Jay Rayner for The Observer saved one of the best until last – for him, Lino turned out to be “among my top places of the year”. It’s “dancing on the knife edge of modernity”; “so much of what they do bellows 2018.”
His review also rounds up the rest of his best meals of 2018, and how many them link through chefs, cuisine, decor, ambition or ingredients (such as celeriac, “this year’s breakout root vegetable”). Other excellent meals were eaten in “unexpected places”, such as beer halls and on the Tyne. Only a few carried the excellence through to dessert, though – Lino achieved this with a croissant bread and butter pudding that was a “dreamy combination of squidge and butteriness and sugar”.
He also mentioned his worst meals – always the ones that get the most coverage – and had a little gripe about pricing, and the people who complain about the costs of meals.
“I ate these things on your behalf. I know. I am selfless. I’m so selfless that I’m going to do it all again in 2019.”
Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times has been avoiding this review for a while, reluctant to deliver yet another “emperor’s-new-clothes verdict” on another restaurant run by “the cool, popular kids”, whose last place (P Franco) “felt to me like hard work”. And then there’s the place itself (“a glassy, concrete-floored room”) and sharing plates (“ack”).
We all love a good twist in the tale – of course, she loved Bright. She found a “welcoming” restaurant that’s “joyfully confident, not a beat missed, not a fluffed note”, one that’s “properly grown-up” with a clever (not “Clever”) menu with an “absolute understanding of the sort of thing you immediately want to stuff into your face”, and a “relaxed, amused, utterly knowledgeable” style. The praise continues with phrases like “real effort… perfectionist sourcing… maniacal dedication”
Teriyaki pheasant thighs were “uncomplicated, ballsy and oh-God-yes”, while her friends’ first encounter with a katsu sando (“Yes, obviously there’s a katsu sando”) was like watching “jolly Glaswegian hyenas”. “Close thought into the progression of dishes” almost has Marina changing her mind about sharing plates (but be warned, “small plates add up to big bills”, especially when you’re greedy).
“This is how it’s done.”
Grace Dent for The Guardian finishes the year with a visit to Scotland, and Leith’s Little Chartroom, “both two miles and a million miles” from “the tourist bedlam of Edinburgh’s Princes Street”. She describes the 18-cover spot as an “almost-fine-dining restaurant”, where “modern French-British, seasonally focused plates are precisely hewn and the dinner options are brief but meaningful”.
A “leap of faith spurred on by the spirit of joint adventure” from a newly married couple with experience in The Kitchin and Castle Terrace, The Little Chartroom is already popular – Ms Dent is “a new and avid fan” and fully expects it to be “elegant bedlam” by next year’s festival.
The “cooking is unique, delicious, risky and completely remarkable” – with extra-special praise going to the puddings, such as malt loaf with Vacherin and hazelnuts: “the simplicity of a midnight fridge buffet, but with Michelin star-worthy swagger”. (24/10)
Following Fay Maschler’s round-up of her favourite meals of the year last week, The Evening Standard looks forward to the hot new openings of 2019.
The Telegraph offers up an A to Z of the food trends that we can all expect to see on restaurants menus next year.
Giles Coren for The Times skipped the queue at Din Tai Fung (which he’d previously not heard of, despite it being named as “the most hyped London restaurant opening of 2018″ by many foodie websites). Did missing out on the infamous queues spoil his enjoyment of the equally famous xiao long bao?
He was slightly taken aback by the surgical masks worn by the chefs in the glass-walled kitchen, busy “forming each dumpling with extraordinary precision” (18 folds, no more no less), but the key to the chain’s global success is “the ability to replicate perfection all around the world every time”.
The dumplings weren’t the best, the most authentic or spiciest he’s ever eaten, but “at these prices, in these volumes, the delicacy and repeated replication of the platonic ideal is nothing short of a miracle”.
Tom Parker Bowles for The Mail on Sunday also visited Din Tai Fung, which he awarded his standard four stars. No word on whether or not he waited in line, but he did manage to mention that he’s been to “a dozen branches” of the global chain, starting with the original in Taipei. (He also noted the similarity to a hospital operating theatre.)
Tim Hayward in The FT summed up his best restaurants of 2018 saying “There can’t be a better place or time to be reviewing restaurants than right here, right now.”