meIf we make the highs and lows of 2022, let’s start staring bravely at the negativity. “Terrible food, and such small portions” is the bane of the current restaurant scene. Not a few are so brilliantly arranged to deceive the eye. Once upon a time, the word “anchovies,” “patty,” or “shrimp” on a menu meant that said ingredient was served in the plural. Now, however, you can expect a solitary anchovy rolled across a slice of bread for £9, or a single shrimp cut into three. Also see pasta in 100g portions and ‘skewers’, which these days translate as a small piece of protein on a stick, for £11. I smiled sympathetically through the price hikes of 2022 and the partial shrinkage, until the other week at a gastropub in Lakeland, when a chicken parfait appeared with a Lilliputian pie not much larger than a £2 coin, for which they had paid nearly £15. At this point, it started to spark.
But who wants to focus on the bad news? Here, instead, are some of the year’s experiences I cherish the most, places where I’d be happy if someone wrestled me with a table. For example, The Plimsoll in Finsbury Park, the chaotic and priceless gem of the London pub food scene, serves up a fantastic dirty burger, ricotta cheesecake and cubes of Guinness. It is far from luxurious, so for the upper class, let’s take to taste, or the tasting menu, at Cédric Grolet in The Berkeley, where for just £120, a succession of handsome French staff delivers the sugary G Chevrolet to your lips: vanilla flower, hazelnut, lemon and take it. Cake with jam.
If all this sounds like London, a trip to Cafe 52 in Aberdeen will soon stop us. Known as the owner can’t stand Guardian readers, he made my solo lunch of Normandy chicken tagine followed by a delicious bread and butter pudding. Also great was the Bassenthwaite Lake station, near Cockermouth in Cumbria, where afternoon tea is hampered and served on a fine French steam train. My family, who lives next door, begged me to keep their local salami, baked brie and Cumberland sauce a secret, but I couldn’t. Another example of wholesome fairytale beauty is Updown near Deal in Kent, where on warm summer days they serve braised zucchini, fresh mozzarella and rum papa in a charming English country garden.
Back in London, three other restaurants I send everyone to are Tatale, The Baring and The Tamil Prince. At Akwasi Brenya-Mensa Tatale, order omo tuo Rice dumpling mashed with spices I do not care Peanut soup, because it soothes your soul. If you can pop into The Tamil Prince in Barnsbury – it’s just a one-room bistro – order the full menu and two pulled beef ottabomA spongy dosa that looks like a scotch pancake that comes with an amazing coconut chutney. Meanwhile, Baring, also in Islington, is likely to be one of the capital’s openings in 2022, but it’s been a bit overshadowed by Mayfair’s many hulking, soulless, wildly exaggerated offerings of reckless morally worn-out nonsense. However, the Quail Baring Shish with Garlic Yoghurt and sPepper And its warm almond financier with cherries elevates the pub’s grub to a higher profile.
However, if you simply want to shove premium food into your face without thinking, write the word “maison” on the back of your hand and dash to Soho for a “deep satisfaction” pita stuffed with long-cooked brisket, melted cheese, pickled chili and cucumber. No one visits Maison only once. Return for the buttery fries and rosehip syrup soaked Malabi pudding alone. For a slightly more sophisticated treat, there’s also the Aussie hang-out Milk Beach, where the shrimp toast is huge and the coffee and banana Negroni too.
Let’s finish with some of the best special occasion meals of 2022. Tallow in Tunbridge Wells was faultless, Donna and Rob Taylor’s new home living up to all my hopes, feeding me their “chocolate hazelnut brownie” masquerading as a base of rich mousse in a glistening puddle of salted caramel and miso. Solstice in Newcastle was by far the longest tasting menu of the year, coming in at 18 dishes plus extras, but the charm and creativity of Kenny and Abby Atkinson make it a delicious prison experience. And if you win EuroMillions over the holidays, celebrate with a full 13-course dinner at Amethyst in Mayfair, served at a table that may have come from the Starship Enterprise, where chef Carlo Scotto redefines fine dining while taking £250 off your food. Wallet if you order the wagyu platter and cheese platter.
Finally, if there is ever to be a ‘Grace Dent winning dinner’, it has to be The Dog & Gun in Skelton, a country pub with an old heart that serves up a sumptuous menu without airs and graces. Take me back to a twice-baked soufflé with a liberal grating of black truffle. Yes, 2022 may have been stingy at times, but it was delicious overall, so more heartburn in 2023.