Every year I plan to come up with some clever idea of reviewing the year. Best blog posts, month-by-month round-ups, or just something deeply profound and so well written it gets spotted by an editor who decides they absolutely must make me their columnist immediately.
Of course, I also plan to win the lottery, become able to actually cook without serving up either raw or burnt food, and to maybe run more than 5k again one day. None of which are likely to happen. That said, I can’t wave goodbye to another year without writing at least something.
So forget profound, carefully organised, or wonderfully planned. Instead here are a few of the memorable food-filled moments of 2019 which, it’s safe to say, has been a busy one. It’s also seen lots of changes to this blog – experiments when it comes to what I take for free and what I don’t.
I also introduced an events calendar and food news focusing on all the great stuff in Coventry and Warwickshire, as well as working with Coventry BID to help promote all the great food and drink in Coventry. All of this will continue in 2020 and become even bigger so watch this space.
I’ve love to say something deep and meaningful about this blog and how it’s taught me loads, helped me grow as a person, etc etc etc, but sadly I’m all out of that kind of stuff after a very busy year, especially December. This blog is a hobby, sometimes it takes a back seat to real life and real work, but it remains something I love and am a tiny bit proud of. It allows me to write, and it gives me some great opportunities.
So here’s to continuing in 2020 and trying not to worry too much about likes, follows, awards and all that jazz, and getting on with writing and eating. A big thank you to anyone who takes the time to read this blog, who comments on stuff and gets involved, and who has suggested wonderful things for me to do.
And now, without further ado – a few highlights of 2019 to send us in to the new year.
I could go on and on about different meals, different restaurants and various occasions but I’ve picked out a few places that immediately spring to mind from 2019. Funnily enough, there ain’t a Michelin star among them and most of them aren’t famous at all. But they’re the places that I ate great food and made great memories, which quite frankly is all I need.
Socius, Burnham Market, Norfolk
We spent a lot of time in Norfolk in 2019 – it’s become one of our go-to camping places. The scenery is stunning, the walking good, the pubs even better and there’s loads of great food to be had.
I’ve written loads about various places in Norfolk on this blog, from the Victoria in Holkham to Shucks in Thornham but a real highlight was Socius in Burnham Market. We had an absolutely beautiful lunch at this restaurant which specialises in small plates – all executed to a really high standard, with fabulous service and great wine and cocktails. On my list to go back to in 2020, for sure!
The Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon
In January 2019 I took myself off on a little solo campervan trip. Well, with the dog. Brandy and I spend a few days in mid-Wales yomping around the countryside, snuggling up watching films and generally being far away from real life.
On the way home we went for lunch at the Felin Fach Griffin in Brecon on the recommendation of A Plate Licked Clean and enjoyed a fabulous solo dining experience at this dining pub with rooms, complete with cracking local produce, a great wine list, and welcoming staff that didn’t bat an eyelid at a woman and her Rottweiler having a romantic lunch together.
I’ve been a few times to Legna in Birmingham now and there’s something about it that just gets me. Maybe it’s the horseshoe-shaped bar and excellent cocktails, maybe it’s the beautiful interior, or maybe it’s the epic food that rivals virtually every other Italian meal I’ve ever had.
In case you didn’t know, Aktar Islam (he of Lasan previously and now Opheem– which incidentally won a Michelin star this year) is behind Legna and is one of the key players when it comes to food in the Midlands. He’s single-handedly reinvigorating an area of Birmingham and isn’t stopping with two restaurants. His next opening will be Pulperia – an Argentine restaurant complete with traditional parilla – and it’s really a dead cert that it’ll be great.
Libertine Burger, Rugby (& Leamington Spa)
Given how much I’ve banged on about Libertine this year, it would be remiss of me not to include it in a round-up of 2019. I first tried Libertine in April of this year and its greatness was clear when I felt compelled to write a review of it that very night, rather than waiting the usual three weeks before getting round to it (life and all that jazz gets in the way you see).
