The best thing I ate in 2017

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The best thing I ate in 2017″ was written by Interviews by KIllian Fox and Holly O’Neill, for The Observer on Sunday 17th December 2017 11.00 UTC

Stuffed squid, Salina, Sicily
Jamie Oliver: cook, activist, food writer

This year, me and Gennaro spent a day with a lovely 92-year-old Italian nonna called Franchina, on Salina in the Aeolian islands. The local fisherman caught a squid – and Franchina made this incredible stuffing of capers, lemon zest, garlic, pecorino, breadcrumbs and parsley. She stuffed the squid and stitched it up, then braised it in the most beautiful sweet tomato sauce with basil. Just let it chug away, then you simply cook some spaghetti, and have the sliced squid with the sauce. It was pure joy, joy, joy. We’d spent the whole day cooking and chatting together, and Franchina was adamant that I share the recipe in my Italian book that I’ve just finished writing, so that younger generations learn how to cook it – she was really worried that people don’t cook like that any more and things are changing. So, I see it as our job as food writers and magazines to keep it alive.

Tunworth cheese, Cheesy Tiger, Margate
Marina O’Loughlin: restaurant critic

I thought about this long and hard, considering the insanely good shou pa chicken from Xu, the pistachio ice-cream from the beach restaurant in Sicily, the porcini doughnuts with raclette from San Francisco’s Rich Table or the fresh crab roll from the Spud Point Crab Company in Sonoma, near where Hitchcock filmed The Birds. But in the end it had to be the thing that gave me the purest jolt of sheer, physical pleasure – and it was one of the simplest. Rackety, eccentric Cheesy Tiger on Margate’s Harbour Arm takes a whole Tunworth cheese (like the perfect, ripe camembert you rarely ever find), studs it with fat slabs of garlic, crowns with thyme and olive oil and bakes until it’s virtually liquid. With tiny new potatoes – roasted with more garlic, whole cloves for squeezing on top – plus toasted sourdough and cornichons: for this turophile, it’s undiluted bliss.

Poached brain at Clown Bar, Paris
Fergus Henderson: St John, London

I’ve had quite a few good things this year but one that really sticks in my mind is brain at Clown Bar in Paris. Beautiful. Clean. Two pale lobes in a small bowl. Gosh, that’s quite a lot of brain. A lovely citric, slightly sharp dressing on it didn’t kill it but helped the brain come to the fore. A tamed cloud of joy. A thing of beauty, as well as delicious.

Shiitake broth with turnip and clementine at P Franco, London
Olia Hercules: food writer

In January, I had a mindblowing dish cooked by Tim Spedding, who was doing a residency at P Franco wine bar in Hackney. It was a shiitake broth with turnip and little segments of clementine in it. Tim wouldn’t tell me what he did to make the broth so viscous – I think he boils down millions of shiitakes so it was super-concentrated and rich, but light at the same time. I don’t know how he made clementine work with mushrooms but the combination was inspired. All this was done on a couple of portable stoves at the back of the tiny bar – P Franco has the feeling of being in somebody’s kitchen, but surrounded by loads of really good wine.

Cromer crab, Norfolk Nadiya Hussain Food writer and broadcaster

The best thing I have eaten this year is Cromer crab in Norfolk. We all talk about fresh food but when the journey from boat, to boiling water, to mouth is so short you really can tell the difference. Although I would rather somebody else does the boat bit! Actually, probably the best thing I ate this year is something I drank. I drank kombucha for the first time. It is a fermented tea, which sounds disgusting but it is sweetened and you can flavour it with different fruits. The only way I can describe it is it tastes like apple cider vinegar mixed with fruit. That doesn’t make it sound any more appealing. But it is so delicious.
Nadiya’s Bake Me a Festive Story (illustrations by Clair Rossiter), £14.99 Hodder Children’s Books. To order a copy for £12.74, go to guardianbookshop.com

Best thing I ate all year illustrations

Crisps, Hole in the Wall, Little Wilbraham, Cambridgeshire
Bee Wilson: food writer

If I say that the best thing I ate all year was some crisps, you’ll think me ridiculous. Bear with me. We were eating dinner at the Hole in the Wall, a deeply comforting restaurant in a 16th-century Cambridgeshire pub run by chef Alex Rushmer. Before dinner there were always home-made crisps. They weren’t made from beetroot or kale or anything trendy, just normal potatoes. But they were sublime: warm and rustly and moreish as toast. Nibbling them, with a glass of champagne, I was reminded that potato crisps used to be a high Edwardian luxury. Each one tasted slightly different, having fried to varying shades of golden.

