Forty chefs open up their address books for Observer Food Monthly and reveal their favourite places to eat, from Inverness to Paignton and from Michelin-starred restaurants to a pie and mash shop
Monday 27 April 2015 08.00 BST
Last modified on Tuesday 28 April 2015 10.55 BST
1 Wright Brothers, Spitalfields
Chosen by Angela Hartnett, Murano, Cafe Murano
What with Hawksmoor, Tramshed and the rest, east London’s dead meaty these days, so Wright Brothers made a very welcome change when it opened a year or so back. It’s a brilliant fish joint that just happens to be five minutes’ walk from my house. I often pop in for a quick bite and a drink, and I love sitting at the long, marble-topped bar. In fact, I’ll sit there even when I’m having a full-blown meal – it’s just so classy and conducive to eating great fish. The starters have a slight Italian slant, which is right up my street, but it’s the fresh-as-can-be shellfish you really come for. It always takes me ages to choose what to have, which I’ve always thought is a sign of a good restaurant. I start off wanting everything on the menu, then whittle it down to something more manageable.
Must-have The oysters – they have such a wide selection. And the deep-fried olives, to keep you going while you make up your mind what else to have.
Wright Brothers, 8a Lamb Street, Old Spitalfields Market, E1 6EA, 020 7377 8706, thewrightbrothers.co.uk
2 Gymkhana, Mayfair
Chosen by Mark Hix, Hix restaurants
What I love most about Gymkhana is that, deep down, it’s an old-school curry house. Only better – much, much better. Yes, it’s in Mayfair, and yes, it’s at the posher end of the spectrum, but it’s not at all like those chi-chi high-end Indian joints you get in this part of town. There’s nothing pretentious or fancified about Gymkhana. Instead, it captures the spirit of the trad curry house and takes it to the next level and beyond: better ingredients, better cooking, better surroundings, better winelist, better service. The menu is always interesting, and changes often. Game’s a speciality – the kitchen really understands the difference between, say, roe, fallow and muntjac, and uses them in different ways, to showcase each deer’s best points – as is offal: I love the goat keema with diced brain stirred in at the last minute.
Must-have It’s probably the most simple dish on the menu, but the aloo chat is the real deal: potatoes, chickpeas, tamarind, chilli and sev, all brought together in an amalgam of flavours and textures – crisp, soft, crunchy and smooth – balanced by yoghurt and spices.
Gymkhana, 42 Albemarle Street, W1S 4JH, 020 3011 5900, gymkhanalondon.com
3 Castles’ Pie and Mash, Camden
Chosen by Giorgio Locatelli, Locanda Locatelli
You might think it odd for an Italian to pick a traditional pie and mash shop, but believe it or not Castle’s reminds me a lot of the sort of places I went with my dad when I was growing up in Lombardy. They do just one thing – pie and mash – and they do it brilliantly. It’s a similar sensibility that small business used to have back home in Italy: we’d drive miles to get the best pan tranvai (bread stuffed with cheese or raisins), then head somewhere else for pudding. I often come here for lunch when I’m home alone, but even though I’m a regular, the opening hours are still a bit of a mystery to me: all I know for sure is that they make a big batch of pies every morning, then open for lunch about 11.30am and close once they’ve sold out. I think a large part of the appeal is that it’s all so last century – Castle’s opened in the 1930s, and I doubt they’ve changed a thing ever since.
Must-have A double portion of liquor: I love the stuff.
Castle’s Pie & Mash, 229 Royal College Street, NW1 9LT, 020 7485 2196
4 40 Maltby Street, Bermondsey
Chosen by Florence Knight, Polpetto
For me, 40 Maltby Street is all about its head chef, Stephen Williams: whenever he’s not in the kitchen, I really miss his touch. His cooking reminds me a bit of St John at its best: a daily changing menu of six or so small plates, a couple of more substantial mains and one or two puddings. It all seems so simple, and it is, but that simplicity is deceptive, because what turns up is as close to perfect as you could wish for; and it’s matched by a brilliant natural-wine list. Stephen’s food is just so well judged and balanced: there’s nothing unnecessary in any dish, and nothing missing, either. He’s got such a clever eye for what goes with what, and why – last time I went, I had deep-fried Ardrahan cheese with pink fir potatoes and tiny pieces of diced apple, and came away wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”.
Must-have Anything wrapped in pastry, whether that’s meat pie or pudding – the things Stephen does with pastry are kind of genius.
40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA, 020 7237 9247, 40maltbystreet.com; no reservations
5 Colbeh, Bayswater
Chosen by Karam Sethi, Gymkhana
This tiny Persian place is an old family favourite: my dad’s been going for years, and I’m just following in his footsteps. I must eat here at least twice a month. It’s not much more than a hole in the wall – 30-35 covers max – and it’s always packed, mostly with Iranians getting a true taste of home. It’s so popular, I reckon they must turn the tables eight, nine, 10 times a day at least. If I had to describe Colbeh in one word, it would have to be “authentic”: the quality of the meat – the kebabs especially – and rice dishes is second to none in London; the mezze and appetisers aren’t too shabby, either.
