Eat with Ellen’s food and drink highlights of 2018
December 31, 2018

And here we are – it seems like 2018 started five minutes ago yet now 2019 is within touching distance. It’s one of those stereotypical situations where so much has happened yet it’s all gone in the blink of an eye.

Of course, there have been plenty of meals, trips, adventures, and general food fun. There was the experience of winning Best Food & Drink Blog in the Midlands which, safe to say, has put me off ever getting involved in awards ever again.

There was the Scottish road trip, the road trip through France, Spain and Andorra, stays in treehouses, Michelin-starred meals, street food, camping trips and more. I can’t possibly outline them all but here are a few of the highlights of 2018.

Of course all the old faves remain – Digbeth Dining Club is still fabulous and I’m hoping they do some more ‘Dogbeth Dining Clubs’ in 2019 so we can try it. I also tried Lichfield’s street food event, Grub Club, which was great. And there are all the wonderful places that have opened, or that I’ve just been late to the party with.

Not to mention the bars in Birmingham like 18/81 that I managed to sneak to, or Nocturnal Animals which has won everyone over with great cocktails and music and boundary-pushing food (first place on the 2019 to-do list to book in for dinner). Oh, and let’s not forget Canteen in Leicester which has moved to a new home and will soon be doing brilliant pop-ups. Literally too much to do and too many places to recount.

Hope you all had a lovely Christmas, have a great New Year, and wishing you a wonderful 2019. Here’s to more food and fun!

Opheem, Birmingham

Lamb at Opheem

You’ll have heard lots about Aktar Islam’s Opheem and he’s back in the foodie headlines thanks to his Italian restaurant Legna, which has just opened. As a humble out-of-towner, I haven’t made it to Legna yet for the food but the drinks were good, and Opheem is somewhere I’ve emptied my bank account twice now and would do again at the drop of a hat.

Touring San Sebastian with Mimo

Pintxos in San Sebastian

When we planned our road trip, San Sebastian was non-negotiable but I still didn’t allow enough time. Twenty-four hours is nowhere near enough to take in everything this beautiful city has to offer. History, architecture, culture, beaches, but most importantly – food.

It’s got bucketloads of Michelin-starred restaurants but just as enthralling is the array of bars serving up that beautiful Basque delight – Pintxos. Mosey from bar to bar, supping on big gin, local wine Tzakoli and any other drink that takes your fancy.

We did a tour with Mimo, who guide you round a few bars, trying different dishes and wines in each one. A great way to explore as well as meeting new people.

Kokosnot, Andorra

I’m not sure we’ll ever find anywhere like Kokosnot again. A fine dining establishment in Andorra that serves up theatrical cuisine, paired with amazing wines, yet somehow didn’t bat an eyelid at the prospect of a Rottweiler coming to dinner.

The hospitality was second-to-none, the chuleton epic, and the nitrogen dessert a sight to behold. I would go back here at the drop of a hat.

Salthouse Bacaro, Liverpool

Slightly closer to home, this was a lunch that very much took us by surprise. A suggestion from the lovely Hungry Harriet, Salthouse Bacaro is the perfect place for a long lazy lunch. We feasted on small plates of delights from burrata to braised ox cheek, with chicken livers and dressed crab along the way.

And let’s not forget the Italian beverages to wash it all down with and the delumptious arancini too. If you’re in Liverpool, go here.

Langland’s Brasserie, the Gower

Seafood scialatielli at Langland's Brasserie

Some of the best places are the ones you find purely by accident. This is one. We finally made it to the Gower Coast for a weekend away and embarked on a rather lengthy coastal path walk with, as usual, not enough food, water or general preparation.

There’s something ever sweeter about finding somewhere when you’re tired, hungry and thirsty and Langland’s Brasserie was this. Great pasta and seafood, a hefty list of drinks and side orders of amazing views.

Tree pods at Wootton Park

Sleeping up in the trees in a small but rather lovely tree house. Complete with hot tub, hot running water and underfloor heating, yet also with the simplicity of good views, peace and quiet and space to take a breath. Does it get much better than that?

Wootton Park’s tree pods remain one of the most quirky and memorable places I’ve stayed this year, with the added bonus of them being literally just down the road. Go as a couple, go in a group, go on your own. You won’t regret it.

Maribel, Birmingham

One of my more recent posts, I’m not alone in thinking Maribel is a bit special. One of the latest additions to Birmingham’s fine dining scene, it’s everything they all said and more.

Choose from different lengths of tasting menus, not too unreasonable in terms of cost, but superlative when it comes to imagination, flavour and execution. It looks chic and feels chic in every way, and is a must for a special occasion.

Abergavenny Food Festival

Okay, so I didn’t actually write a blog post about this one but it remains one of my highlights of 2018. I love to get to at least one food festival a year and this year I decided it was rather apt that Abergavenny fell on my birthday weekend.

What better birthday tomfoolery than to disappear to Wales with a mate, stay on a boat (yes, we did – it’s up there with one of the coolest places I’ve stayed), and spent two days mooching around munching on food, listening to talks – including the marvellous Grace Dent (girl crush ahoy) and then partied the night away in a castle. Yes, a castle.

If you’re into food, and also like to learn a bit, then Abergavenny is the one for you. I know I’ll be heading back.

Que Tal, Puerto de Mogan, Gran Canaria

Each time we go to the Canary Islands I’m stunned by the variety of food on offer. It’s easy to think it’s just about fry ups and Guinness over there, but Puerto de Mogan especially was a real mixing pot of cuisine, from some great steak restaurants to Spanish and Canarian classics, Italian offerings, ‘jamon’ bars and more.

It’s the wonderful Que Tal that captured my heart. Tucked down a side alleyway, one set sitting per night, and tasting menu dubbed simply ‘Love’ and some epic food and wine. The meal went on a long time, the glasses of wine provided were massive, but the food really was fabulous. If you go to Gran Canaria, book in!

The Butchers Social, Henley-in-Arden

Henley-in-Arden has been on my list for a while, both for The Butchers Social and for Cheals (another one for 2019!). We finally got the chance to try the former and it was well worth the wait.

It started life over in Birmingham but is now firmly ensconced in Henley and clearly very popular. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a pub. Yes, the chicken wings are epic and you simply must have some. But the more refined dishes are wonderful too and it’s clear that Mike Bullard is uncompromising in his ambitions for the place.