I wanted this review to be as short as possible, but already the initial selection of photos showed that closing a handful of plates would be impossible. However, you can certainly close this year in two reflections. I enjoyed most simple dishes, but maximizing the taste possibilities of the ingredients. They tired (or irritated) dishes that made no sense, excessively exploded in form, and devoid of deeper content. At the beginning of my journalistic work, I was taught to ask myself the question: is this word, this sentence definitely needed? And I like it when chefs and chefs ask themselves this question – and I dare say that it is felt at the table.
You will find here a few dishes that surprised me, amazed me (think nutella from octopus) and which I will probably remember for a long time. Others delighted me with the skillful balance of flavors, freshness and lightness. Or simply essentiality. Or because of the situation they were eaten – as the ambiens also makes the food. Without further ado, here is my The Best of 2019:
1. Black spaghetti with caviar, Il Ristorante by Luca Fantin *, Tokio
You may think that just if you add caviar, something will be better. Well, not always. But this dish is an example of how caviar should be used. And how to cook noodles. Or how to make Italian cuisine in the heart of Tokyo. Choose anything, and it will always be true. Luca Fantin is like not one of the most interesting Italian chefs today, in addition ambitious, because they implement native cuisine based on Japanese ingredients (including oil!). He serves his black spaghetti cold, yes, I serve myself, only with a spoon of black caviar and a little lemon zest. Extremely elegant, delicious, wonderful in simplicity.
2. Eggs on toasts, Annelies, Berlin
Of all the wonderful things that hit our table during my brunch – and I wouldn’t count myself among fans of eggs, scrambled eggs and egg dishes – it was the most captivating of it, its sunny bile, a good balance of scrambled egg cream and nutty-salty additive. All on great sourdough bread
3. Cacio e pepe, Lido 84 *, Gardone Riviera
I’ve heard a lot about this pasta. But when I tried it, everything became clear. Maybe you do not need to convince anyone about the concept of macaroni and cheese, no biggy, simple pleasure, but bare with me. This dish beautifly showcases the philosophy of the Camanini brothers restaurant, which is based on a thorough respect for Italian culinary traditions, but also looking for your own paths. In this case, the pasta is cooked together with all the ingredients making the sauce (olive oil, water, cheese, pepper, salt) in the pig’s bladder, thanks to which two effects can be achieved. First, pasta is extremely springy. Secondly, the whole takes on a characteristic smoky aroma, although <em> de facto </em> the smoked meat itself is not in the recipe. And of course, the plate is extremely effective, because the pasta is served straight from the unusual „dish” by the guests table. The method of preparation was inspired by the technique already used by the Ancient Romans (apparently even the entire cookbook was devoted to this issue). The first time I ate was cacio e pepe in Bangkok, courtesy of Gagan Ananda, at 30 degrees Celsius. Then I drove 1400 km on it. And finally, when the opportunity arose to eat it for the third time – I did not refuse.
4. Strawberries and caviar, Gaa *, Bangkok
Only a madman would combine strawberries with caviar? And yet. This combination, for me, is a sign not so much of madness, but of Garima Arora’s devilish culinary intuition. Acidity, sweetness, umami, delicate notes of citrus oil.
5. Langoustine with pumpkin and bergamot beurre blanc, Choux, Amsterdam
A beautiful, delicate dish in which the perfect balance includes sweetness (langoustine, pumpkin, velvet sauce) and bitterness (bergamot, endive)
6. Margherita, Pizza Savoy, Tokyo
What crazy people go for pizza when in Tokyo? Well, me (and my „food sisters”, Anna and Kaja, great culinary journalists with whom we often meet somewhere in the world :-). Savoy is a tiny place, just with six chairs waiting for guests. Also just two people work here: a pizzaiolo and manager in one – Angie, and a waiter whose task is mainly to tell arriving guests that sorry, but they have to come back in an hour or so . There are two pizzas on the menu: margharita and marinara. Why? „Because these are the best,” says Angie. For this beer, wine by glass, highball and maybe one or two sides as a tiny bowl of green salad or mozzarella di buffala. The pizza was cool, the atmosphere even better, with a hint of surrealism that added to the pizza as the best seasoning.
PS. Honorary pizza mention goes to my new go-to pizza place in Warsaw, Szwedzka 2.0>
7. Razor clams ravioli, Aponiente ***, Puerto de Santa Maria
Delicate, firm, bathed in an intense broth of cured tuna, that – I could swear on all the butter on the earth – tasted as made of the finest prosciutto ham. A visit to Aponiente was certainly one of the most important and eye-opening meals for me in this year.
8. Bread and butter, Fäviken **, Järpen
It is silly to mention only one dish from Fäviken, but probably just bread, or rather butter made of unpasteurized milk, smelling of hay and summer and all the simple goodness (also possibly contributing to manyotherl dishes), won a special place in my heart.
