When I went to pick my cheese up this autumn (after the ageing process) it had all the rich true flavour of the milk, but you could also sense the environment in which the mother had grazed. I could close my eyes and imagine myself on that windswept mountain top. The fact I made it heightened the flavour. I ate it with my family, either by itself or with walnuts, quince jelly and apple jelly.

Dashi-simmered asparagus, tofu and egg at Koya, London

Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich
Chef-owners, Honey & Co, London

We went to Koya a couple of days before it closed and had an amazing goodbye meal. The asparagus and tofu dish was so delicious, we ordered another for dessert. It had those really fat English asparagus, blanched and chargrilled, with tofu, bonito flakes and a dashi broth. It was so nicely balanced and full of flavour. The next day, Itamar went back with our head chef to eat it all over again. The food in those last days of Koya felt very organic, more like dishes Junya [Yamasaki, the head chef] would make at home than normal restaurant stuff.

Sea urchins from County Cork

Jacob Kenedy
Chef-patron, Bocca di Lupo, London

From now until February or March, you can get amazing sea urchins from Ireland. I had my first one last week and it was mindbogglingly good. You can get warm-water sea urchins, which tend to be bigger and more impressive-looking, all year round, but they are much less intensely flavoured. The Irish ones – mine came from John Chamberlain in Dunmanus Bay, Co Cork – have an enveloping fishy flavour. They’re wonderful stirred through pasta or with sushi, but I prefer them on their own with just a tiny squeeze of lemon. You slice them open, clean out the gunky stuff, rinse them in sea water and scoop out the eggs with a teaspoon. It makes you realise how amazing nature is, and how little we should mess with our food.

Sea-salt ice cream in Dingle, County Kerry

James ‘Jocky’ Petrie
Group executive development chef, Gordon Ramsay Group

In Dingle this summer, during a chowder competition with lots of Guinness and live music, I tried a sea-salt ice cream at Murphy’s. It was one of those things that makes you go, damn, why didn’t I think of that? Everyone loves salted caramel, but this is different: just plain ice cream with sea salt. It sounds odd but it really works: the sweetness of the sugar balances the salty character. It’s almost savoury but not quite – it’s just a sweet salt. People come from miles around to eat this ice cream.

Lamb köfte at Sultanahmet Köftecisi, Istanbul

Karam Sethi
Chef-patron, Gymkhana, Trishna, London

I went to Istanbul for the first time this year and ate at a place called Sultanahmet Köftecisi. After visiting the Blue Mosque nearby, we saw the big queue outside and decided to find out what was going on. They specialise in lamb köftes grilled very simply over charcoal and served with bread, pickled chillies and their house chilli paste. We ordered one and ended up having six. It’s tough to find something so succulent and juicy and flavourful. I think it’s down to the quality and fat content of the meat, and that they serve them hot off the grill, so you can still taste the charcoal. They’ve mastered the recipe over years and years. It’s the ultimate kebab.

Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo
Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Yuzu ramen at Afuri, Tokyo

Brett Redman
Chef-owner, The Richmond, Elliot’s, Jidori, London

On a research visit to Tokyo at the start of the year, I had a yuzu shio-ramen at a place called Afuri in the basement of a shopping centre in Roppongi Hills. I’m not an aficionado but it was the best ramen I’ve ever had. They make it with chicken stock, which makes it much lighter than the rich, milky tonkotsu ramen we’re used to in London. The addition of fresh yuzu is ingenious: the intensity and fragrance of yuzu peel blasts all the way through the stock. It left my head spinning: how do you get so much flavour into this bowl?

Khao chae at Lai Rod, Bangkok

Fuchsia Dunlop
Food writer

I was going to recommend a meal at the Dragon Well Manor restaurant in Hangzhou – every time I go there it’s the best meal of the year – but then I had something totally amazing today in Bangkok. I was in Thailand for the first time and the food blogger The Skinny Bib recommended I go to an old-school Thai restaurant called Lai Rod. The standout from quite a long lunch was a dish called khao chae: grains of rice in iced water with flower petals, perfumed with candle smoke. It was served with a platter of deep-fried relishes – green chilli stuffed with pork, fish floss flavoured with coconut, caramelised beef and some salted radish with a little egg yolk – and beautifully cut pieces of green mango, cucumber and a crunchy yellow root with a remarkable taste. The combination of the sweet, salty and umami flavours from the relishes and the smoky, perfumed rice soup was a revelation.

Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca

Tomos Parry
Head chef, Kitty Fisher’s, London

I went to this fantastic cliffside restaurant this summer. The whole experience is pretty special: you park your car, jump over a fence (which stays closed to keep wild donkeys in) and walk for half an hour through fields with fig trees and goats. The trek is worth it for the food and the view – you’re looking out over the bay where they catch most of your dinner. I particularly liked the shrimp, cooked very simply over a grill with wood from the trees around the restaurant. A lot of the skill in grilling lies in restraint, and these shrimp were barely cooked, so you can still taste the sea without being overpowered by the wood.

Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca
Grilled shrimps at Sa Foradada, Mallorca. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Unpasteurised cream from Ottinge Court Farm, Kent

Stephen Harris
Chef-patron, The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent

I’m slightly obsessed with dairy produce and this year I’ve started buying unpasteurised cream from Ottinge Court Farm near Folkestone. We hadn’t been able to get it at the restaurant for about five years because the testing required for unpasteurised milk has become prohibitively expensive for most farms. The difference is just incredible. The pasteurisation process wipes out all the interesting things. In this, I can taste a hint of flowers and a rosewater tone. There’s a slight dung-y taste, which some people find offputting but I really like. You know it has come from a cow as opposed to a goat or a sheep, because it smells a bit like when you get near cows. I’ve been trying it out with a warm chocolate mousse and a tiny bit of salt and that’s probably the best thing I’ve tasted all year.

Iio Jozo’s fujisu vinegar, Japan

James Lowe
Head chef, Lyle’s, London

In February I visited Iio Jozo, a vinegar-maker outside Kyoto which has been producing rice vinegar for 120 years. They oversee all the parts of the process themselves: they brew their own sake and have local farmers growing the organic rice for them. One thing they do is collect the sake lees – the fermented rice left over after filtering – and pile it into big wooden barrels to age for up to 10 years. It starts out as a white, pure-looking paste but by year ten it’s black like treacle. The vinegar he makes from it is incredible. He gave me a litre bottle and, at first, I tried to use it sparingly, but I ended up putting it on lots of things at the restaurant. It was gone within a week.

Pasta al forno at La Cantinetta, Barolo, Italy

Sam Harris
Chef-patron, Zucca, London

I’ve been eating at La Cantinetta since I started going to Piedmont 15 years ago – it’s a very simple little trattoria run by two brothers – but it was the first time I’d had this dish. They ran it as a special and it was amazing – a perfect baked pasta. Pasta al forno is basically lasagne, though the woman serving us insisted there was a difference. This one was quite firm and didn’t collapse all over the plate, which is a good thing. There were loads of layers – we counted about 15 – and a very scant amount of béchamel and meat ragu, but just the right amount. The seasoning was bang on, it was really crisp on the top. I’ve had millions of lasagnes over the years, but this blew my head off.

Ochazuke at Ishikawa, Tokyo

Isaac McHale
Head chef, the Clove Club, London

Ochazuke is a dish of rice, a few bits to sprinkle on top – seaweed, toasted things, salmon eggs, shiso, whatever you have – with green tea or dashi poured over it, a Japanese late-night fridge buffet. The fresh rice, the cornerstone of a Japanese meal, was a revelation. It was fragrant, just chewy, almost al dente and made me really pay attention to the rice for the rest of our trip. I’ve been reading about ochazuke in Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art for 18 years and dreaming of a Scottish version, with Assam tea and pheasant broth over barley. To be served one in one of the best restaurants in Japan, made my heart sing.

Porcini in Tuscany

Ruth Rogers
Chef and co-founder, the River Café, London

The family, around 20 of us, go to Tuscany every summer, near Monte Amiata. This year we were there when the first porcini were found. Our gardener brought them for us as a surprise, then I roasted them whole with a bit of garlic and thyme, two hours after they were picked. We put them in the oven for a long time, almost an hour, then ate them with nothing else on the plate. It was the setting as much as the flavour; all of us being there together, the excitement of them arriving. It was late August, so it felt like a farewell to summer and the beginning of autumn.

Lobster pasta at Hedone, London

Nathan Outlaw
Chef-patron, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall

A lot of people told me Hedone was good, but the lobster pasta was the best thing I’ve ever eaten in England, and I’ve eaten a lot of food in England. It wasn’t so much the cooking as the ingredients. They kill all their seafood fresh to order and that makes all the difference. You don’t get a menu. If you ask Mikael [Jonsson] for one, he says he’ll send it, but never does. But from what I can gather he took the coral from the lobster and put it into the bisque, which was slightly aerated. The pasta was just a flat sheet, almost like lasagna, and cooked perfectly. It’s refreshing to see a chef sticking to his guns and cooking the best produce he can find. The British restaurant scene is much newer than in France or Spain or Italy, and I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of what’s possible in our own country, with our own ingredients.

