Inverlonan, nr Oban, Argyll & Bute
Chosen by Pamela Brunton, chef and co-owner, Inver, Cairndow, Argyll & Bute
Inverlonan is a rural retreat with bothies on a cliff edge overlooking Loch Nell. It has started doing dinners in a disused byre, with straw on the floor and tea lights among the brickwork. We went last November when it was freezing cold. They brought us blankets and hot-water bottles. The chef cooked everything – 11 small courses – over a fairly rudimentary fire setup. We had oysters with buttermilk, black garlic and elderberry, and local venison with beetroot, and a lollipop covered in dehydrated redcurrants, all extremely delicious. It certainly doesn’t have the luxuries that you come to expect from fine dining restaurants, but it was an exciting, unique experience.
Grace & Savour, Hampton Manor, Solihull, West Midlands
Chosen by Alex Nietosvuori, chef and co-owner, Hjem, Hexham, Northumberland
Grace & Savour, which opened just a few months ago, uses as much produce as possible from its own garden and farm. The design of the place is incredible – the dining room has big windows that open on to a beautiful walled garden. The chef, David Taylor, worked at Maaemo in Oslo and the food is very Scandinavian-inspired – I had a particularly good dish with raw shrimp. The burnt leek with beef garum and butter sauce was a very clever dish that brought out the best from a simple product. And the deep-fried sourdough starter with aged beef and wild garlic was another highlight.
Chosen by Ravinder Bhogal, co-founder Jikoni, London
Sri Lankan food often gets mistaken for Indian food, but it’s so different, and what Paradise does really well is show how uniquely Sri Lankan its dishes are, with colonial influences from Portuguese and Dutch cuisines. The meal was like an unfolding flavour party. I particularly remember the fried long aubergine with jaggery moju, turmeric and chilli. It was so dark and caramelly and the spicing was euphoric, while the fragrant and gentle moju washed the heat away. There is space now for Sri Lankan stories to be told – you may not have found that as commonly in the past. And Paradise is unapologetically Sri Lankan. It tells a unique immigrant story and eating there is a real education. You feel enriched by the experience. I’ve been dreaming of it ever since.
Chosen by Shuko Oda, co-founder and executive chef, Koya, London
Chishuru in Brixton Market serves West African cuisine and is run by a female chef, Adejoké Bakare. I don’t know too much about West African food, but whenever I go, it reminds me of Japanese food. Last time, the set lunch started with a savoury bean cake served with pumpkin-seed tapenade and a scotch bonnet sauce. It’s quite a kick to start your meal, but wasabi has a similar effect. The main dish was grilled mackerel with a pickle and rice on the side – again so familiar and comforting to me. I’ve been back many times. A casual and delicious way of eating is really what I appreciate now, rather than menus with lots of courses, and Chishuru does that so well.
Chosen by Erchen Chang, creative director and co-founder, Bao, London
Cafe Cecilia, off Broadway Market, is about simple, no-fuss cooking. The chef, Max Rocha, worked at St John and the River Cafe, and those influences are in his food and in the elegance of the room, but you can feel his Irish heritage coming through too. It’s casual but you feel properly looked after. Last time I went, I had monkfish with monk’s beard and clams – simple, beautifully cooked. Another time, I had the onglet with chips, which feels like a holiday classic on a hot day, sitting outside overlooking the canal with an icy cocktail. The Guinness bread ice-cream is one of my favourites. Comforting food is what’s needed right now, and Cafe Cecilia does it really well.
Chosen by James Cochran, head chef, 12:51, London
I think the British pub has lost its identity. Everywhere is trying to be a gastropub, and too much money is spent on decor. The Plimsoll is a local tucked away down the back streets of Finsbury Park, with the smoky feel of an old-style pub. There are informal barstools, the decor has a 1960s/70s vibe. Originally, the chefs, Jamie Allan and Ed McIlroy [AKA Four Legs], were at the Compton Arms in Highbury. The burgers there were absolutely banging, and they’ve kept them on the menu here. It’s classic British pub food – they might have a lasagne, or fish and chips, or a prawn cocktail. It brings back a lot of memories of when I was a child meeting my grandparents down the pub. It’s hearty food executed really well in this little hidden gem.