I was eating with my oldest son, to toast him getting a college offer and turning 18. He would soon be off on gap year in China and there wouldn’t be many more shared meals like this one. We didn’t realise Rushmer would close The Hole in the Wall a few months later, so the memory of that meal is bittersweet. The restaurant is gone. My son’s place at the family dinner table is empty. But I remember the crisps.

Moo ping at Moo Ping Hea Owen, Bangkok
Andrew Wong: A Wong, London

My wife and I went to Thailand in April (for our honeymoon, five years after getting married). The best meals by far were at really basic places. A customer of ours who lives in Bangkok recommended Hea Owen for moo ping, which is basically a marinated pork skewer cooked over charcoal on the side of the street. The pork is sliced really thinly and then skewered, so it seals together into a single piece when you cook it. It comes with a slightly fermented peanut vinaigrette, which was sweet but also sharp and just really delicious. I’ve been trying to recreate it since I came back and I can’t do it, so there must be something about it I still don’t understand.

Hugh Maguire’s smoked black pudding
Zoe Adjonyoh: Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, London

This year I was invited to judge the Great Taste Awards, and my God there was some great tasting artisanal products in the running. However, there was one that just blew me away with the simplicity of the idea and the complexity of its flavour profile: a smoked black pudding from Hugh Maguire butchers in Co Meath, which ended up as this year’s supreme champion. Being half-Irish – my mother was from west Cork – meant that I grew up eating black pudding regularly. Clonakilty black pudding has always been the benchmark for me, until I tasted Hugh Maguire’s ingenious twist. The smokiness and the melt-in-the-mouth consistency really blew me away. I can’t believe nobody ever thought of it before.

Yakhni in Srinigar, India
Anissa Helou: food writer

In Kashmir, having just finished my book about cooking in the Islamic world, I had an incredible lamb and yogurt dish called yakhni. It was part of a bigger meal cooked at home by Baji, the sister-in-law of my writer friend Marryam Reshii, and what was so interesting for me was its similarity to a Lebanese dish from my childhood called laban emmoh (meaning “its mother’s milk”). Baji made the whole thing sitting on the floor of her tiny kitchen, hardly more than a metre squared, cooking the yogurt separately from the meat and spices and then bringing them together with dried mint. The Lebanese dish is made in a very similar way, even down to the dried mint (though we sometimes use fresh coriander), but the taste was completely different and I loved it.

Coal-roasted lamb at Ergospasio Asian Restaurant, Elounda, Crete
Tom Kerridge: The Hand & Flowers, Marlow, Bucks

Best thing I ate all year illustrations

I don’t get to go on holiday very often, but this year we made it to Crete. In Elounda, on the northern coast, there were all these seafront restaurants touting for business – “come and eat the best fish here” – but right at the end of the row was a bar with a big outdoor coal-fired grill, where they’d roast a whole lamb every evening, asador-style. There was nothing fancy about it, we just had it with a beautiful Greek salad, but it was jaw-droppingly good, with the salty kick you get from island lamb.

898 Squash, bred by Michael Mazourek at Cornell University
Dan Barber: Blue Hill, Manhattan

Best thing I ate all year illustrations

It’s been almost 10 years since I stood in the kitchen with Michael Mazourek, a talented plant breeder at Cornell University, and asked him half-jokingly if he could breed a butternut squash to actually taste good. Since chefs and home cooks heroically work to eke out flavour from this workaday squash –or reach for maple syrup or honey to do the trick – I thought it was a fair question. Michael stared at me with utter seriousness and said it was the first time, in all his years breeding squash, that anyone had ever asked him to breed for flavour. I’ll never forget that. Fast-forward eight years and we now have the honeynut, a new variety of squash exactly as envisioned: a miniature version of the butternut with amped-up, deliciously sweet squash flavour.

Not long ago, Michael showed us the next generation of the honeynut, which the cooks and I have helped co-select for flavour. It’s still a trial number – “898” –but is easily the most exciting (read: delicious) thing I tasted all year. More than that, I recognised something powerful about our baby butternut. As chefs and eaters, we have the opportunity (and maybe the responsibility?) to create the best flavours imaginable by writing a recipe that starts with the seed. What I tasted is the blueprint for the future of food.