Must-have Chelo kabab koobideh. Everything I love about Colbeh in one dish with a little added theatre: they bring a big platter of perfectly cooked saffron rice and a heap of kebabs to your table, you stir butter and an egg yolk into the rice, and then it’s a bit of a battle to make sure you get your fair share.
Colbeh, 6 Porchester Place, W2 2BS, 020 7706 4888, colbeh.co.uk
6 El Parador, Mornington Crescent
Chosen by Yotam Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi & Nopi
I’ve been coming to El Parador for years, since way before I moved to north London, because it’s the kind of tapas bar you don’t come across all that often in this country. For one thing, it serves proper tapas, by which I mean small plates – enough for a few bites each, nothing more. The upside of that is you can easily get through 12-15 dishes between four, so you get to taste just about everything you fancy off the menu. They do great squid and octopus dishes, and I always have the salt cod with piquillo peppers if it’s on. The stews – both meat and veg-based – are the real deal, and I love the empanadillas filled with spinach and cheese.
There’s nothing flash about the place by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just a great family-run neighbourhood joint that serves really decent food. Perhaps that’s what I love most about it – it’s all so wonderfully predictable, which I find comforting in a restaurant.
Must-have Any of the slow-cooked bean dishes – butter beans, cannellini, chickpeas – in a thick, winey, tomatoey sauce. I can’t resist them.
El Parador, 245 Eversholt Street, NW1 1BA, 020 7387 2789, elparadorlondon.com
7 Lyle’s Shoreditch
Chosen by Nuno Mendes, Chiltern Firehouse
If I had to choose one word to describe James Lowe’s restaurant, it would be balance. Amazing produce, just cheffy enough, but at the same time it pulls off the trick of being a relaxed, casual experience. James’s cooking ticks all my boxes: intelligent, seasonal, very British in its sourcing and, above all, incredibly tasty. It’s not the most complicated cooking in town, sure, but it’s very clever: there’s an art to keeping things so apparently simple and still come up with a truly great dish. At dinner, they only do a £39 tasting menu, but that takes the pressure off the diner as much as the kitchen, and they always take you for an enjoyable ride – there’s always at least one dish that stands out and makes you go, “Wow!”.
Must-have The chopped beef with shellfish emulsion (raw beef with mussels) is super yummy – like so much at Lyle’s, it seems so simple, but the amount of thought that’s gone into it really shows on the plate. I love the unexpected crunch of the veg underneath, which is always something seasonal – leeks, cabbage, sprouts, whatever.
Lyle’s, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ, 020 3011 5911, lyleslondon.com
8 Koya Bar Soho
Chosen by Nieves Barragán Mohacho, Barrafina
Whenever I go to Koya Bar for a quick bite before service, I usually end up having five dishes – the problem is, the daily specials board is impossible to resist. There’s always something different to try, and in a weird way it reminds me a bit of what we do at Barrafina, only Japanese. There’s such attention to detail in everything. They make their noodles fresh each day, and they even knead the dough the traditional way – with their feet. And the tempura are something else, especially the vegetable ones – they’re so light that you don’t feel guilty about eating deep-fried food. The saba – mackerel and hot noodles in hot stock – with onsen tamago is another favourite: you break in an egg, which makes it even richer. And the walnut miso… Actually, just talking about Koya Bar makes me hungry to go back for more.
Must-have Tokyo turnip purée with sprouting broccoli and tofu – no matter how much I’ve ordered, I always make room for a portion of this. It’s one of my all-time favourite dishes.
Koya Bar, 50 Frith Street, W1D 4SQ, koyabar.co.uk; no reservations
9 Sweetings City of London
Chosen by Fergus Henderson, St John
Sweetings is organised chaos, essentially. You give your order to a chap behind the bar, who passes it to a runner, who walks past you to convey it to the kitchen. The same happens when the plates come out – they’re handed to the man behind the bar, who then brings them to your table, as though you haven’t just had to move aside to let them through. None of it makes sense – it shouldn’t work – but it all comes together into an oddly harmonious whole. I’m buggered if I know how. Sweetings only does fish – very good fish; has done for over 125 years. And it’s tiny. I always sit at the back, in Angelo’s domain, and begin with a black velvet: the champagne reacts with the silver tankard, which in turn causes spittle to form in the cheeks, giving the tastebuds a gentle nudge in preparation for lunch. Coming here is one of life’s wonderful rituals.
Must-have Scampi and chips, always. There’s something deeply comforting about knowing it will be exactly the same as it was on my previous visit. And will be again on my next.
Sweetings, 39 Queen Victoria Street, EC4N 4SF, 020 7248 3062, sweetingsrestaurant.com; no reservations
10 The Clove Club Shoreditch
Chosen by Hélène Darroze, the Connaught
My favourite London restaurant at the moment. I am a huge fan of head chef Isaac McHale, and love the sincerity and sensibility that comes across in his cooking – you really get the impression that he is inspired above all else by his Scottish roots; that comes across just from reading the menu and even more so on the plate. The room has an incredibly relaxed atmosphere, too, which I love. My own restaurant is in Mayfair, which is of course very different. In this job, it’s often difficult to escape, so whenever I do get the chance to eat out, I tend to go for something that’s the total opposite in feel. The Clove Club, and Shoreditch in general, ticks all the boxes for that.
