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Nicholas Lander’s best restaurants of the year

Nicholas Lander’s best restaurants of the year

December 05
08:00 2018

Would it be possible, asked my kind editor, who is about to spend his second Christmas as a father, if my round-up of the best meals of 2018 were to touch on the theme of childhood?

Nothing could be easier, I replied. Childhood is when we first revel in the pleasures of good food and it’s at Christmas, when families gather, that such joy can reach its zenith. Grill any great chef — from Clare Smyth to Heston Blumenthal— and they will tell you how they fell in love with cooking as a child.

My global round-up has to be slightly more limited this year, with no visits to the southern hemisphere, China, Japan or the West Coast of America. Even my week in New York was somewhat disappointing, aside from return visits to The Modern and Nobu Downtown, both still at the top of their game.

La Tour d’Argent

Yet there were three trips to France that reminded me of the advantages the country still has in being the pioneer of restaurants. In Paris, almost a year ago, we walked past the photos of previous customers — such as Charles de Gaulle and JFK — and took the lift to the sixth floor and the restaurant that has been La Tour d’Argent for many decades. Some things have changed: the owner, André Terrail, has taken the place of his late father, and David Ridgway, the British-born sommelier, has finally retired. Yet some things certainly haven’t changed. The view across the French capital remains spectacular, as does the wine list and, in Philippe Labbé, it finally has a chef with a modern attitude — except towards vegetarians — as well as a well-priced €105 lunch menu.

Dinner at Guy Savoy was a different, rather pricier experience. With first courses from Savoy’s à la carte menu costing almost as much as Labbé’s entire lunch menu — and main courses even more — there can be no room for mistakes. Nor were there any — and the hospitality was also extremely generous and welcoming, vital for any restaurant.


The perfect balance between the front of house and the kitchen was apparent in several restaurants that gave me great pleasure. The first was Il Pozzo in Sant’Angelo in Colle, Tuscany. After a meal in which tortelli stuffed with spinach and ricotta stole the show, we all clamoured to thank the chef. Out stepped the diminutive Paola Binarelli, wearing a floppy white hat and a T-shirt that said, “Keep Calm and Eat Bistecca.” “I’m not the chef,” she insisted, “I’m the cook.”

Such modesty was also on display at Osteria Le Panzanelle. Opened by Nada Michelessi in 2002, this charming Tuscan establishment attracts families from across the region for Sunday lunch, creating scenes that are pure Fellini. One of the film director’s most famous quotes, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta”, is evinced here — and the excellent pasta is complemented by fine meat dishes and a well-priced wine list.

Happy equilibrium between the floor and the kitchen is easier to reach in small restaurants. It is certainly achieved at Inver on the south-west coast of Scotland, where Pam Brunton cooks so splendidly and her partner Rob Latimer runs the dining room. And at Inis Meáin, off the west coast of Ireland, where Ruairí de Blacam is the chef, and his wife Marie-Thérèse performs a great variety of duties.

This is also the case at Tokimeité, in Mayfair, where Japanese chef Daisuke Hayashi successfully works his culinary magic alongside his general manager Matthew Gough. And in Margate, on the north coast of Kent, where Lee Coad, ex-FT, runs a charming restaurant called Angela’s, alongside his partner, Charlotte Forsdike, and chef Rob Cooper. Likewise at Eels restaurant in Paris, where chef Adrien Ferrand and front of house Félix le Louarn have struck up a similar rapport.


Size, of course, is a hurdle that can be overcome. Chef Ollie Dabbous and general manager Matthew Mawtus prove this admirably across three floors at London’s Hide. In Barcelona — 24 floors up — chef Enrique Valenti and front of house Pablo Sacerdote have achieved something similar with the spacious Marea Alta.

This year sadly marked the death of four of the restaurant world’s greatest innovators: Anthony Bourdain, the American food commentator; Jonathan Gold, the LA Times’ restaurant correspondent; Joël Robuchon, the great French chef; and Myrtle Allen, who established Ballymaloe House and demonstrated the quality of Irish produce. They will all be missed.


La Tour d’Argent

Guy Savoy

Il Pozzo

Osteria Le Panzanelle


Inis Meáin





Marea Alta

Ballymaloe House

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