Butter chicken at Goila Butter Chicken, Mumbai
Romy Gill: Romy’s Kitchen, Thornbury

My friend Saransh Goila is a very talented chef who has a takeaway place in Mumbai. He makes the best butter chicken I have ever had. I make a nice one, but that was the best. He smokes with coal on the side, and gets the balance of smokiness and texture so right with the juicy, tender chicken. He made me a lucha paratha; it is a small paratha, and quite difficult to make, but it goes so, so well with butter chicken. Then we had naan bombs. The dough is the naan dough, and has tandoori chicken in it, a lot of spices and a hint of chutney. He bakes them, and they are so delicious and light – I have never had anything like that. He is so young, but so clever.

King crab at Fäviken, Sweden
Tommy Banks: The Black Swan at Oldstead, Yorkshire

Fäviken is a restaurant in a remote part of central Sweden – the nearest town is half an hour away – run by the chef Magnus Nilsson. It’s an amazing piece of theatre: everyone arrives at the same time and they serve dinner like a banquet. The food is quite minimal: it’s all about the produce. The whole meal was amazing but the king crab was the best bit of seafood I’ve ever eaten. They took a big piece of meat from the claw, seared it off on a really high heat, and served it with what they describe as almost-burnt cream – it’s like that delicious bit you get in dauphinoise potatoes when the cream has caramelised on the side of the pot. It felt so brazen, serving cream that’s almost caught, but the taste was phenomenal.

Mohinga at the Rangoon Sisters supper club
Grace Dent: restaurant critic

No one invites me to dinner in their home. No one. Oh, when they’re tipsy they say they will, but in the cold sober light of day they picture a restaurant critic appearing in their home, possibly carrying a spiral jotter and a pen, to judge them harshly. “Let’s book a table!” they say, instead. So, probably the nicest thing I put in my mouth in 2017 was in August when cooking duo the Rangoon Sisters beckoned me into their house and fed me a bowl of Burmese mohinga soup, a fishy, noodly, sweet, sour broth. It’s sort of fideu and sort of pho, but uniquely satisfying. A comforting hug of lemongrass and catfish with garlic, banana stem and fish sauce, shot through with vermicelli. It arrived topped with crispy chickpea fritters and a handful of coriander. There’s a reason many Burmese people eat this for breakfast. It’s joyous.

Roast pork in Tahiti
Monica Galetti: Mere, London

Best thing I ate all year illustrations

In Tahiti in September, while filming Amazing Hotels for the BBC, we met up with some locals who were doing a bit of celebrating on the beach and they cooked the most amazing pork belly. They wrapped the pork in banana leaves, with a bit of coconut milk through it, and baked it underground. It’s very similar to how we cook in Samoa, where I was born, except we’d use heated volcanic rocks whereas they used coral. The pork was just flaking apart when they took it out. Some of it had charred where it caught on the hot coral, giving it a smoky, salty flavour. It was so wonderful. I want some now.

Spiced scrag end pie at Jikoni, London
Itamar Srulovich: Honey & Co, London

I want to say the shepherd’s pie at Jikoni was my favourite dish this year, but it’s not technically a shepherd’s pie. Instead of lamb mince, the chef Ravinder Bhogal uses good quality mutton which is slowly braised and then shredded. The meat is beautifully spiced and so are the potatoes on top. It’s really special – perfect for a cosy evening out in the middle of winter.

Bihari kebab in Uttar Pradesh
Asma Khan: Darjeeling Express, London

Growing up in Kolkata, my favourite dish was bihari kebab made by our wonderful cook, Haji Waheed. He taught a girl, who is now the family chef, and she made this for me and it tasted just the way he used to make it. She cooked it on charcoal, in the courtyard of my parents’ home, and that smell reminded me of my childhood. There is no kebab like it. This one was buffalo. When I was growing up it was beef. The meat is cut into strips and marinated with raw papaya, which works as a tenderiser. The strips are covered in crushed poppy seeds and crushed nuts, marinated for 24 hours and slow cooked. It is served with paratha and classic sides of onion and lemons – and that is it. I have the recipe but I haven’t had the courage to make it. I am too in awe of it.

Best thing I ate all year illustrations

Mark Hix’s pheasant curry
Angela Hartnett: Murano, London

There were 10 of us at an informal party at Mark Hix’s house for a friend’s birthday. Mark was just cooking away and we were eating and drinking nice wine. People usually associate Mark with English food but he likes to turn his hand to all kinds of things. He made lots of small dishes – a lamb sweetbread curry, some sea purslane onion bhajis, a lobster biryani – but it was the spicy, meaty pheasant curry that really stood out for me. Absolutely delicious.