Must-have My favourite dish is hands down the blood pudding, which they make on site – it is so moist and rich with flavours. I’ve been to the Clove Club three times now, and I’ve had this each time. It’s pretty much odds on I’ll have it again next time, too.
The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, EC1V 9LT, 020 7729 6496, thecloveclub.com
11 Hibiscus Mayfair
Chosen by Clare Smyth, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
This is a top restaurant and I love chef/owner Claude Bosi’s cooking – it just gets better and better. He’s an imaginative cook who puts a modern twist on classical dishes, and has the technical skills to pull it off when many chefs would miss the mark. His flavours really stick in your mind. He once served this whole lobster baked with hay in a glass bowl sealed with puff pastry. He opened it at the table, so you could get all the aromas, then took it away, portioned the lobster and made a sauce from the juices. He’s got a real simplicity in his cooking and it shows a confidence in his ability and palate. The dining room is beautiful. It’s not silent like a lot of fine-dining restaurants – there’s the buzz of people enjoying themselves. Lots of chefs eat here, too, which is always a good sign.
Must-have Last time I went, I had a veal chou farci, a very classical French dish that, in a Middle Eastern twist, Claude paired with a goat’s cheese sauce with argan oil – it was an absolutely phenomenal combination.
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, W1S 2PA, 020 7629 2999, hibiscusrestaurant.co.uk
12 Salon Brixton
Chosen by Anna Hansen, the Modern Pantry
This tiny place in Brixton Market, upstairs from the charcuterie shop Cannon & Cannon, serves delicious food and really lovely drinks. I’ve been three or four times since I moved down to south London, and each time it’s been great. It feels quite rustic and cobbled-together, but it’s a lovely place to hang out – I go on a Wednesday night, when it’s much easier to nab a table. The food is an interesting mixture of health-conscious – lots of sprouted grains, raw stuff and unusual tonics – and completely feel-good: I recently had a delicious pot-roast brisket with this really cool mash. And their puddings are gorgeous: the one that sticks in my mind is a buttermilk panna cotta with caramelised white chocolate, malt flakes and poached rhubarb – that was just lovely. The place is completely unpretentious, not highfalutin at all. I love it.
Must-have The last time I was here, I had a really lightly cured mackerel fillet that had been blasted with a torch. It came with a delicious horseradish jelly.
Salon, 18 Market Row, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8LD, 020 7501 9152, salonbrixton.co.uk
13 The Plough Inn Longparish, Hampshire
Chosen by Emily Watkins, The Kingham Plough, Kingham, Oxfordshire
I met James Durrant, the chef-owner of the Plough Inn, when we were both doing The Great British Menu last year, but I’d been meaning to go to his restaurant for ages before that. I finally made it before Christmas with my mum and a couple of friends, and between us we ordered most of the menu. Every dish we had was absolutely delicious. The food is interesting, up-to-date, and beautifully executed. The fish dishes showed real finesse and technical ability: I had a salmon tartare starter that blew me away, and a really good turbot main. The setting is lovely: it’s in an old pub in a very pretty Hampshire village, so it feels very nice and relaxed. It’s definitely my favourite restaurant I’ve been to in quite a while.
Must-have James’s version of mac and cheese, which he makes with truffles, amazing cured ham and veal stock. It’s very rich and very spoiling, but it’s really delicious – one of those winning dishes that’s comforting but expertly executed.
The Plough Inn, Longparish, Andover, Hampshire SP11 6PB, 01264 720358, theploughinn.info
14 The Fat Duck Bray, Berkshire
Chosen by Tom Kerridge, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow, Bucks
The Fat Duck, for me, is the best restaurant in the world. It’s so perfect, from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave. People think of the food as mad professor-ish, but it’s based on a classic understanding of flavour; it’s just that Heston’s way of getting there is completely different.
There are so many great dishes: I’m a huge fan of the bacon-and-egg ice-cream, and the snail porridge, which is basically a parsley risotto with snails – a solid French dish taken to a new level. I’ve probably eaten here 10 times – it’s just down the road – and it becomes more and more polished each time. They get everything right. You always think three-star restaurants are going to be stuffy, but the Fat Duck is so not like that: it’s about people having a wonderful time and eating incredible food. It’s the most magical and special restaurant I’ve ever been to.
Must-have “Sound of the Sea” is a completely new level of dining. It sounds ridiculous – you sit there eating seafood with an iPod on – but it’s just stunning: an incredible experience.
The Fat Duck, High Street, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ, 01628 580333, thefatduck.co.uk
15 Elliott’s Coastal Kitchen Whitstable, Kent
Chosen by Stephen Harris, The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent
Imagine what it would be like if your local caff got taken over by a chef, and you’ll have something like Elliott’s. Phill MacGregor used to run the kitchen at a brilliant pub up the road, the Dove Inn, Dargate, before taking over here. It’s open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, and for dinner Thursday to Saturday – I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be him with those hours. I suppose you’d call it modern British, but these days that includes elements from continental Europe as well as bits and pieces from farther afield. Proper British puds, though.
It gets really busy in the evenings, raucous, too; they’re happy to push together a load of tables for big parties – we had our work Christmas do here, though my memory of that’s a bit hazy. Elliott’s is just what you’d hope for in a local restaurant: great produce, well cooked, warm welcome, decent value.
