During 2018 we enjoyed some utterly delicious meals in locations as far-flung as Tbilisi and Singapore. Perhaps the most distinctive experience was at a remarkable West African restaurant in London. But we were also treated to superlative regional cuisine in the Italian province of Abruzzo and an unforgettable tasting menu in Ghent, Belgium, one of Europe’s new culinary hot spots. Here are our Editors’ Choice award winners for Best Restaurants of the Year.
On an improbably quiet pedestrianized street just behind London’s Piccadilly Circus, year-old Ikoyi presented me with the first gourmet West African tasting menu I’ve ever tried. It was a spicy, invigorating delight from start to finish. Standouts included stone bass in peanuty banga bisque (palm fruit soup) with crayfish oil and greens, trombetta squash slicked with turmeric butter atop thick tahini-like egusi (ground seeds) sauce, and 60-day aged beef with efo (spinach) sauce, cauliflower-anise purée and eggplant, accompanied by a bowl of divine crab rice. Each dish had deep flavor, keeping me engaged through to the finish of cashew ice cream with baobab fruit crumb and hibiscus-poached peach. You’ll be hard-pressed to find more beautifully presented West African cuisine, in Africa or anywhere else in the world.
1 St. James’s Market. Tel. (44) 20-3583-4660
Inspiration for this cozy restaurant on the opposite riverbank from Tbilisi’s Old Town struck when the owners discovered an old cookbook by Barbare Jorjadze. She traveled around Georgia in the 19th century, collecting recipes mostly from wealthy households and adapting them for the home cook. Each item on the regularly rotating menu has a number, corresponding to its recipe in the cookbook (which our waiter proudly brought to our table for us to glance at). Eating at Barbarestan is a taste of Georgian history, but the plating feels contemporary. I started with some crunchy crayfish croquettes in a tart kumquat sauce with leek and mint purée, followed by tender bone-in quail glazed with honey and pomegranate, with a salad of watercress and cilantro and a large helping of ghomi (a cornmeal dish much like polenta) flavored with pungent sulguni cheese. The meal was both unique and a great pleasure.
132 Aghmashenebeli Ave. Tel. (995) 32-294-3779
Dubrovnik’s most stylish restaurant earned a Michelin star shortly before I dined there. Alas, its unique terrace on the ramparts above the old port had not yet opened. Fortunately, the interior space was very attractive, and the food made me forget about the lack of a view. I opted for the Retrospective tasting menu, featuring modern takes on Croatian classics (an even more contemporary tasting menu was also available). A buttery carrot course proved surprisingly delightful, as did a dish of tender sous-vide octopus tentacles with sweet glazed fennel, a deep fish reduction and delicate ravioli filled with lime cream. I also appreciated chef Marijo Curić’s creative interpretation of Dalmatia’s classic dish of sea bass with boiled potatoes and Swiss chard. Add in highly professional service and a huge selection of wines by the glass, and it’s easy to see why 360 has earned praise from all quarters.
Svetog Dominika BB. Tel. (385) 20-322-222
On a beautiful summer day in the Abruzzan countryside, chefs Marcello and Mattia Spadone served us one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten in Italy. The father-and-son team cook with the finest seasonal produce from surrounding farms, as well as that from their own gardens and orchards, to create dishes that are fresh, flavorful and as respectful of local culinary traditions as they are intelligently inventive. Standout dishes included a tartare of Adriatic shrimp with pine nuts and green apple, freshly made tortellini in broth, and incredibly succulent arrosticini (skewered charcoal-grilled lamb). The service was charming, and the outstanding wine list included an excellent selection of wines by the glass.
Contrada Pastini 4, Civitella Casanova. Tel. (39) 085-845-219
The charming Flemish cathedral town of Ghent has recently emerged as one of the most interesting food cities in Europe. The table not to miss is chef Kobe Desramaults’ hip but laid-back lounge-like restaurant, where he serves a tasting menu from an open kitchen behind the U-shaped bar where diners are seated. The idea of a 20-plus-course tasting menu may sound daunting, but it’s a fun experience, because the meal is so well-timed, the portions are perfectly sized, and the gastronomic segue from one dish to the next is consistently delicious and fascinating. Expect to try cameos like North Sea shrimp tartare, potato purée with caviar, wild duck with shiitake mushrooms and radicchio, and hazelnut tart with lavender.
Keizer Karelstraat 1. Tel. (32) 48-558-4857
Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States
A 15-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe brings you to this establishment hidden away in the rolling hills west of the city. The restaurant sources ingredients from local farmers wherever possible, and most of the produce comes from its own two-acre, on-site garden, which encompasses a greenhouse and seven honey bee hives. The seasonally changing menu serves Italian-influenced contemporary dishes. Our starters included yellowfin tuna enhanced by a whiskey barrel-aged shoyu sauce, candied jalapeño and pickled kumquat; a rich parsnip risotto; and a tasty potato chowder stocked with juicy scallops and bacon. My main course of braised beef short ribs, with crushed Yukons, charred-onion broth, spring vegetables and horseradish crust, was outstanding. Arroyo Vino also has an excellent wine shop that offers tasting workshops most Saturdays.
218 Camino La Tierra. Tel. (505) 983-2100
Dempsey Hill is an area of south-central Singapore that was once the site of a nutmeg plantation and later an army barracks. These days, however, Dempsey Hill is best known as a dining and shopping destination. I have eaten numerous times at Candlenut — which has a single Michelin star — and the two meals I took there in 2018 only confirmed my high regard. Chef Malcolm Lee puts out a stunning array of Peranakan food, which is a fusion cuisine created by early Chinese migrants to the Malay Peninsula and archipelago. My blue swimmer crab-turmeric lemak with sweet-potato leaf was one of the best things I ate all year. A close second was a wagyu beef rib rendang that was perfectly seasoned and deftly cooked. The wine list is varied, with a strong lineup of the fruity and floral whites that pair perfectly with this type of food.
Block 17A Dempsey Road. Tel. (65) 8121-4107