Sushi at Masa, New York

Hélène Darroze
Chef cuisinière, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, London

I was in New York with my chefs to cook a special dinner and we went to Masa. It’s not the kind of place you can go every day – it’s really expensive – but it was an experience. You eat at the counter, and they make everything à la minute, right in front of you. The best thing was a piece where the chef took a kind of white membrane of the tuna – not the the meat itself – and wove it over a piece of rice into a piece of sushi. The rice was a little warm. It was so surprising: very smooth to eat but then the flavour of the tuna was like an explosion in the mouth. Just incredible.

<strong>Sushi at Masa, New York</strong>
Sushi at Masa, New York. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Pizza at Mission Chinese, New York

Lee Tiernan
Chef-owner, Black Axe Mangal, London

I was scared about opening our new restaurant, and Danny Bowien invited me over to spend a few days at Mission Chinese in New York. I always feel calm around Danny. He has a lot on his plate but he just deals with it. The best thing I ate was a cheese and tomato pizza with mapo tofu on top, cooked in their wood oven. The base is made to a Tartine bread recipe, then the tofu is just rolled around on top. It’s quite unusual to have a cheese and tomato DOP pizza on a Chinese restaurant menu, but nothing’s going to stop those guys doing what they want. I think about that pizza every day. I wish I was eating it right now, in fact.

Roast lamb in Segovia, Spain

Nieves Barragán
Executive chef, Barrafina, London

When I went to Segovia, one hour north of Madrid, I went to José María, a family place where they make the best roast mixed lamb on the wood fire. There were six of us; it was a four-hour lunch. We had two things: the lamb, which came with roast kidneys, and the suckling pig, with amazing roast potatoes and grilled peppers on the side. It was stunning: juicy, crisp … It sounds quite English, but the centre of Spain is like this, it’s very traditional – all roasts. Their oven is huge, so beautiful – half the size of Barrafina. I would love to have something like that in London.

Tarte tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, France

Shuko Oda
Head chef, Koya Bar, London

We visited Lamotte-Beuvron, an hour or two from Paris, where tarte tatin is originally from. We went to the local bakery and bought the tarte tatin there. I don’t normally have a sweet tooth but it was absolutely beautiful. It was a nothing-special-but-everything-about-it-was-special type of thing.

Goat’s curd mousse at Lyle’s, London

Anissa Helou
Food writer

Lyle’s has been my favourite restaurant more or less since it opened, and a few months ago I took two young Qatari friends for dinner as I wanted them to taste James Lowe’s cooking. It was a perfect meal, ending with an amazing goat’s curd mousse. It was sensational: a little bowl with the mousse on the bottom, covered by an apple granita made with estivale apples and sorrel. The apples weren’t peeled so the flavour was incredibly intense – but not too sweet. And then there was this beautiful crunchy cracker – a very, very thin sheet – made with apple, sugar and star anise. The textures were incredible: creamy, icy and then crackly. My friends loved it.

Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles

Claire Ptak
Owner, Violet Bakery, London

The thing that’s really been on my mind is this pizza we had in Los Angeles at Gjusta [a bakery and café]. It was one of the best, most perfectly seasoned, chewy, crunchy, doughy things I’ve ever eaten. I’ve been dreaming about it. It’s more like pizza bianca that you get in Rome, but thinner. They make it in big rectangular sheet pans. Really salty and oily, and stretched out. The one we ate had tomatoes, red onion, little bits of ricotta, an egg, and just oil and salt. It was transcendent.

Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles
Pizza at Gjusta, Los Angeles. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

Grouse from Scotland

Blanche Vaughan
Cook and food writer

I was standing on a moor in mid-September just when the heather is in flower and I shot a grouse. I plucked it myself, wrapped it up and took it back on the train. It’s a nice thing to be able to cook for other people. I made a recipe I learned at the River Café: you make a bruschetta with roast tomatoes on top, slosh in red wine so it soaks into the bread, then you brown the bird and roast it on top of the bruschetta so all the juices seep in.

Burger at the Four Seasons, New York

Fergus Henderson
Co-owner, St John, London

A perfect burger at the Four Seasons bar in the Seagram Building in New York. I had a dry martini, which is a good way to start lunch, and a very nice pinot noir to wash it down. A real treat. It was a classic burger but it’s the setting: it’s a beautiful room, a special place. They have chainmail on the windows, which shimmers. The bar has amazing spikes hanging above it, so everything they serve could be the last thing you ever eat or drink before a spike runs you through, which adds a certain twist to the whole thing.

Grilled cauliflower at Hearth, New York

Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley
Cookery writers

In September we went to Hearth in New York. They offered us a seat at the chef’s pass (directly in front of the kitchen), where we enjoyed the most incredible six-course tasting menu right at the heart of all the action. The atmosphere was electric, the food was incredible – the grilled cauliflower with sunflower seeds and capers, and grilled beef neck were especially memorable – and typical of chef Marco Canora’s food philosophy. His rustic, home-style cooking champions seasonal produce, nose-to-tail eating and a “waste not, want not” attitude.

Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy

Andrea Petrini
Food writer, founder of Gelinaz!

Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy
Spaghettoni at Ristorante Lido 84, Lake Garda, Italy. Illustration: Nick Shepherd

It’s simple – almost provocatively simple. Spaghettoni [thick spaghetti], butter and beer yeast. When it comes to the table it’s almost monochrome – between pure white and lightly brown-ish in colour. The title of the dish may be simple, but of course it’s not just one butter, but a blend of three, and the beer has been spread out and cooked in the oven on a very gentle temperature until it solidifies. You have totally al dente spaghetti, the very savoury, milky presence of the butter, the suggestion of the crunchiness of the yeast that adds a dose of acidity, and a gently insinuating touch of caramelisation. It’s immediately recognisable comfort food that also pushes the boundaries. It’s an instant classic, something I fear the chef, Riccardo Camanini, will have on his shoulders for many years to come. You cannot add anything else, because you would destroy the balance, the subtle dialogue between these three major ingredients. And if you take something out, it falls apart. For me, that’s the definition of a dish, or a piece of art. You eat it in three bites, but it stays with you for a really long time.

Porra de naranja at Arte de Cozina, Málaga, Spain

Samantha Clark
Chef and co-owner, Moro, Morito, London

We have a house near Granada and we decided to do a detour and fly into Málaga to try a restaurant, Arte de Cozina, that one of our chefs had told us about. The standout dishes were porra de naranja and kid’s sweetbreads. Porras are the precursors to gazpachos but made with fewer ingredients – sometimes just bread or dried fava beans, garlic, olive oil and water. This one was scented with orange. The texture was smooth and creamy, the flavour subtle with orange, a fruity olive oil and perhaps a touch of vinegar. Topped with chopped almonds for crunch and salty jamón to balance the sweetness, it was nectar.

‘Adidas’ nigiri at Sawada, Tokyo

Enrique Olvera
Chef-patron, Pujol, Mexico City

Sawada is a tiny two-Michelin-star sushi bar with only six chairs, where the owner, Koji Sawada, and his wife are the only ones taking care of every aspect of the entire omakase. It was a tuna fish nigiri, but a totally different cut, between the chutoro (belly area) and the otoro, with so much fat it actually melted in your mouth. It was named by Sawada as the three lines of fat form an “Adidas” appearance, like the three lines of the sport brand. The thing that inspired me the most was to see Sawada doing such an unusual thing but with so much respect for his culture. Innovating from tradition, applying a subtle change or improvement. You can still do new things that honour your roots.

Bonnat Madagascar chocolate bar

David Williams
The Observer wine writer

As someone with expensive tastes in wine and whisky (professional hazard) and cheese (just plain greed), I’ve been wary of developing an addiction to posh ‘bean to bar’ chocolate. The chocolate penny finally dropped with a bar made by French artisans Bonnat from beans sourced in Madagascar. A light, fruity, elegant creamy style described as “the pinot noir” of chocolate, it had me using words I’d usually reserve for wine: balance, texture, and most of all, length (the taste lasted for minutes).

Buttermilk chicken at the Clove Club, London

Thomasina Miers
Wahaca founder, cookery writer

For my mother’s birthday at the end of January we took her to the Clove Club. They blew us away with the food. We had the buttermilk chicken, consommé and 100-year-old madeira, and an Orkney scallop and orange dish that was so light. It’s exceptional how much they make from scratch: the charcuterie, the butter, the bread … My mother was blown away. Her eyes were shining like a seven-year-old’s at Christmas.

Jamón from Barcelona

Angela Hartnett
Chef-patron, Murano, Cafe Murano

I bought a jamón from Joan La Llar del Pernil, brought it back to London and had a jamón party in my garden. I invited Nieves [Barragán] and José [Pizarro] over, and some of my chefs; I thought I’d get everyone round at 2pm and they’d be gone by 8pm, but, of course, everyone was there until two in the morning. We’ve since gone back to Barcelona and bought another jamón.

Squat lobster from the Firth of Clyde

Ben Reade
Co-founder, Edinburgh Food Studio, Edinburgh

The most delicious thing I ate this year was a surprise gift of squat lobsters from a fisherman on the Firth of the Clyde called Ian Wightman. I’d ordered a load of langoustines [for a festival I was cooking at in North Ayrshire] and he gave us these as a bonus. We cooked them up the top of a glen over an oak fire, with white wine, butter and some nutmeg. They are one of the sweetest, most delicious meats ever, but not many people use them – in fact, most fishermen throw them back because they’re so small and they have horrible shells that cut into your fingers when you’re opening them. But they’re really worth the hassle, and the less you do when you’re cooking them the better.

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