Nam khao tod at Night + Market Song, Los Angeles
Lee Tiernan: Black Axe Mangal, London

I ordered the crispy rice salad, which has fermented Thai sausage in it. It’s super delicious, spicy, fresh and vibrant. My friend, who had been before, said “We have to get this.” And then it came and I was in full agreement. I’ve thought about it a lot since. It’s a statement to me of how food and attitudes towards food have evolved. I’ve noticed people are more up for trying challenging ingredients and heightened levels of spice when they eat out. It’s always refreshing to find somewhere like Night + Market that embraces the bold.

Rice and curry at Thaulle Resort, Thissamaharama
Fuchsia Dunlop: food writer

Rice and curry is a typical meal in Sri Lanka, but every time you get it it’s different – and it’s not just rice and curry, it’s rice with several contrasting curries. This particular one was in the south of Sri Lanka. We had red rice with deep fried curry leaves. Cucumber curry was a revelation: slices of peeled, deseeded cucumber in a thick coconut milk that was golden from turmeric, with garlic, curry leaves and red onion. There was a cuttlefish curry with a red chilli sauce, fish curry and pumpkin curry, and an amazing relish made from deep-fried dried fish with fried onion, curry leaves and chilli. Also something that looked a bit like tabbouleh: chopped gotu kola leaves with grated coconut and various other flavourings. We were sitting on a gorgeous terrace on a sunny day and it was this beautiful palette of colours and flavours. It was my first trip to south Asia and the food was unlike anything I was used to. Also, we were eating with our hands, which is a really interesting way of engaging with the food if that’s not what you’re used to.

Tater tots, creme fraiche and caviar at PDT, New York
Nadine Redzepi: cookery writer

I am in the very fortunate situation of being married to a brilliant chef and have good friends who also happen to be incredible chefs and own brilliant restaurants. My first impulse was to write about the very last dinner at Noma before it closed in the original space, or about the Noma Mexico meal, but it seemed like it would be too obvious.

When I was in New York, I went to PDT, a cocktail bar (it stands for ‘please don’t tell’) and even though I’m the sort of person who prefers a glass of wine, I was dying to go after seeing a post on David Chang’s Instagram of golden brown tater tots, creme fraiche and caviar. It looked like a mix of potato chips, and a tiny hasselback potato. I was sure I would love them.

To get into PDT you enter a hotdog joint that has a phone booth in it, pick up the phone and if you are lucky and they have space, the wall opens and you step into a cozy, darkly lit bar. It made me think of Harry Potter going to the Ministry of Magic. After sipping delicious cocktails for a few minutes out came a bowl filled with steaming, golden brown tater tots, along with a small bowl of creme fraiche and a tin of caviar.

The tater tots smelled so good, I first tried one all by itself. It was crispy on the outside like the best chicken skin with comforting soft potato on the inside.

For the next one, I added about half a teaspoon of creme fraiche and a full teaspoon of caviar. I put it in my mouth and closed my eyes: for a second I forgot about where I was, lost in the pure, simple deliciousness of crispy, creamy, salty perfection.

Roasted porcini with borlotti beans, Tuscany
Ruth Rogers: River Café, London

In early August, when the first porcini mushrooms came, we roasted them whole at my cousin Ernesto Bartolini’s house in Tuscany and ate them with fresh borlotti beans, which were also in season. The porcini we roasted with thyme and a bit of garlic. They worked so well with the beans, which have a really creamy consistency if you cook them long enough – we did them with sage and a little garlic, finished with black pepper, salt and a lot of good Tuscan olive oil. Very simple but really very delicious.

Being fed at St John Bread & Wine, London
Gary Usher: Wreckfish Bistro, Liverpool

My best friend Farokh Talati is the head chef at St John Bread & Wine, so I go all the time. While I do love it there, it’s just kind of like, “Whatever, I am going to get something to eat and see my friend and not really think about it too much.” I sit at the bar and Farokh will give me a couple of bits. But when I went in the summer, it was just stunning. Everything was amazing. Rarebit. Foie gras pate on toast. The vegetable dish was cheese, this really good Saint Cera with a couple of spring onions. Really well thought out, simple food. Simple food has to be perfect. My good food experiences are never planned. They’re unexpected, by chance. I hadn’t even wanted anything to eat that day.

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