Yellowhammer, Stockport, Greater Manchester
Chosen by Mary-Ellen McTague, chef-patron, The Creameries, Manchester
Yellowhammer is a new bakery, deli and pottery studio in Stockport. It’s co-run by Sam Buckley, whose restaurant Where the Light Gets In is upstairs. Everything about Where the Light Gets In is done to such a high level, with a huge amount of thought and care, and the same applies at Yellowhammer. It serves bread, buns and coffee during the day, and wine and small bites at night. The produce is everything: really beautiful vegetables from its nearby growing project, The Landing, regeneratively farmed meat, fish from day boats. And the bread is stunning. Stockport feels like it’s having a bit of a revival, but really it’s not a particularly well-off area, so to open a restaurant there – and now this bakery and deli – was quite bold.
Hern, Chapel Allerton, Leeds
Chosen by Alisdair Brooke-Taylor, chef, The Moorcock Inn, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire
This tiny neighbourhood restaurant on the outskirts of Leeds is a humble place but the skill level is really high. There’s just one person cooking and one person at the front, with a four-course set menu at £40. The cooking is modern but often takes inspiration from old recipes, like tomatoes cooked in cream, served with herbs and croutons. Goddamn, it’s delicious. I go all the time and I’ve never had a bad plate, and some of the dishes are pinch-yourself good. You just think: “Why aren’t there more places like this?”
Chosen by Gareth Ward, chef-patron, Ynyshir, Wales
Tom Shepherd’s dad has a jewellers in Lichfield. There was an empty space upstairs so he gave it to his son to turn into a restaurant. It really stands out in the town – it feels like you’re entering a different world. Shepherd is classically trained (he used to work for Sat Bains and Michael Wignall). He’s very much his own chef, cooking what he wants rather than trying to cater for local tastes. One of my favourite courses was the red cabbage gazpacho. And he’s got a really nice Thai green curry dessert, which I loved. It’s a good sign that places like this are opening in towns like Lichfield – it probably wouldn’t have happened so easily five or 10 years ago.
Chosen by Stosie Madi, chef and co-owner, The Parker’s Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire
Anna Tobias (see interview, p37) opened Cafe Deco just after the first lockdown and I went as soon as I could. There’s a familiarity to her cooking that really attracts me. It’s very seasonal. It’s very underdressed, but it’s perfectly dressed. Anna does the classics in a modern way, but does not overfuss. One of my favourite dishes of hers is an egg with mayonnaise piped on top in the very classic French way. She does that in different guises throughout the seasons. I also love when she does cold sliced meats with very autumnal salads – a delicious northern European lunch. Her desserts are not very blousy, but actually the simplicity is beautiful. And she makes delicious pies, and I love anybody who makes a pie.
Chosen by Asma Khan, founder, Darjeeling Express, London
Chantelle Nicholson’snew restaurant, Apricity, is female-owned and 75% of the kitchen staff is female. The emphasis is on regionality, on sustainability, on zero waste, but without all the shrill tones and preachiness. The menu prioritises plant-based food, but there is also meat and fish on the menu. We started with something called the wasted dip, made with leftover vegetables. It was both sweet and savoury, every bite was different. I just thought it was so clever, and great value at £2. The asparagus with slow-cooked egg was wonderful and very seasonal, and the beef ribs were fabulous. I usually can’t stand lettuce, but the butterhead lettuce salad with miso and crispy kale was really nice. The time has come for chefs to talk about the politics of food, and at Apricity there are discussions of environment and justice and equality, and there’s great food and a beautiful, laid-back atmosphere.
Chosen by Akwasi Brenya-Mensa, chef-patron, Tatale, London
SlowBurn started as a pop-up when everybody was pivoting in lockdown and doing something different to keep the lights on. It’s in a denim factory. When you walk in, you’re kind of confused at first because there are mannequins and sewing machines everywhere, but then you go through and the restaurant’s at the back. That gives it a real wow factor. It’s a vegetable-focused restaurant with meat on the side. I really liked the black bean gyoza taco, and the aubergine chermoula with spiced chickpeas and sheep’s ricotta. I spoke very briefly to the chef, Chavdar Todorov. He seems to be drawing influences from various places and from his travels, much in the way that I do. It is doing great food, but in terms of the location, I don’t think there are many experiences like that in the whole of London.