Must-have It’s amazing to have a chef cook you breakfast – Phill’s fry-ups are just so — and I’d happily eat anything he puts on at night.
Elliott’s Coastal Kitchen at No 1 Harbour Street, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1AG, 01227 276608, no1harbourstreet.co.uk
16 Porthminster Cafe St Ives, Cornwall
Chosen by Nathan Outlaw, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall
Don’t be fooled by the name, location and surfer-dude atmosphere – there’s some serious cooking going on in Michael Smith’s kitchen. This is one of those rare restaurants that pull off modern techniques and applications without feeling the need to make a big song and dance about it. Mick’s a no-nonsense Aussie, and he came over here at about the same time Peter Gordon was kicking up a fusion storm in London, and there are similarities in their approach. He takes local produce, a fair bit of it foraged, and combines it with more exotic flavours in such a clever way. It’s right on the beach as well, and the front of house are all so upbeat and clued-up, which means I can relax over a great meal without worrying about the kids causing havoc: if they get bored, they can just go and run amok outside.
Must-have People might expect me to pick fish, but I always have the pork belly with chilli and star anise if it’s on the menu. I love a bit of fusion when it’s done properly.
Porthminster Cafe, Porthminster Beach, St Ives, Cornwall, 01736 795352, porthminstercafe.co.uk
17 Bell’s Diner Bristol
Chosen by Claire Thomson, Flinty Red, Bristol
The Bristol food scene is going from strength to strength, so there are more than a few places I’d like to recommend these days, but my absolute favourite has to be Bell’s Diner. I love the place – it’s got a brilliant, buzzy vibe, a savvy front-of-house team and truly imaginative cooking. And I’m not just saying that because the chef, Sam Sohn-Rethel, used to work with us at Flinty Red, either – he’s a real talent, as at home with modern British cooking as he is with Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisine, and his menu at Bell’s covers all those bases and more.
The wine list, too, is a thing of beauty, featuring an eclectic but super-intelligent range of regions and grapes, both natural and conventional, from out-there Greeks to more familiar Italians, and that’s testament to having a really good relationship with your suppliers.
Must-have Slow-cooked cauliflower with yoghurt and caramelised butter and pine nuts: it’s so refreshing to come across a new way to do cauli. This is cooked down for so long, it goes almost soupy.
Bell’s Diner, 1-3 York Road, Bristol BS6 5QB, 0117 924 0357, bellsdiner.com
18 The Hidden Hut Truro, Cornwall
Chosen by Jack Stein, The Seafood Restaurant, Padstow, Cornwall
To me, the Hidden Hut is the quintessential Cornish dining experience. Yes, it’s little more than a wooden hut on a beach, and it’s only open from March to October, but that undersells quite how exciting it is. It’s the sort of place that, after you’ve been the first time, you just have to tell everyone about, which is as sure a sign as any of a brilliant dining experience. They do a good grab-and-go lunch menu – salads, soups, pasties; just simple stuff, but all done properly.
Must-have The main attraction is their feast nights. These are big outdoor cook-ups – anything from south-east Asian curry nights to fish or shellfish barbecues, often using ingredients that have almost literally just come out of the water. It’s a way of cooking that’s a world away from what I’m used to at the Seafood, stuck in the basement kitchen sweating buckets in a 30C-plus cauldron. The spirit of this place is infectious – they’re always smiling, keen, loving what they do. I honestly can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be on a warm summer’s night.
The Hidden Hut, Porthcurnick Beach, near Portscatho, Truro, Cornwall, TR2 5EW, hiddenhut.co.uk
19 East in the West Paignton, Devon
Chosen by Mitch Tonks, The Seahorse, Dartmouth, Devon
Living down in Devon, you get cravings for real Asian food, the kind of authentic grub people who live in big cities take for granted; most Chinese and Indian restaurants round here use those homogeneous sauces that mean everything tastes the same. That’s why East In The West made such an impression on me: it’s all about freshness, cooking to order, hand-ground spices. The chef is from Kerala, so of course that culture is a major influence , but he roams farther afield, too – so as well as authentic dosas, you get brilliant naan and parathas. Also, he’s got an incredibly light touch with the oil, which lots of curry houses could do with taking on board. I must end up in here around once a week, with family, friends, business associates – any excuse.
Must-have Peppery lamb – it’s very spicy, with lots of green chilli, but that’s balanced by the more subtle spicing of mustard seeds, curry leaves and ginger. And the king prawn piralan, which come poached in a thick, spicy, coconutty sauce – I love that.
East In The West, 75 Torquay Road, Paignton, Devon, TQ3 2SE, 01803 269875, eastinthewest.uk.com
20 Midsummer House Cambridge
Chosen by Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham
I try to get here at least once a year for a proper blowout. It’s so rare to find a restaurant with such a strong sense of its own identity – you just can’t get food like this anywhere else. The chef, Daniel Clifford, is a contemporary of mine – we’re about the same age and we came up through the ranks at the same time – and what I really love about Midsummer House is seeing how he’s brought it on since my last visit. He’s not the sort to come up with a great dish and then stick to it for ever more; he’s always pushing. His approach is very classical, solid French technique paired with an incredible palate and eye for detail. Midsummer is such a good set-up, and it’s constantly evolving. That’s the real joy of eating here, I suppose: you’re guaranteed a brilliant surprise every visit.
