This has probably been the best year of eating in my life. Travel helps but not as much as the sudden explosion of Mumbai's (and India's) food scene. When I first moved to Mumbai the only good European restaurant was Indigo while people ate at atrocious places like Bascilico. A decade later, on any given night, there are at least 40 places in Mumbai alone where I know I'm guaranteed a good meal. So without further ado, let's get to the highlights of #blahvsfood in 2016.
Toast and Tonic is still the best restaurant to have opened in India in the last year or two. Consistently fresh, creative, and non-gimmicky.
Gresham Fernandes' St. Jude's Project is the best meal that can be eaten in India today. The one-time-only Tokyo Takeover meal was as good as any meal I have eaten anywhere in the world.
Vikramjit Roy has created not just India's but one of the world's great Asian Restaurants in Tian in Delhi. He is doing things with Asian food no one has ever done before. Don't be distracted by the presentation and technique and focus on your food and you won't be disappointed.
Bombay Canteen is now probably my favourite restaurant in Mumbai (displacing The Table). I think that The Table still sets the benchmark for consistent high quality creative food but Bombay Canteen just brings so much fun to the table and I love how their menu evolves with every season. It's strange coming from me but the Jowar Salad is probably my dish of the year in Mumbai.
I feel great food today needs to find the balance between comfort and surprise. Kelvin Cheung does that every single time at both One Street Over and Bastian (to my kind the best seafood restaurant in India).
I was also really impressed with what Pratik Sandhu is trying to do with Masque. It takes courage and I'm happy to see him pull it off with some style.
One of the best meals I've had all year was in Chennai at Nair Mess. This is food that is rustic and real, that is simple but sophisticated, that just bursts with flavour. Also in the same genre Bhatti Village in Goa never disappoints. Forget the fancy restaurants and cool hipster places, this is probably the most underrated restaurant in all of India.
I had a big rediscovery of Khasi food this year and while it is literally at the end of nowhere, the full Khasi meal I ate at Kut Madan at Cherrapunji is worth 2-3 days of travel. The sheer beauty of the place makes it one of the more unforgettable meals anyone can ever have.
The big disappointments for me were Dinner by Heston in London and the Indian Accent pop up in Mumbai. They were both good meals, in fact very good meals. But they just didn't blow me away the way I hoped they would. Also disappointing was every meal at Masala Library and every Farzi I went to. The service is intrusive and pretentious, and the food is not just derivative (I'm avoiding the word rip-off) and gimmicky, it completely lacks soul. I've heard great things about the Masala Library in CP however so maybe it's a question of patience as a chef finds his voice. I am also hoping that Wasabi rediscovers its mojo because at this stage Megu is miles ahead as India's best Japanese restaurant.
The shutting down of Salims in Defence Colony saddened me deeply. I will miss the creamy Afghan tikkas, the burras, the Kakori rolls. At least I can take solace that after 40 years Ghalib in Nizamuddin still makes the best Sheekh kababs I've ever eaten. Spicy, earthy, eaten with some amazing buffalo tikkas, roomali rotis their superb green chutney.
For drinks Windmill is by far and away the best place in India for a beer. But both Toit and Doolaly are great places to while a Sunday away.
Internationally I ate some amazing meals this year but the best of the lot was the Gallery at Sketch. This is a restaurant like no other. The food is extraordinary but everything about it from the decor to the artwork is inventive and magical. Also amazing was the Israeli food at Palomar and the Peruvian at Coya. Sexy Fish was very good as well.
In the USA, Animal in LA remains my favourite restaurant but I loved Ink as well. In New York, 11 Madison Avenue lived up to the hype while Red Rooster in Harlem was a great reminder that sometimes a great restaurant just needs to serve food for the soul. In Singapore, Andre Cheung cooked me the most creative meal I have ever had at his eponymous Andre's. I also had some extraordinary food in China but it's hard to pick any one place. Maybe the Peking Duck at Wish or the Cantonese meal at the Four Seasons but I also felt my Xinjian meal that mixed Cantonese and Muslim influences was unbelievable.
Next year, I hope to go to a lot more pop ups whether at Magazine Street Kitchen or St.Jude's or people's homes. We're increasingly getting to a place where the most exciting food is being cooked outside normal restaurants, the best of these probably being The Bohri Kitchen and Bangalore Oota Company.
So here's to another great year of eating. It will be hard to eat again like I did this year, but you can bet I'm going to try!
Thank you to all the chefs and restauranters who have been so kind to me over the last year and for all the special meals and memories. Happy eating!
A few shout outs, though my no means a full or comprehensive list!
Bomras for just being perfect. Every. Single. Time.
Social, Monkey Bar and Fatty Bao for showing you can have restaurant chains with great creative food.
The Table for being the only restaurant in Mumbai where every single meal has never fallen short of outstanding.
China House and Royal China... Yauatcha has the truffle edamame dumpling but these restaurants are good across the menu.
For my Biryani fix, Nizams and Alia in Kolkata and the Kabsa Laham at Four Seasons (the restaurant at Tolichowki, not the hotel) in Hyderabad. Whatever you do, don't eat at Paradise.
The ghee roast prawn at Sanigade, the ghee roast chicken at Kanua and then best of all southern coastal at Karavali.. all in Bangalore along with some truly authentic Naga food at Naga Chef.
The Hotel Babai Idli at Chutneys in Hyderabad.. the only idli I would travel for. There are more, many more places, many more meals, but it's time to head out. It's back to Bangalore and to the steak at Portland Steak House tonight!