Okay, there’s no way we can call this a definitive list of the Best Restaurants of 2021, but they’re MY best restaurants of 2021, full of great food and happy memories, so I thought I’d share.
From Warwickshire gems to gastropubs, restaurants and pop-ups in far flung places, these are the places where we enjoyed special moments, delicious food and lovely experiences during the past year. Some of those were made even more memorable as they came in the face of changing restrictions while others were simply because we all have maybe learned to appreciate these experiences a bit more.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my best restaurants of 2021. For full reviews click on the links then get booking.
Probably the highlight of 2021’s eating and somewhere I’ve wanted to go to for years, Paul Ainsworth at No. 6 was every bit as lovely as I imagined. The food is excellent, and full of theatre and imagination as well as obviously impeccable flavours. If you go, do not miss out on the showstopping fairground-themed dessert. The staff are brilliant and the setting perfect. Definitely a place to make special memories.
We’ve been to Number 29 in Burnham Market once or twice before, but as with so many experiences in 2021, our visit this year will always occupy a place in our hearts because of the context around it. Number 29 was our first lunch after the lockdown that marked the start of the year.
On that sunny April 12th we sat in the courtyard and feasted on a menu that had been designed purely with outdoor dining in mind. We quaffed champagne, felt the sun on our faces, and generally thanked our lucky stars to be back out and about. It’s that, and the fact we love that area, that put Number 29 right up there with my places to eat in North Norfolk.
I have to attribute this one to Jamie, who demanded we go to the unlikely location (for us, anyway) of Kensington High Street for dinner.
The man is a genius. We quickly fell head over heels for the rustic feel of Il Portico, with great food, decent ingredients and its ability to transport us right back to Italy despite being in the middle of London. So good that we went back for his birthday and will undoubtedly be back in 2022.
Peel’s Pop-up at Hampton Manor, Solihull
Another silver lining of those days when we were told we could eat out but only if we completely altered our wardrobe for the experience to deal with the fact it had to be in the elements. Peel’s at Hampton Manor is another place that’s been on my list for a while, especially after much high praise from Simon Carlo of the Meat & One Veg blog.
We got one baby step closer to the experience with a takeaway feast from Smoke at Hampton Manor during lockdown, then moved forward yet another milestone when we got ourselves booked in for a Peel’s in the Garden pop-up in Hampton Manor’s beautiful glasshouse.
From the stunning surroundings to a great menu, lovely wine pairing and a ‘s’mores round the firepit’ finale, it was all a delight.
The only problem is, I’m now desperate to go back to Smoke – which has received its own lovely reviews from the likes of Emma Victoria Stokes, as well as to get to Peel’s, plus the new restaurant they have on their horizon. A lengthy to-do list at Hampton Manor for 2022.
One of my all-time faves, no year is complete without a trip to The Cross in Kenilworth. I think it’s the perfect balance between excellent food and service and a relaxed atmosphere that means you can actually enjoy your meal without worrying about your cutlery being too noise on your plate or laughing just a bit too loudly at someone’s joke after one too many glasses of wine.
Our 2021 trip to The Cross was for Mum’s belated 70th birthday celebrate and another obligatory outdoor affair, but one full of all the joy it should have been. An experience to cement The Cross’ place in my heart.
It’s quite hard to pick one restaurant in Fowey out of the ones we found on our 2021 road trip around Devon and Cornwall, but Pintxo in Fowey may have it.
Maybe it was the reminder of trips to San Sebastian. Maybe the ease of wiling away a few hours, dogs curled up under the table, sipping wine and order dish after dish. Or maybe the joy of finding a new wonderful food-filled location for future trips. Who knows, but it’s great.
Anyone who writes about food, be they amateur or professional, has a place that they champion for a whole load of reasons. For Jonathan, who writes The Plate Licked Clean, it’s Asador 44 in Cardiff and its sister Bar 44 restaurants in Cardiff, Bristol, Cowbridge and Penarth.
With his words in mind, Jamie and I took a special trip to Cardiff where we enjoyed one of the most memorable meals of this year. From the cocktails we started with to the top quality meat, fish cooked over coals to the welcome we had as if we were old friends.