Must-have The scallop with truffle and granny smith: to my mind, this is Daniel’s signature dish, and it’s a real standout – plus they’re biggest bloody scallops I’ve ever seen.
Midsummer House, Midsummer Common, Cambridge CB4 1HA, 01223 369299, midsummerhouse.co.uk
21 Adil’s Birmingham
Chosen by Glynn Purnell, Purnell’s, Birmingham
A Brummie picking a balti house is a bit of a cliche, I know, but so be it: I love this Adil’s, have done for years. It’s one of the original Sparkbrook balti houses – the famous balti triangle – and was opened by the current owners’ dad back in the 1970s. It’s proper Pakistani/Kashmiri cooking, and one of the few places left that still does a table naan. That’s exactly what it sounds like, by the way: a huge, freshly made naan that just about covers the entire table, like a gorgeous, tasty duvet. You tear off a hunk of bread, use it to scoop up some curry and shovel it into your mouth. It’s always the sign of a good night when you wake up the next morning with two orange fingers – that’s almost a Brummie badge of honour. Little high-street businesses like this don’t survive for more than 30 years unless they’re doing something very right.
Must-have Other than the bread, I always order chicken balti with spinach and extra chillies. It’s a classic.
Adil’s, 148-150 Stoney Lane, Birmingham B12 8AJ, 0121 4490335, adilbalti.co.uk
22 The Leaping Hare Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Chosen by Rosie Sykes, chef and food writer, Cambridgeshire, thekitchenrevolution.co.uk
It’s just the most calming spot imaginable. The moment you arrive, you’re enveloped by the atmosphere and all your cares go on the back-burner, at least for a few hours while you have lunch. You feel immediately at home. It’s very English, but you never get the sense that it’s trying to be fancy; it’s just itself. The Leaping Hare is the restaurant proper (there’s also a cafe), and the cooking is seasonal, interesting, not at all poncey – my kind of food. A lot of the meat and veg is from the estate, as is the game, so it’s as local as you can get. It’s not one of those excessive menus that tries (and fails) to cover all bases; just five or six choices per course, all done very well indeed. It reminds me a bit of Petersham Nurseries in its heyday under Skye Gyngell.
Must-have The vegetarian options are notably imaginative – when a restaurant goes to the trouble of pulling out the stops on the veggie front, you know everything else is going to be good, too.
The Leaping Hare, Wyken Vineyards, Wyken Road, Stanton, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP31 2DW, 01359 250287, wykenvineyards.co.uk
23 Restaurant Sat Bains Nottingham
Chosen by Galton Blackiston, Morston Hall, Norfolk
This is a restaurant to go to if you want a real experience – somewhere that’ll make you think, wow, that was amazing. It’s not a grand place – it’s essentially a restaurant with rooms – but the dining room has all the fine touches you’d expect from a two-Michelin-star establishment. The cooking cannot be faulted. You’ll see unusual flavours coming together on a plate that actually work, which is the sign of a somebody who really knows what they’re up to – I had this deconstructed curry dish once that was particularly good. Whatever Sat puts on the menu, you can be sure it’ll be modernised, twisted and served in a very unusual fashion. He takes risks, but they’re calculated, tried and tested. He’s a brilliant chef and it’s a brilliant restaurant.
Must-have His work with scallops is very good: he uses only the best, and what he does with them is pretty special. So look out for any scallop dish on the menu.
Restaurant Sat Bains, Lenton Lane, Nottingham NG7 2SA, 0115 9866566, restaurantsatbains.com
24 The Inn at Whitewell Forest of Bowland, Lancs
Chosen by Lisa Allen, Northcote, Langho, Lancashire
This little place has a beautiful setting on the river Hodder and really great food. The drive out to Whitewell is gorgeous, and my husband and I often head over to the inn on a day off for a walk before sitting down to eat. We tend to go for the bar lunch. You can sit outside during the summer – the views over the parkland and the fells are wonderful – or huddled next to the roaring fire inside in winter time. The food is well-cooked, homely and very tasty. They do the local classics, such as potted shrimp from Southport, but also stuff like this really nice spicy squid noodle salad starter that I often choose because it’s a little bit different. It is such a lovely place, and we’re very lucky to have it nearby.
Must-have Slow-roast lamb shoulder with hotpot potatoes, caramelised onions and carrot puree.
The Inn at Whitewell, near Clitheroe, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire BB7 3AT, 01200 448222, innatwhitewell.com
25 The French Manchester
Chosen by Mary-Ellen McTague, chef and writer, @MaryEllenMcT
The French was a real game-changer for Manchester, because we didn’t really “do” high end before it opened in 2013. It has transformed the city’s dining scene; in fact, I’d go so far as to say that, along with Manchester House, Simon Rogan’s restaurant is the catalyst that means we’re now attracting big hitters from London – the likes of Hawksmoor and Iberica. I love everything about the place: the dining room is calming, the service is tops, the wine list is serious and the food is of a class and quality that sets it apart.
Rogan’s cooking is everything I look for in a meal: fresh, seasonal, original and intelligent – dead good ingredients put together cleverly, but not too cleverly. There’s no style over substance here.