Since then, I’ve tracked them down at various food events and even taken myself over to Leamington for a solo Saturday night love-fest with a burger and some fried pickles. But the crowning moment came when Libertine opened their second branch in none other than Rugby itself.
Now, I’m pleased to say, I have burgers round the corner whenever I choose. Not just that, I think it’s a sign that little old Rugby is on the up – so here’s to seeing more great new independent places hitting my little town in 2020.
The Hidden Hut, Cornwall
I’ve wanted to go to the Hidden Hut for a long old time and 2019 saw us finally get there. Okay, that’s a slightly untrue sentence. We’ve actually been before for a snack on a coastal path walk a few years ago, but the real beauty of the Hidden Hut is its famous feast nights. They may sound simple but the fact that tickets for these are harder to get than those for Glastonbury says it all.
We finally made it during an epic summer trip down on the Roseland Peninsula earlier this year and it was definitely worth the hype. Sitting around benches with our own crockery and booze, looking out over the angry Cornish sea and feasting on a meal cooked in front of us on huge barbecues is one of my fondest memories of 2019. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you’d best give it a go.
Stuzzi, Leeds & Harrogate
I was introduced to Stuzzi in Leeds by my nearest and dearest friends this year and fell in love with the whole vibe of the place. Small plates, epic Italian and Sicilian food. Homemade pasta, punchy sauces, enormous platters to gorge on while quaffing far too much Italian wine. But most of all, some of the most knowledgeable and passionate staff I’ve come across.
In fact, I wondered if I imagine how good it was and how somehow it just seemed to be one of those places full of soul. Then I went to the one in Harrogate with another friend and it was just as good – maybe better. Bravo Stuzzi, see you in 2020!
I’ve been lucky enough to see some fabulous places this year, from camping trips and road trips to weekends away and far-flung places courtesy of work. They’ve all been wonderful, but some stood out, especially when it comes to the food.
Rather than pick out individual restaurants from those places, here are a few trips that were particularly stand-out for the food. All very different, all equally amazing to experience
The annual mother-daughter trip took us to Jersey this year. Easy to get to, easy to get around, slow-paced and home to some great food. We dined on small plates at Number 9 in St Helier, feasted on seafood at the lovely Sumas in Gorey and sat in the bracing wind to enjoy a seafood barbecue picnic from Faulkner Fisheries. If you like fish, Jersey is the place for you.
What can I say. People have raved to me about Japan and I didn’t quite believe them, but Tokyo took my breath away. I was lucky enough to go on a work trip which meant we squeezed in all sorts of epic experiences, but the food really was the highlight.
From watching the tuna auction at the fish market to having every different kind of sushi, squeezing into an Izakaya for yakitori or filling our faces with Gyoza, it’s amazing. Somewhere I’m definitely planning on taking Jamie back to.
Yes, I know I’ve raved about San Sebastian on this blog before, but it’s testament to how great it was that we returned just a year after visiting for the first time. This time we went with my big brother and sister-in-law where we retraced some of our steps around this foodie mecca as well as finding some new places too.
If I had to pick one dish, it would be the epic octopus we tried at one of the Pintxos bars but everything was as wonderful as I remembered. Pintxos every other minute of the day, fish by the harbour, restaurant-style tapas and Pintxos, breakfasts, gelato and general foodie tomfoolery.
Sadly, I STILL haven’t made it to Bar Nestor for his tortilla, so it looks like I’ll just have to head back in 2020. Maybe even to one of the Michelin star places. We’ll see!
Okay, so there’s only really one I want to include here, but just before Christmas I went to visit FareShare – a charity that redistributes surplus food – for a story for The i.
I’m including it here because it’s stuck in my mind. I guess it just hit home to me how privileged I am to do all the eating I do – to use food as some kind of entertainment far beyond the sustenance element. Some people don’t get that joy – for them food is scarce, it’s expensive, and it’s a case of getting what they’re given.
Let’s never forget how lucky we are to be able to eat what we want, when we want and wherever we aren’t. Because other people aren’t.