Friday, 4 January 2013

Review of the year 2012

Here we are at the start of another year. The last two have passed with frightening speed so it's time for my second annual end of year list-o-rama. Or the Northern Food Awards 2012 if you will.

I'm not going to call it that though, as it's a very important sounding title, as if there were judges and voters and such like, whereas in practice it's an entirely subjective round-up of the best things one person has eaten over the course of a year.

Still, there's a lot to like on this list. As with last year many of my winners are small independent businesses doing great things, and they deserve your support. Go forth, eating and drinking, into 2013.

I've kept the categories broadly the same as for 2011, give or take a couple of minor tweaks and additions. The only real difference is that I just don't have the time to write about them in such great detail this year.

The winners (and loser)

Best meal of the year: Wedgwood, Edinburgh

I dined in more upmarket restaurants in 2012 than the year before, some of which were almost in the fayn dayning category! Most of these were good, but none really that great apart from a meal at Wedgwood back in June.

Wonderful hospitality, excellent cooking and probably the single best thing I consumed in 2012, that raspberry and elderflower palate cleanser.

Coffee shop of the year: Tamper Coffee, Sheffield

Sheffield's best coffee shop, run by a lovely chap from New Zealand, proved to be a great introduction to the city. Carefully made, bold tasting coffee, lovely sandwiches and cakes, and delicious pies.

My rediscovery of the world of coffee continued apace throughout the year (in tandem with my new found tolerance for caffeine) so honourable mentions also go to Pink Lane Coffee in Newcastle, North Tea Power in Manchester, Mrs Atha's and of course last year's winner Laynes Espresso in Leeds.

Lunch spot of the year: Café Mozaic, Ashton-under-Lyne

A veritable orgy of kebabs and salads and tagines can be yours for under a fiver at Ashton-under-Lyne's marvellous Cafe Mozaic. Just look at it! Crucially the quality is also very high, making ploughing through the lot a delight and not a chore.

Also in the running were the Whitworth Gallery Cafe in Manchester for their fine soups and salads, Sesame in Leeds for dreamy fishfinger sarnies and Bragazzi's in Sheffield for first rate Italian deli sandwiches.

Best Fish and chips eaten in 2012: Murgatroyd's, Yeadon, Leeds

There's no wonder Harry Ramsden's went bust with Murgatroyd's round the corner. It has everything you could want in a fish and chip shop. Which means fat fillets of haddock in crisp, light batter, chips with creamy insides, crunchy outers and just a hint of grease, and a side of sloppy peas or curry sauce. All for not much money, washed down with a can of pop, sat at a picnic table in the dark, ravenous after a game of football. Splendid.

The best of the rest included seaside chippy visits to Sullivan's in Hornsea and Ernie Beckett's in Cleethorpes.

Indian meal of the year: Akbar's, Leeds

A difficult one this. The thing is, I didn't eat any truly fantastic Indian food in 2012, certainly nothing to match up to the best from last year. All the really interesting Indian restaurants in the North remain firmly stuck on my 'to do' list, so the prize goes to Akbar's. 

The food is nothing spectacular, but always satisfying, reliable and tasty. They also deserve a round of applause for coping admirably, service never missing a beat, despite having an enormous restaurant full of drunks every Friday night (yes Greek Street, I'm looking at you). Oh, and I don't care what anyone says, I still like the naan trees.

Chinese meal of the year: Silk Road, Camberwell, London

No contest. The best Chinese meal I ate in 2012 by a country mile. Silk Road how I love thee. You can read my review to get an idea of the food they serve, but only a visit will do it justice. Go to Camberwell.

Lamb skewers. Salivating.

Home style cabbage. Salivating more.

Other Asian meal of the year: Thai Aroy Dee, Leeds

The only repeat winner from last time around. What can I say? As with Silk Road, Thai Aroy Dee was best in class by a country mile and it just wouldn't have been fair to look elsewhere.

Honourable mentions also go to Saengarun Thai in Leeds, Little Hanoi in Sheffield and to I Am Pho in Manchester for their banh mi.

Breakfast of the year: The Breakfast Club, London

Another tricky category this. Up until last week the full English at Booth's was coming out on top. It was certainly accomplished, but didn't seem worthy of 'best of the year' status. I've obviously foregone a few proper breakfasts in favour of bacon sandwiches.

And then up popped the Breakfast Club, handily located just around the corner from our budget hotel, with a rather confusing offer of a shit bacon sandwich and an absolutely bloody lush plate of French toast with roasted apples, cinnamon and syrup. So good we had it twice in two days if truth be told.

The Town Hall Tavern is definitely a pub, the Wig and Pen? I'm not so sure. Either way it's a dead heat between these two. 

The THT served up very competent pub grub of a style and substance you'd expect to pay a lot more money for (including the splendiferous pig cheek scotch egg), whereas the Wig was a tad more upmarket, definitely more in restaurant territory with highly accomplished food that represented great value.

European meal of the year: Franco Manca, Stratford, London

Last year this was my Spanish only category. In recognition of the fact that I didn't eat as many Spanish meals out in 2012 (despite actually going to Spain), and did eat the odd French and Italian meal, I've expanded the category.

All of Europe may have been under consideration, but pizza still won. Pizza as good as any you're ever likely to eat, now available in a shopping centre. Please tell me they're opening at Trinity Leeds. Pretty please. Or even Meadowhell.

Also deserving of a mention: takeaway from Italian Express in Sheffield, tapas at Lunya in Liverpool, and Art's Cafe in Leeds.

Pub (or bar) of the year: North Bar, Leeds 

This was the most difficult category to pick. I didn't spend a great deal of time in the pub in 2012, and have yet to really fall in love with a Sheffield boozer since I moved here in the summer (I'm sure some potential favourites are out there, further exploration is necessary). 

Over in Leeds there were old stalwarts and new openings that failed to set my world on fire, a reminder that running a great pub or bar is no mean feat, so to do so consistently for over 15 years is an achievement in itself. Well done to North Bar, always reliably good, and somewhere I did at least visit regularly in the first few months of 2012 (as well as on and off for fourteen of its fifteen years, having first darkened the door back in '98).

Holiday meal of the year: Crab in Cornwall

From ferocious, struggling beast of the deep to my plate in an under an hour. It had to be the fresh spider crab we ate in Cornwall back in June.

The sweet, succulent flesh was a revelation, unadorned save for a few lettuce leaves and some buttered bread.

Daily feasts on the terrace in Spain also took some beating. Did I ever mention that I really like ham? Now I'm thinking of all things pig, pork scratching and lard butties in Brno weren't half bad either.

Worst meal of the year: Cote, Ealing, London 

I'm always envious of the London-dweller when it comes to food. The seemingly unending procession of exciting new eating opportunities never ceases to amaze, and it's no surprise that some of my 'best of the year' prizes always head South. 

Having said that London also boasts an even greater number of chain restaurants where the staff really do not give the slightest toss. Breakfast at Cote in Ealing was a case in point. 

Also atrocious in 2012 were Frankie and Benny's in Rochester and Trafalgar Fisheries in Sheffield.

Best thing I've cooked this year: I finally cooked the perfect steak.

..or at least as close to perfect as I'm going to get. In brief, here is how to do it: buy quality and thick, dry age in fridge, salt early, very hot pan, flip often, watch temperature, butter at the end, long rest. 

I was also pretty chuffed with the lamb and aubergine curry I cooked in September, but other than that it was a fairly poor year for my culinary skills. Must try harder in 2013.

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