Must-have When the ox in coal oil is on the menu, I have to have it: smoky raw meat with seeds and dinky little shoots – like refined caveman food, and very tasty.
The French, The Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester, M60 2DS, 0161 236 3333, the-french.co.uk
26 Freemasons at Wiswell Clitheroe, Lancs
Chosen by Gary Usher, Sticky Walnut, Chester
Cooking of this calibre is the last thing you expect in a country pub, and the Freemasons is still most definitely a pub – it oozes that brilliantly relaxing atmosphere you can’t replicate in a restaurant, no matter how hard you try. It just happens to be a pub that serves remarkable food. I’d heard it was good, but the first time I went, I was gobsmacked. Every dish, whether meat, fish or veg, was so well thought-through and executed; I’d go so far as to say artistic, even though that’s a bit poncey. I was already reeling after my first two courses, and then the dessert – a Saint Marcellin cheesecake – came and blew me away. The chef Steven Smith is some kind of pudding wizard.
Must-have Pudding, even if you’re not a pudding person. The souffle is among the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a few in my time. What makes it more impressive (and alarming to a cook) is that I’d bet he decides on a whim what he’s going to put in it each day.
Freemasons at Wiswell, 8 Vicarage Fold, Wiswell, Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 9DF, 01254 822 218, freemasonsatwiswell.com
27 Sticky Walnut Chester
Chosen by Aiden Byrne, Manchester House, Manchester
I love Sticky Walnut and the chef who owns it, Gary Usher, really cooks from the heart. The place has been put together on a shoestring; it feels a bit like eating in your front room. It’s bistro food, but done with serious love. The presentation isn’t picture perfect – the attention goes into making the food taste nice. The first time I ate there I had deep-fried lambs’ tongues with tomatoes and broad beans. Any chef who puts lamb’s tongue on as one of three starters is very brave. It was fantastic. Gary told me he was struggling to make ends meet and was considering doing sandwiches at lunchtime, but in the end he stuck to his guns and now he’s opening a second restaurant.
Must-have Sunday lunch is a standout. Topside with roasted parsnips, kale and sweet potatoes.
11 Charles Street, Hoole, Chester, CH2 3AZ, 01244 400400, stickywalnut.com
28 Easto Sunderland
Chosen by Jane Baxter, chef and food writer, baxters-moveablefeasts.com
The first time I ate here, it was such a surprise. I’d read up a bit online, but wasn’t holding out much hope. Now, I make sure I get to Easto every time I’m home for a visit. Order off the Chinese menu, because that’s where the good stuff is. The staff are fab and go out of their way to explain unfamiliar dishes. I took the Baxter clan here at Christmas, and we ordered just about the whole menu – the chef came to check out these weird Mackems. On top of all that, it’s just by the Stadium of Light, so in the last few years it’s been my go-to cure for football-related depression.
Must-have Szechuan fish fillet and pickle leaves in pot: Szechuan food isn’t all about blowing your head off, and this proves it – subtle, clean flavours, just-cooked fish: gorgeous. As is the braised aubergine, potato and pepper – who’d have thought those three humble ingredients could pack such a punch?
Easto, 8-9 North Bridge Street, Sunderland, SR5 1AD, 0191 4471488, eastorestaurant.co.uk
29 Vennell’s Masham, North Yorkshire
Chosen by Frances Atkins, The Yorke Arms, Pateley Bridge, near Harrogate
This is a wonderful little restaurant that’s local to us. I admire the chef Jon Vennell very much: he and his wife do pretty much everything themselves, and they’ve been doing it to a very high standard for 10 years. Jon’s food is classically based, and he uses his ingredients sympathetically. It appeals to all markets: you’ll find a hearty beef-and-ale pudding alongside a lightly poached salmon and, if you fancy something slightly more sophisticated, a clever venison dish. His menu is thorough, clean and impressive – it doesn’t try to follow the trends and get them wrong I think Jon is a very good representative for the honesty of Yorkshire’s food. It’s a lovely place to eat, plus, if you’re visiting the area it’s the sort of place you could probably afford to eat at every night.
Must-have The beef, mushroom and suet pudding – Jon makes it with our local Black Sheep ale. It’s very, very good.
Vennell’s, 7 Silver Street, Masham, North Yorkshire HG4 4DX, 01765 689000, vennellsrestaurant.co.uk
30 The Man Behind the Curtain Leeds
Chosen by Kenny Atkinson, House of Tides, Newcastle
This place only opened last year, but I think it’s going to be massive. The chef Michael O’Hare is very different in his approach to food, design, everything. It’s not your average restaurant: you’ve got to go through a clothes shop in a department store to get to it. There’s graffiti all over the walls and Michael looks like David Bowie or something: long black hair, snakeskin shoes. He worked at Noma, but he’s creating his own style, rather than following Scandinavian trends. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but puts unlikely ingredients together and makes them work. One time, he baked a chocolate dome with lavender, salt, vinegar and crisp puffed rice, and topped it with a vanilla and potato foam. You think, that’s going to be a disaster, but it was absolutely stunning. I’ve been four times already. It’s just brilliant.
Must-have Pork jowl with oyster. Michael makes an oyster bread with squid ink and bakes it so it looks like a lump of coal. The pork and seafood combination really works.
