A year ago marked my first birthday in London. We celebrated with a platter of cured meats, pasta with wild mushrooms and some passionfruit souffles that flopped a little bit.

In the 364 days that followed some pretty amazing things have happened. I’ve seen the Great Pyramids, Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon and Iceland. I started  a semi riot on The Huffington Post over the best hot dogs in the world, tried to remember how to surf in Morocco, skied over an international border,  seen some of our best friends get married, two others have their first babies, became an aunt again and  jaunted to Stockholm and Copenhagen. I’ve endured minus 18 temperatures in Berlin, eaten churros in Madrid,  and tasted the food at the first and second best restaurants in the world.

Suffice to say; it’s been a very good year.

What is below is nothing more than navel gazing. Self indulgence squared.

But really, if you can’t take a moment in a year to remember all the great stuff that happened in the 12 months prior, then what’s the point?

So on the cusp of another birthday (and a biggish one at that),  here are ten of the top things I ate in the last year.


1. Truffle pot au feu at El Celler de can Roca

It’s not the second best restaurant in the world for nothing. It was tempting to pick the candied olives that came delivered on a bonsai, but it was this is the dish that roundly sticks in my memory. If anything it completely typifies the elegant restraint of the Roca Brothers.  It’s a zen style sugar bowl . Inside one part  that has a base of mesh is a steamed truffled brioche that you eat with your fingers.  Beneath it is a lake of ‘pot a feu’ broth. It’s just what you’d want to sip if you were convalescing. You eat the brioche, which is a doughy as a fat man’s palm. By the time you sip the soup the flavour of the truffle is still hanging around, making friends everywhere you turn. It’s soothing, rich, light- and brilliant.
http://www.cellercanroca.com/PORTADA/intro.htm

2.  Custard tart at Pasteis de Belem

This is no ordinary custard tart. It’s  believed that pastéis de natas was created before the 18th century by Catholic nuns at the Jerónimos Monastery of Belém, in Lisbon. The Casa Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon was the first place outside the convent that sold the tarts.  Since 1837, locals and tourists like us have flocked there to get the tarts pieces of custard goodness straight out of the oven. You can have them covered with cinnamon or powdered sugar- but I prefer them plain. It took us 45 minutes to walk to Belem in 40 degree heat. With  one taste of a tart and I knew it was worth it. The crust is twirled in concentric circles, more delicate than a spider web. The custard jiggles like a thigh after winter. And the top is blistered and puffed from the heat of the ovens. I’m not a particularly religious person. But this is a tart worth a pilgrimmage.

www.pasteisdebelem.pt

3.  Croque Monsieur Foxcroft and Ginger

Foxcroft and Ginger is one of my best loved places for coffee in London’s Soho- particularly on a Sunday if you’re feeling a little dusty. The staff are cheerful, there’s space downstairs to spread out with a newspaper, novelty pommel horses to lean up against and good wifi. But more than that, it’s home to this breakfast sandwich. It’s a ham and cheese triple decker french toast sandwich of sheer genius. I’m talking about layers of egg sodden and crisped bread are bound with bechamel. The ham is cut satisfyingly thick. The whole thing is slicked with a sticky honey mustard drizzle. It comes on a brave little wooden board, with a sprinkle of sea salt and ground pepper in the corner. If this doesn’t fix a hangover- then you’re beyond repair.  
www.foxcroftandginger.com/


4. Langoustine and mushrooms at Viajante

It’s a bonus course, we think, that was delivered to us after we discovered a mutual friend was working in the kitchen at Viajante in East London. It arrived on warmed rocks- a novelty in itself. Layered above, like good things found at the base of a fire is a buttress of smoked rosemary. Over that is a beautifully sweet section of langoustine tail and a tangle of enoki mushrooms, mysterious as mermaid tresses. Draped over that is a cape of lardo which softly melts. You pick it all up with your finger tips and gobble in one bite. I’m sure cavemen never had it this good.   When you eat it the melting pig fat adds a subtle sheen to your lips. It’s served with a miniature martini glass of chilled sake and a hot towel. Nuno Mendes does bold things in the kitchen at Viajante.This is one of the best.


5. Crispy pig’s ears at District Dining

‘Pigs’ ears belong to the dogs’; is one response when I first suggested ordering these at District Dining in Sydney These appear twisted like stressed fingers. The inside of each strip has a chewy spine of cartilage and the outside is crisp like a prawn cracker and buzzes with the heat of Szechuan pepper.  To which I say, if they dogs are eating anything this good, then I want what they’re having.

www.districtdining.com.au/

6. Quail’s eggs with celery salt at Brawn

If you make it to Brawn, you don’t want to miss the quail’s eggs (£4). They’re delicately doll sized and soft cooked so the Van Gogh yellow centres dash across your fingertips. Dip them in celery salt and be grateful that someone else has spent the time to shell them for you. Add a a glass of pink wine and dappled sunshine coming through the trees from Columbia Road on a lazy Saturday; all in all it’s bliss.

www.brawn.co/

7. Grilled squid at Ammoudi

Below the honeymooner’s paradise of Oia in Santorini is the fishing village of Ammoudi. In the middle of the tavernas is Katina. And at Katina there’s this squid. It’s curled in a way that genetics prevent my tongue from replicating (though my sister is perfectly capable). It’s blackened on the edges from the grill and licked with olive oil, lemon and salt. It’s the seaside feast I hoped we’d find in the Greek Islands, but almost gave up hope for. And the fact that it’s around the corner from one of the best swimming spots on the island is just icing on the cake.

8. Tomato bread at Jose

I think you can tell the quality of a place by how they do the simple things. And the tomato bread at Jose in Bermondsey is stellar. It’s the product of José Pizarro, who was the head chef at one of my (and Gwyneth’s) favourite spots in London; Brindisa. It’s just  bread, toasted and charred and smeared with garlic. It’s then soused with significant quantity of sweet pulped tomatoes, olive oil and salt. It’s the perfect foil for a glass of pink wine. Every time I visit and eat it, I’m happy.

joserestaurant.co.uk/

9. Peaches and yogurt at Matbaren

It came at the close of an accidental feast in Stockholm. We’d planned to just have a couple of bites at Matthias Dalgern’s more casual bar and restaurant; Matbaren. We ended up staying for hours. This dessert explains why. It’s  a combination of white and pink peaches, in segments and sorbets. It’s a puddle of tart natural yogurt that’s been hung and thickened. Together they would be clean and refreshing. But then there are the bits that make it wild.  There’s a slick of extra virgin olive oil. A handful of hazelnuts, which have been candied so they shatter like Christmas crackers. And a sprinkling of sea salt.  It’s a dish so balanced it should teach yoga. It’s so good that eating it, I was rendered mute.

www.mathiasdahlgren.co


10. Apple tart from Monmouth (which is actually from Pauls)

If a day is going badly, this is where I head. I get a  latte at Monmouth and a piece of apple tart. It’s a  sublime piece of tart heavy on apple, dusted with almonds  and sitting on a crust that cracks like dried autumn leaves. The base is custard like, sweet and comforting. Eating it yanks forward memories of apple danishes I was given as reward for completing in swimming races in a salty, barnacle encrusted harbour pool each Saturday morning as a child.  When my mum arrived in London, it was one of the first things I made her eat.

When pressed Monmouth confessed it’s just the apple tart from ‘Pauls’. But I love it.  Which is why when I blow out the candles for my 30th birthday tomorrow, they’re going to be squatting in a piece of this.

Here’s to another great year.