December will be magic again

December is always a lovely time for eating out: family, friends, work colleagues. It all gets a bit hectic to be honest and it can seem like a bit of a blur especially if like me you have your birthday in the middle of the action. Here’s a snapshot of some of the fab food I’ve been lucky enough to taste in the last month of 2014…

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Christmas lunch was spent for the second year on the trot in Leeds at the rather wonderful Kendell’s Bistro. I make no bones about my love for this restaurant and to return after almost a year away was like visiting a much-loved and much-missed member of the family. Sharon and Steve always make us feel so very welcome and everything else just falls into place. Emotional.

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Christmas Eve lunch at Sheffield’s Milestone was a delight. On a cold and dreary day, our third visit in as many years warmed the cockles. The Milestone suffers from locals thinking it’s high-price food but that’s not true, as a recent disappointing (and expensive) meal at Sheffield’s Silversmiths showed —The Milestone is still the best in town. If only the service was as good as the food then this place would be genuinely top drawer.

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Early doors New Year’s Eve dinner at La Brindisa Tramontana in Shoreditch. A regular haunt for us due to the super authentic, high quality Tapas with lightning fast service we snuck in pre NYE madness and filled our end of year boots. We should probably try to find another tapas place nearby but why bother? La Brindisa is always cock on.

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These lobster rolls were voted the Number Two dish in all of London recently by Time Out magazine (and they know a thing or two), so after a busy week culminating in a client pitch we thought we’d give them a try. Smack Deli had just recently opened and had the feel of a brand new concept —which I’m always a bit nervous about — but I needn’t have worried, the sandwiches are spectacular served with craft beers and cheerful staff. Go.

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Midweek work dinner at Busaba Eathai in Hoxton. I love the cool vibe of this restaurant and the clean, small plate food that delights at every turn: hot, sharp, cool, sticky, soothing and unmistakeably Thai, with other stuff thrown in for good measure. I’m no expert in Thai either and as a recent convert I love this place, although the small plates costs can soon rack up and the booze ain’t cheap.

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Lyle’s in Shoreditch is another place we wanted to tick off the list. Set up by a couple of ex St John Bread and Wine guys, this place has a real feel of St Johns but with a slightly cooler East London edge. The food is edgily creative with  set menu of £39 for 5 course, which I thought exceptional value. There is an unpretentious simplicity, combined with surprise and delight about the entire experience, that means we will return very soon.

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Julie’s fish from the Milestone does deserve a mention before I move on. Smooth, unctuous, meaty and satisfying — it’s proof that fish in the cold North in December can pack a punch and deliver a big cuddle.

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Couldn’t resist putting those crab donuts in from The Chiltern Firehouse again. One of the standout dishes of the year for me.

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Pre Manic Street Preachers gig in Camden we were seeking a decent bit of pre music grub. We decided to walk some way and happened upon the Q Grill. Not realising that the head chef is ex Hix and owner ex Caprice, we dived in for some unpretentious beer soak up food and weren’t disappointed. There’s clearly more to it than that so we’ll take another look when we get a chance.

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Work lunch at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell. The food sparkles in here: there’s no question that it’s more interesting than a French exchange student was when you were 13 and although it’s a bit toppy in terms of cost, you leave feeling a little bit cleverer having eaten there. I should go more often.

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A freezing cold night in Shoreditch found us hunkering down in a corner of Bird, looking for fried chicken when only fried chicken will do. There’s plenty of these gaffs about these days (chicken only, steak only, chicken and steak only etc) and Bird seems to have go it right. Staff are helpful, bearded, gingham-wearing hipsters, tattooed up to the eyeballs (even the girls). But no worries, the chicken in essentially battered and deep fried so all is well in the world if not in your arteries. Note to self: my daughter will love this place, lets take her when she’s down tomorrow.

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I have decided our culinary life is divided into ‘cheapie’ meals and ‘pricey’ meals and those that sit in between (I’m no scientist, but you get my drift). Sometimes cheap and tasty is what you need and when that’s the case we head to Huong in Shoreditch. It’s no frills cooking with tons of flavour and we love it. Tip: go early doors before the flotsam and jetsam of a Shoreditch night out arrive for their nosebag.

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Julie thinks Marcus Wareing is too serious on Masterchef but I quite like how he’s allowing bits of real personality to emerge from his crinkly eyes and his flat Northern accent. Off the back of this discussion, we decide to go to his new restaurant Tredwell’s for Sunday Roast in the run up to Christmas (not that we expected him to be there). What transpired was a very good if not exceptional Sunday lunch (the best I’ve had this year so far is Hawksmoor) but nevertheless a jolly time was had by all. Again, the booze racks up the pennies but the food is well priced.

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Finally another mention for House of Ho. I think we might have done this place now having been 3 times. Still, the all you can eat and drink lunch from £36 has to the best value food/drink/location combo in London. Julie claims to be on first name terms with head chef and owner Bobby Chinn and the live music brunch is the thing you should try — it’s a blast, and you get blasted. Go as a foursome at least and you’ll love it.

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