9. Oyster with green pea, Gastrologik **, Stockholm
The devil hides in the details and perfect quality ingredients. Here, merely two of them – the perfect taste of not very large, firm oyster and the immense sweetness of the babiest baby green peas. And then came the Swedish take on “taco” with the juiciest langoustine and fennel ribbons. And blueberry dessert. And…And its how Gastrologik won a place in my gastro-heart.
10. Octopus nutella, Turk by Fatik Tutak, Istanbul
For lack of a better term – nutella. It’s really a long-cooked reduction of octopus heads, the effect of the chef’s spontaneous experiment, which I have tried a few days after it had been prepared for the first time. Extremely complex, deep taste, sea-sweet-salty. I am extremely curious how Fatih will introduce him to his kitchen (though for me he could sell it in jars)
11. White asparagus with pickled elderflower, Nobelhart & Schmutzig *, Berlin
It’s frankly all about the asparagus. The most delicate white asparagus I’ve possibly had in my life, cooked to the point, sweet, nutty, with a floral and sour touch that breaks their taste. Obtained from one of the suppliers belonging to the lively network of Brandenburg producers with whom N&Sch guys work on a daily basis, on their bold attempt to serve as local menu as possible. Plus big hugs for two sorts of butter, served from the big clay jugs <3.
12. Curd cheese dumplings with tomato consomme, Kieliszki na Hozej, Warsaw
Because how couldn’t you fall for light as cloud, plump dumplings, could you? They are always on the menu, in one version or the other. In the summer they were with tomato consomme and roasted tomatoes and a generous amount of thyme and those i liked possibly the most (as I am always for everything involving tomatoes). Kieliszki na Hożej stay on of my best places to eat in Poland, and I am happy to know that.
13. Shaggy ink cap mushroom with apricot sauce, Weyerhof, Bramberg
This place was one of the discoveries of the year. And I hope I will write more about it soon. On a daily basis, a traditional menu, and on request – a short and intelligent tasting menu, including such bites as pan-fried forest shaggy ink cap mushrooms (picked the same day in the morning) with fermented tomatoes and sweet and sour apricot sauce. here what astonished e was not just a combination of flavours but the unique texture of mushrooms, which resembled fish (sole maybe?) more than a shroom, delicate, melting on the tongue … A total surprise.
14. Green pea with Vesterhavs cheese and dried egg
The most beautiful – next to the oysters with peas – Summer dish of this year. Sweet peas, intense nutty cheese, creamy yolk and spicy nasturtium. Sandwiches with cheese at a picnic, snapping green peas straight from the garden patch, Sun blushing cheeks. All that in one dish. Classic, elegant, and – as it is in Geranium – so beautiful that it is a pity to eat. A second mention to geranium would go to the pumpkin caviar with freshly pressed pumpkin oil and milky pumpkin seeds. So at least a mention!
15. Corn with Opat cheese cream and pickled rose petals
The ODA restaurant from Wrocław is my local (read: Polish) hit of the year. A menu that embodies the neo-bistro trend, based on products obtained in the area, built so that nothing is wasted but pleasing as heck! Even if the dishes hit the familiar notes, somehow the whole show sounds not boring. For example, these baby corns, grilled whole, served with a bowl of melted cheese abbot with pickled rose petals. Well, you can’t not eat it. An additional plus: an interesting natural wine list at human prices.
PS. It was a corn year as it turns. I was also delighted with the mini sweetcorn with whipped corn butter in Gaa and then, with smoked butter, in Adam Albin in Stockholm.
16. Oyster flambadou, Ekstedt *, Stockholm
Oyster again and Stockholm again. This time we are in the Ekstedt restaurant, where everything revolves around a fire. And the oyster, which is the flagship snack here, is an example of how you can use it in the kitchen in a less obvious way, going beyond grilling or baking. The oyster is prepared using the flambadou method, which consists in pouring the ingredient, heated in a small funnel-shaped saucepan, to boil with fat (here: beef). As a result, the oyster is quickly over-fried, acquires a distinct taste that goes well with the sweet, crispy, refreshing apple.
17. Cocolardo, White Rabbit, Moscow
Cocolardo or lardo made of coconut. Or a coconut that really wanted to be a lardo, and succeeded. Merely a snack, but showing the possibilities of Vladimir Mukhin and which only encouraged me to visit his restaurant in Moscow, I tried Cocolardo during the EinProst festival, about which a little more later). Coconut flakes, brined, seasoned with herbs, and cured, with texture and taste imitating the meat prototype with an unexpected grace. Interestingly, the inspiration for creating a snack came with a visit to Bangkok for a joint dinner with Gaggan Anand. After trying coconuts and fresh coconut copra at the market, Mukhin was to come up with the idea of „miraculously” transforming nut flesh into a snack, which today is one of the most recognizable dishes in his repertoire.
