I’ve never given anything ten out of ten. Not food, not sex, not a book, not a film, not an album, and certainly not a restaurant. Imagine the existential impasse, the cultural cul-de-sac of grading things immaculately. What would be left, except to die the perfect death? To me, nine out of ten is the highest possible accolade. If you get a nine, that’s an idiot’s ten. But don’t be fooled – it’s still not perfect.
Perfection can only be judged once you’ve tried everything else. When I’m on my deathbed, only then will I go back and revise all the eights and nines, because only then will I have a complete experience, a complete understanding of the options, the contrasts, the betterments, the final frontiers of exceptionalism and taste. And until then, everyone should be happy with a nine. I certainly am.
Grading is a funny old thing. I hate doing it, which is why you’ll never see a rating system on these pages. My opinion isn’t quantifiable by stars or numbers, and neither is your intelligence. What I have decided to do, however, is give a few awards to the best and worst dishes over the past gastronomic year.
So, here are the meals I’ve either scoffed down or scoffed at.
Assiette of lamb, Seven Park Place, London
A journey on a plate, comprising loin, neck and tongue. My dish of the year.
Seafood risotto, Proto, Dubrovnik
Risotto isn’t always an exciting dish, but this is probably the best plate of food in Croatia. Excellent ingredients, executed with the type of passion only found on these islands. If you’re in Dubrovnik, you simply have to visit Proto.
Heritage tomato salad with warm goats cheese, The Boundary, London
This one of the freshest, simplest and well-conceived dishes I have ever tasted. Frederick Forster is doing outstanding work at The Boundary.
Razor clams, Cantine du Troquet, Paris
Beautiful seafood that is cooked perfectly and served like your mother made it – rustic and plentiful.
Lamb sweetbreads, Iberica, London
Innards, off-cuts and viscera are rarely done this well. Iberica is an outstanding yet underrated tapas joint.
Squid, Ocean Grill, St Ives
A restaurant so abjectly bad, it’s hard to pick just one worst dish.
Scallops, The Rib Room
Not a terrible dish per se, just a terrible let down.
Razor clams, Hutong, London
Cold, slimy and chewy – like eating a discarded Eskimo condom.
Sea cucumber, Shang Palace, Beijing
Being the only man on a table with five women, I ate this sea slug with a gritted smile. In truth, a piece of me died that night. This is no reflection on the restaurant, which was stunning.
Words: Laith Al-Kaisy