From there we moved swiftly on to Bar 44 in Bristol just a few weeks later, dragging my brother along who has since returned with his own friends. That’s what happens with good restaurants, they captivate us all, one by one, spreading in a much lovelier way than most of the other things we tend to focus on. And while not everyone may agree with Jonathan on how lovely these restaurants are, I know I do.
I have wanted to go to Northumberland for years, mainly for the food (as well as the big skies, long beaches and general chilled-out feel), and it definitely didn’t disappoint when we made it there in 2021. Among several wonderful lunches and dinners, one of our finds was The Potted Lobster in Bamburgh.
I’m yet to blog about it but let’s just say that walking 20 miles there and back was well worth it for a menu packed with seafood dishes, lovely wine and the best lemon tart I’ve ever had.
A great example of the joy of recommendations from friends, we would never have found The Joiners Arms if we hadn’t gone looking for it courtesy of a pal of mine. And how worth it it was. A dog-friendly pub with gorgeous boutique rooms, it serves up simple but brilliantly executed dishes in a busy, bustley environment just a stone’s throw from the sea.
What was a quiet meal for us turned into three courses and a whole array of cocktails in a place that seems to suck you in with its quality and friendliness that somehow completely eschews any ‘up its own arse-ness’. I just need to get back for the legendary fish and chips!
There’s nothing quite like having a bit of a one-off experience right on your doorstep and La Mesa in Warwick is just that. It’s a bit of an ‘if you know you know’ kind of place, but well worth looking up (or reading my full review). No menu, unique, and thoroughly enjoyable.
One quick look at their website will undoubtedly pique your curiosity, and that tone is something that continues through the whole experience as you dine on a whole array of Spanish-inspired courses washed down with great wines.
In a world of TripAdvisor, bloggers and restaurant critics, it’s rare to find a restaurant by chance. Especially one with a famous owner. But somehow some of my favourite finds have been something of an accident, either because we happened to be in the area, or because I stumbled on them online while looking for somewhere.
And so to Watson & Walpole. A creation by none other than Ruth Watson and somewhere Mum and I found on our jaunt to Suffolk. I spotted it on Google Maps as we made our way to Framlingham Castle and decided it was the perfect place for a grey day to warm up after walking some rather lovely ramparts and doing the history thing. It was everything we hoped – hearty, homemade food, lovely service, and a rather beautiful tiramisu. The kind of place you love so much you order a second glass of wine and pass the role of designated driver over to your long-suffering mum. Yes, that is me.
We found the Stag and Huntsman on a camping trip to Henley-on-Thames. It’s a lovely walk down the river and across some fields into the chocolate box village that is Hambleden. You may think you’re walking into a typical village pub but the Stag and Huntsman is more than that.
Excellent food that goes beyond your average pub grub, and even beyond most gastropubs. Their cocktails are top notch, and make sure you enjoy one of their boozy milkshakes. It’s dog-friendly, has a lovely garden and lots of nooks and crannies inside to curl up in on cold days and the staff are lovely. One we know we’ll head back to again and again.
Italian restaurants are ten-a-penny, even in the Midlands. But good Italian restaurants are a lot harder to come by. Lucky for us, Villa Capri in Leamington Spa is one of those, turning out great food in a setting that feels more like a glamorous city restaurant than one tucked in a Warwickshire town.
I don’t know anyone who’s gone to Villa Capri in Leamington and not had a wonderful time, so it’s definitely one to add to your list for 2022.
We discovered The Cricket Inn purely by chance on a previous visit down to Devon. Little did we know as we took a seat outside a little pub overlooking the sea that it would be serving up such great food. It was so good at the time that we went back a day later for dinner, checking to see whether their Josper-grilled Tomahawk would be as good as their famed seafood specials.
Fast forward a year or so and when we were in the area we went back to check that it wasn’t all a figment of our imagination. It wasn’t. And how I haven’t written a full blog post about this I have no idea, so watch this space!
I Love Mogan, Puerto de Mogan, Gran Canaria
I couldn’t do this round-up without including one restaurant from Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria. We’ve been to the same place quite a few times now but somehow always discover new places. This time it was I Love Mogan – a small restaurant serving up dishes a little bit different from the others on the front.
Freshly made pasta with ceviche, the sexiest take on bruschetta I’ve ever had and some lovely staff. So good we went back twice in the same holiday. Yep.