18. Potatoes and hazelnut oil, 108 *, Copenhagen
108 is for me a place I have to go, even for a snack, whenever I come across to Copenhagen. And to me one of few places, where chef, Kristian Bauman knows how to play with luxurious ingredients in a smart way. Last year I have mentioned here 108’s ice creams with caviar topping. But this year the spot goes to less fancy ingredient, but nevertheless genius – the potatoes with hazelnut oil. It was all those goodness from potatoes and creamy buttery texture of the best pure you dream of in colder Winter evenings, just made better with some superbly nutty oil and some cubes of fried potatoes hidden inside. Potatoes with potatoes and cheese and oil. Can’t stop.
18. Forest mushrooms in moth, Jorge Valejo, Quintonill, x Norbert Niederkfoler, Sankt Hubertus Restaurant
Maybe its somehow unfair to incluse here a dish that appeared at a special dinner. But it was so peculiar that I have to. Deep, spicy-nutty-dark mole, Mexican in its soul jined with so Central European forest mushrooms. Plus a slice of bread with raisins and moths in the ingredients, a golden scrapetta to wipe the last drops of sauce. Extremely intense dish – to the point that you think that one spoon is enough for the whole meal. And yet taht addictive, that you cannot resist to have another one.
19. Rice, Bo.Lan, Bangkok
Never judge a book by its cover. But DO judge a restaurant, especially when in Asia, after its rice. In Bo.Lan it seems to be in the center of its universe. You start a meal with a spoonful of rice with coconut sugar and picked pineapple. But when the meal is served, you are offered with two different kinds of rice to accompany chosen food. Though rice is not my fav starch (hello potatoes with hazelnut oil <3), here, I couldn’t say no when asked for seconds. The rice was simply perfect and perfected with cooking tasteful and aromatic, making a beautiful background for the vibrant food. Dreaming of coming back for this.
20. Apple croissant with rosehip jam, Hiša Franko, Kobarid,
It looks like another tiny croissant from a hotel dessert buffet, which tend to turn more sad than enjoyable. And here we have something absolutely opposite. A small croissant was made of a thin ribbon of apple, stuffed with rosehip jam and served with goat cream. This dish encapsulated for me how Hiša Franko of 2019 was to me – though definitely fine dining, is still keeping some wilderness element in its heart, that makes it so special. And such a pleasure to eat in.
PS. Another mention goes for the potatoes baked in hay with whipped goat cheese. Bringing you back to those Summer days burnt out with Sun. And also to the reflexion, that simple things enjoy most.
21. „Peru”, Florilège **, Tokyo
I’m not a fan of chocolate BUT unexpectedly among my fav desserts of this year, many were about chocolate. This was topped be a perfect mini-omelette made of Peruvian chocolate, served with a scoop of sour cream and drunk cherry. Kind of classic, but non-obvious, somehow noir and savoury final of dinner in a restaurant where Japanese techniques are combined with French techniques.
22. French toast, Semea by Eskalduna, Porto
French toast sounds obvious? Well, if the chef insists that you MUST try the dessert, there has to be a reason for it. And here it was . A piece of brioche, fried till golden, crunchy crust borrowed from the creme brulee, with a creamy interior, melting in the mouth, with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream on the side. Dessert simple but total. Kind of dessert I will fight for!
23. Waffles with cream and cloudberries, Noma **, Copenhagen
Served as a final of the Autumn season menu, which was dedicated to all things game and forest. Again, it turned out, that simple, but brilliantly prepared desserts are the most enjoyable – as those crispy fried waffles with unsweetened cream and sweet-sour polar raspberries.
24. Pistachio Rolls, Juno the Bakery, Copenhagen
Juno already has a small monument with me for the best cinnamon rolls, and this year they have also gained support for me with pistachios and rose. Nothing more needs to be said.
25. White tea, peach and tonka, Alchemist, Copenhagen
And last but not least – a drink. One of several served at Alchemist as part of a non-alcoholic beverage pairing built around teas. Usually interest-free drinks are juices or infusions, but here they liked the use of different types of teas, respectively tannic and complex, to „carry” dishes. A mix of white tea, peach and tonka, with a delicate foam straight from souer cocatils, I could drink liters.
Also, I would like to give out a few special mentions. Those go to and for:
Best Breakfast: KOKOKO, Sankt Petersburg
Best Lunch: Lido 84, Gardone Riviera
Best dinner: Fäviken, Järpen
Best food event: EinProsit!, Udine
Best fun (but also highly interesting experience from the professional point of view on how to create immense atmosphere and unique hospitality ambient) : Gaggan, Bangkok
Best food trip: Peru (still under process of digisting therefore not made into 2020 set)