The Man Behind the Curtain, Top Floor, Flannels, 68-78 Vicar Lane, Leeds LS1 7JH, 0113 2432376, themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk
31 The Hardwick Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
Chosen by Shaun Hill, The Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid
This is where I eat out most often. It’s partly down to the atmosphere – the Hardwick reminds me of a happy barn where people come for a good time, rather than to worship at the altar. You can tell just from reading the menu that chef/owner Stephen Terry really cares about his food – its provenance, how it’s cooked and plated. You know your meal isn’t going to be arsed about with, so there are none of those infernal blobs and towers, which are always for the benefit of the chef’s ego rather than the punter’s stomach. I usually default to fish when I eat out, and here it’s always spot on: timed to a T, interesting veg alongside, plus maybe a bit of pancetta to piss off the pescetarians, which is always a good thing.
Must-have It’s hard to look beyond the middle white pork (Stephen gets his from Richard Vaughan) whenever that’s on. And the fish, any fish.
The Hardwick, Old Raglan Road, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, NP7 9AA, 01873 854220, thehardwick.co.uk
32 Wright’s Food Emporium Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire
Chosen by Stephen Terry, The Hardwick, Abergavenny
Wright’s Food Emporium is this big old pub in Llanarthne, and it’s run with great passion by Simon Wright, former editor of the AA Guide, and his wife Maryann. There’s a blackboard with the day’s dishes – no fixed menu – and they serve very simple food using the best ingredients. You can have amazing sandwiches – I’m a big fan of the cubano and the reuben – and lovely salads with roast peppers and beautiful local goat’s cheese; they also sell fantastic organic wines and artisanal beers. Once a month, they invite a guest chef to do a six-course dinner for about £30. They have a real understanding of flavours, and invest time and effort into making good food available to people in the area. We’re an hour and a half’s drive away, but I’ll find an excuse to go every month or so. It’s that good.
Must-have They do a great dish with warm hummus and pomegranate.
Wright’s Food Emporium, Golden Grove Arms, Llanarthne, SA32 8JU, 01558 668929, wrightsfood.co.uk
33 The Walnut Tree Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
Chosen by James Sommerin, Restaurant James Sommerin, Penarth
Shaun Hill is a fantastic chef. He does really homey food, and his dishes tend to have big, bold flavours. The restaurant is in a beautiful spot – it’s a lovely old white-washed inn that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, even though it’s just a few miles east of Abergavenny. There’s a little welcoming bar when you walk in the door, and the dining room beyond has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere. I’ve only eaten here a couple of times – I tend not to eat out in Wales all that much – but each time it’s been outstanding. The food is quite eclectic: you might see a ceviche or a curry on the menu, as well as saddle of rabbit or braised ox cheek. But the ingredients are always extremely good and they’re cooked to a very high standard. It’s just really good food.
Must-have Last time I went, I had a fantastic guinea fowl with fondant potato.
The Walnut Tree, Llanddewi Skirrid, near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 8AW, 01873 852797, thewalnuttreeinn.com
34 The Kitchin Edinburgh
Chosen by Roy Brett, Ondine, Edinburgh
I would have to say that the Kitchin is my favourite restaurant in Scotland. They’ve just done a fantastic refurb and the food is as good as it’s ever been, if not better. I love Tom Kitchin’s energy. He trained with Pierre Koffmann and Alain Ducasse, and his cooking achieves a balance between both styles: he’ll do big robust sauces and jugged hares and whole roast teal with their heads on, which reflect Koffmann’s influence, but then he’ll do something completely precise and detailed in the style of Ducasse. The space is very relaxed for a Michelin-star restaurant – it has a really nice Scandinavian feel, and was designed by Tom’s wife Michaela – and the food is very natural as well. The restaurant is a great asset to Edinburgh. I really hope he gets his second Michelin star, because he bloody deserves it.
Must-have The langoustines à la plancha, or the Isle of Barra razor clams cooked with chorizo and seasonal vegetables, and served in the shell.
The Kitchin, 78 Commercial Quay, Edinburgh EH6 6LX, 0131 555 1755, thekitchin.com
35 The Lobster Shack North Berwick, East Lothian
Chosen by Jacqueline O’Donnell, The Sisters, Glasgow
I love eating outdoors, and the Lobster Shack’s my favourite place for that. It’s open for most of April and May and June through to the last weekend in September, which somehow makes it feel even more special. As the name suggests, it’s a wee shack right on the harbour that does gorgeous shellfish; the specials change as the boats come in.
We normally have moules marinière or crab cocktail then langoustines or lobster. The fact that it’s licensed makes you feel that you’re out for a proper lunch, not just fish and chips. I’d go just before or after the main lunchtime rush, because it gets really busy; mind you, if all the tables are taken, you can always get a takeaway, sit on one of the benches around the harbour and eat your lobster looking out to sea. It’s the place I frequent the most, be that with the children, when everyone has a pot of mussels for lunch, or for a quiet dinner on a summer’s night.
Must-have Lobster with hand-cut chips and tartare sauce and a glass of champagne.
