I dread to think how many plates of food have been consumed this year in writing this blog, but it is with a big smile and full stomach that I review 2017 – a year in food.
The best thing I ate this year is a close tie between pollock, with loveage and seaweed at Restaurant 23 or the fish and chips by The English Indian at Digbeth Dining Club. The worst was a below par pasta dish at Lorenzo’s in Rugby which was bland and flabby.
Hats off to the friendliest staff at Salt in Stratford upon Avon (named Best New Entry in The Good Food Guide 2017) and the nicest chef award goes to Brad Carter for genuinely caring about his suppliers.
As I try and wean myself off gin, Seedlip was a welcome discovery as were the halloumi fries at Pharmacea and Becki’s Brownies salted caramel spread, that mysteriously finds its way into my bag at every food festival.
The only problem I faced this year was trying to get to all of the new openings in Birmingham, which were well into double figures again. Street food chefs found permanent homes, London based operators expanded into the city, shops were transformed into cafes and new life breathed into refurbished pubs.
Independent craft beer bar Thorp17 and Digbeth Dining Club regular Meat Shack took over the former Stageside Bar and Restaurant building opposite Birmingham Hippodrome. Birmingham’s first all vegan café Natural Healthy Foods opened in March and I have still to try their brunch.
After India, Argentina and the USA, Lasan Group looked to Italy for their latest dining concept and opened Izza! to serve sourdough pizzas, antipasti, cured meats and salads in the Selfridges Food Hall. The retailer also welcomed two new eateries from Italian San Carlo group, with a swanky new restaurant and patisserie.
The Mailbox welcomed Tom’s Kitchen by Tom Aikens, Kanteen opened in the Custard Factory and after a successful run of pop-ups, Ben Tesh opened his first restaurant Folium in the Jewellery Quarter.
Old venues were also given a new lease of life. Jewellery Quarter coffee house Brewsmiths was transformed into an Indian street food cafe The Indian Brewery with a bar selling craft beer as well.
Davenports Brewery bought The City Tavern in Bishopsgate Street and reopened it as The Bulls Head, with Indian street food snacks on the menu, which I reviewed back in October. The former Lisa Shepherd hairdresser in Temple Row became the second outpost of Turkish café Damascena.
Gin fans rejoiced as The Distillery was created from the former Fiddler and Bone pub, serving various gins, spirits and craft beers in a canal side setting.
Worcester had a flurry of new eateries open too. With good news for meat lovers as Friar Street Kitchen claimed to have the best steaks in town and Burger Shop and Carl Sampson at The Conservatory served up gourmet burgers. Also new this year is The Old Pheasant and after investing £500K into the makeover, the Shaker Group opened The Orangery Restaurant and cocktail bar with outside seating and private dining areas in Redditch.
We also were given plenty of choice for places to drink too. The gorgeous looking Bower House opened in Shipston upon Stour, Warwick welcomed Rigsby’s Cellar Bar, drinkers in Stone enjoyed the sunny weather on Edison’s roof terrace, craft beer drinkers flocked to Alsager’s micro-pub Kraftworks, inspired by Hungarian bars The Ruin opened in Digbeth and in Leamington the secret Ape Hangers bar opened underneath Procaffeinate.
It wasn’t all good news though, in Birmingham we also sadly said goodbye to seafood restaurants Lobster Peninusular and Le Monde, French restaurant Annexe, tapas COMiDA@21 only six months after moving, Thai Edge, Meating and Two Cats Kitchen (despite rave reviews). Over in Leamington Meatcure and Restaurant 23 closed, leaving the town without a gourmet burger café and one less fine dining restaurant.
What about our favourite chefs? Aktar Islam announce that he was leaving Lasan and the group of restaurants he had built up with business partner Jabbar Khan to pursue new, solo projects. Nathan Eades plated his last dish for Simpsons as he moved on to Cotswold’s pub The Wild Rabbit. Chef de partie Louisa Ellis from The Wilderness wowed the judges to make it to the final three competitors in Masterchef the Professionals 2017.
Liam Dillon was awarded an AA rosette for The Boat Inn in Lichfield just six months after opening, Chris Monk moved from Le Champignon Sauvage to the Crown Inn pub Hallow Wild Shropshire chef James Sherwin hosted a demo at the first Ginger & Spice Festival in Market Drayton.
This year was all about food festivals for me. I enjoyed a day talking to producers and shopping at Stone Food and Drink Festival and even compered the second day at Ragley Hall’s Food Festival. Next year I am also adding the Hereford Indie Food Festival to my diary.
Before we say goodbye to 2017, I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU! to the fantastic people who have grown, cooked and served all the amazing dishes I have eaten this year. As another tasty year comes to an end, I am definitely looking forward to an even more appetising 2018!