The Lobster Shack, 12 Quality Street, North Berwick, East Lothian EH39 4HP, 07910 620480, lobstershack.co.uk
36 Rocpool Inverness
Chosen by Michael Smith, The Three Chimneys, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye
We’re so far away from everywhere up here in Skye that there’s not much opportunity to eat out, but whenever we’re in our nearest city, Inverness, which is three hours away by car, we always go to Rocpool. It’s a contemporary brasserie with quite a metropolitan feel, but the menu is very much regionally focused; it’s also got a fantastic setting, looking across the river Ness towards the castle.
They serve lovely fresh Scottish produce, and are always promoting the Highlands on their menu, especially the seafood. So you’ll get excellent scallops, mussels and crab, though some very good Speyside venison I had there a while ago also sticks in the memory. The standard of cooking is consistently high. The owner, Steven Devlin, is pretty much always there, which is definitely a good sign – he’s there to meet his guests face-to-face. It’s the go-to place for us: perfect for a meal with the family, perfect for any occasion.
Must-have The Cromarty crab is a highlight – they sometimes serve it with a lovely roast butternut squash risotto.
Rocpool, 1 Ness Walk, Inverness, Inverness-shire IV3 5NE, 01463 717274, rocpoolrestaurant.com
37 Ondine Edinburgh
Chosen by Andrew Fairlie, Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, Gleneagles
If I’m out and about in Edinburgh, I go to Ondine. I love the atmosphere, the service is excellent and Roy Brett is a fantastic chef. It’s predominantly a seafood restaurant and the fish, I know, is all sustainably caught. Roy knows how to cook fish properly, which can be quite difficult, and his food has that ideal balance: very simple but at the same time very interesting – and always perfectly cooked.
I generally go with my two daughters and my partner on a Sunday, when my restaurant is closed, and we always have a cold and a roasted shellfish platter. He has a fantastic selection of oysters too, usually five or six different types, and he does the best Vietnamese crispy squid I’ve ever had. Everything works: it’s very casual dining but the service is always spot on, and the wine list matches the menu perfectly. Ask for a seat by the window so you can look down at the Royal Mile.
Must-have The roasted shellfish platter is fantastic: it’s got razor clams, lobster, crab, the whole thing, and it’s mostly Scottish produce. I absolutely love it.
Ondine, 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1AD, 0131 226 1888, ondinerestaurant.co.uk
38 Howard Street Belfast
Chosen by Stephen Toman, Ox, Belfast
There are loads of great restaurants in Northern Ireland at the moment – Shu in Belfast is fantastic, and I love Harry’s Shack in Portstewart – but I’d have to choose Howard Street. It’s a relatively new restaurant in Belfast city centre, about a year old, and it’s already my favourite place to eat. It’s a really good-looking room, and everything on the menu is something you want to order; the cocktail list is very good, too. There’s a good eclectic mix of dishes. The chef Marty Murphy has spent time in Thailand and is very confident with Thai spices – he does a great tom yum soup and a very nice prawn curry. He’s good with meat, as well – they do a lovely steak. The food I cook at Ox is veg-driven, so it’s nice sometimes to eat something different. Howard Street’s always busy, it always has a good buzz, and I like the fact that it’s child-friendly.
Must-have The scallop with black pudding – it’s amazing.
Howard Street, 56 Howard Street, Belfast, BT1 6PG, 02890 248362 howardstbelfast.com
39 Home Belfast
Chosen by Danny Millar, Balloo House, Newtownards
As the name suggests, this restaurant in the centre of Belfast is very homely – it does really tasty food at reasonable prices. They have a lovely deli counter during the day, with a lot of healthier options – or at least what we call healthy in this country (ie, it’s not deep-fried). So I’ll pop in for a wee light lunch – avocado salad and couscous, something along those lines – or else go for dinner and order something more substantial such as braised short-rib in beer with champ and kale. It’s quite casual – you can usually get a seat without having to book – the front-of-house team are very knowledgeable, and there’s a great list of wines and local beers. All in all, a brilliant neighbourhood restaurant.
Must-have Hot-and-sour Asian broth with chicken, coriander and ginger – this is a lovely dish that the chef Ben Arnold picked up from his time at [Paul Rankin’s now-defunct Belfast restaurant] Cayenne.
Home, 22 Wellington Place, Belfast, BT1 6GE, 02890 234946, homebelfast.co.uk
40 All Seasons Belfast
Chosen by Brian McCann, Shu, Belfast
My two favourite restaurants in Belfast are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Ox is a great place for a special occasion, but this hidden gem is the one I go to more regularly with my family. It’s a very unassuming Chinese restaurant on Botanic Avenue. The room isn’t fancy, far from it, but the people who run it are very nice and sincere – they know us so well now, they pretty much do the ordering for us. So they’ll put down the bottle of wine we like on the table, and instead of giving us a menu, they’ll just send out the fried squid, and the whole turbot or dover sole, plus a few other dishes they recommend. The food is delicious – faultless every time – and it’s great for our kids, who’ve been coming here since they were born – their favourite is the squid: they eat every part of it. We always walk out feeling very happy. It’s an overall super experience.
Must-have The whole turbot: it’s steamed with a touch of soya, ginger and spring onion – not over-complicated, but perfectly executed and just delicious.
All Seasons, 96 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 1JR, 02890 808833 (no website)