Favourite restaurants in 2022

18 January 2023

My favourite discovery in 2022 was CARAVEL, because it was so unexpected. I booked a table immediately after seeing a picture Margot Henderson posted on Instagram of Bruno’s, Caravel’s just opened sister cocktail bar. I hadn’t heard of Caravel, and found little information online (at the time) — it sounded tempting. Caravel is ensconced in a barge on Regent’s Canal, it can be a bit hard to find at first — buzzed through a nondescript metal gate, down steep steps to the canal, then directed by a genial host to walk a few minutes along the water passing two or three other moored boats (including the aforementioned cocktail barge Bruno’s) — which all just adds to the fun.

Once there, the space is warm and welcoming, and everything we ate was very, very good. (With the exception of the gnudi, perhaps, but April Bloomfield once of the hallowed then fallen Spotted Pig in New York and much more, has forever ruined gnudi for me as her version can never be improved upon and has left the bar way too high.) The plate of pickles and bread and butter to start was excellent. The rösti, perfect. The sesame prawn toast — astonishing, in the best of ways. And I noted that the roast hake, chickpeas, cavolo nero & saffron aioli was one of the best things I ate last year. It was an excellent evening. Caravel has, since then, received a bit of attention and been included in a number of ‘best of London’ roundups — now is the time to go before a major national newspaper wields its magic/curse and reservations become impossible.

172 Shepherdess Walk
London N1 7JL

But looking back, we often ate very well in 2022. At home too but also, specifically, out. There were new places, and some we returned to. Here are my favourite restaurants in 2022, which I look forward to again in 2023.


The restaurant we returned to most often in 2022 is Tenmaru in Finsbury Park. It is a short bike ride away and we discovered it by chance, on the way to the cinema, because the place we had intended was closed. Coincidentally, it happened soon after finally watching the film Tampopo — often high on lists of best films about food — and it seemed an apt response to the film’s quest for the perfect ramen, with a deep multi-layered broth and delicate chewiness of the noodles. I love the tori paitan with its clean, clear broth, but everything on the menu is very good, and the fried chicken karaage not to be missed

8 Clifton Terrace
London N4 3JP


Every newspaper seems to have written about The Plimsoll, the ‘grotty’ (?!) pub close to Finsbury Park that serves exceptional food, and the best burgers. It’s always irritating when a local place gets so much attention that it becomes impossible to get a table, but with some foresight and on a weeknight things can be arranged. When I went for the first time last February I wrote that I loved it all, ‘the food, the mood, the staff, the playlist, the windows, the tiffany lamp on the counter of the open kitchen.’ After a few more visits, all of that still hold, plus the very best negronis.

The Plimsoll
52 St Thomas’s Rd
London N4 2QQ


Andrew Edmunds is usually touted as a romantic spot — I can see why, though every time I’ve been it has been with friends, and I am at least as impressed by the food as by the low-lit, old London, cramped and crooked space. I sometimes forget about it in favour of new places to try, but in Soho it remains one of my favourite.

Andrew Edmunds
46 Lexington Street
London W1F 0LP


Last January I wrote that I couldn’t ‘wait to return to Brutto, already in my personal firmament of favourite restaurants in London. The warm, dusky atmosphere perfect for its easy and delectable dishes. Their “philosophy is simplicity and quality, authenticity and big flavours, in a fun, convivial environment.” Nailed it.’ — I have been back, and I stand by that initial impression. I order the anchovies on toast, always, and the bollito misto.

35-37 Greenhill Rents
London EC1M 6BN


I nearly didn’t notice Top Cuvée, which opened practically down the road, until a knowing friend (not incidentally, a friend with whom I have been to at least three of the other restaurants listed here) fortuitously suggested it for our next date. This may, finally, be a true neighborhood restaurant. The staff and atmosphere are just the right side of low key. The food is simple — carottes rapées, leeks vinaigrette, steak tartare — and very good, and, it being one with Shop Cuvée, the wine shop around the corner, the wine list is great too!

Top Cuvée
177B Blackstock Road
London N5 2LL

Mangal II is the heir of the first ocakbasi restaurant in London, opened in Dalston by Ali Dirik in 1987. The initial Mangal Ocakbasi became Mangal II, and since 2020 has been run by Ali’s sons Ferhat and Sertaç, who, in their own words, offer a ‘more refined dining experience,’ by ‘pairing the modern dining experience with an exceptional Anatolian menu.’ The tone is set immediately, with the sourdough pide with cultured kaymak butter, and it is difficult to single out favourite dishes, but the chopped beef ezme with fried bulgur and smoked pastırma (essentially tartare, with a crunch) is one that still dances brightly in my palate memory.

Mangal II
4 Stoke Newington Rd
London N16 7XN


Such good place for sushi. It’s mostly for take out though there are six seats at a counter overlooking the street, and a few tables outside. Excellent.

Sushi Show
28 Camden Passage
London N1 8ED


This latest venture feels immeditaly entirely like St John. Our meal on a Wednesday evening in early December included ox liver with radicchio, lentils with squash, sea bass with fennel salad, cold roast Tamworth pork with dandelion, skate cheeks with aioli, and a celeriac & bacon broth. There were capers everywhere and no more anchovies or deep fried rarebit, but we had perfect Fergronis to start.

And eccles cake with Lancashire to finish.

St John Marylebone
98 Marylebone Lane

Gratin for dinner

10 January 2023

Tuesday 10 January

As I reached into the fridge for the head of red cabbage for a quick slaw yesterday, a riot of cauliflower, kale, and leeks, all precariously wedged among the milk and yogurt pots for lack of space in the vegetable drawers, tumbled into my hands.

So instead, I made gratin. And on a wet, wintry January evening, it was much the better choice.

The trick with gratin is to not be deterred by making béchamel. It always goes much quicker than I fear. I usually eyeball it. I use a good third of a bar of butter (which would come to about 100 grams), let it melt completely, then add the flour while constantly stirring — a few tablespoons, just enough to absorb all the melted butter. I cook the clumped butter and flour for a minute or two while stirring, before adding the milk. This can be done all at once or little by little, either method works. I usually do it gradually since I don’t measure the ingredients beforehand. As the milk meets the flour/butter mixture it will first stiffen (or become clumpy is adding a lot of milk at once) but whisk briskly and the béchamel will soon become silky. When it reaches the desired consistency, anywhere from lava thick to gravy thin, add a generous pinch of salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and perhaps some grated cheese.

Cauliflower, kale, and leek gratin

1 head of cauliflower
1 bunch of lacinato kale
3 to 4 leeks
1 clove of garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the béchamel:
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Grated cheese (gruyère or cheddar or parmiggiano)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).

First, make the béchamel:

In a saucepan, melt a large pat of butter completely (I usually use about a 1/3 of a bar, about 100 grams). Stirring constantly, add just enough flour to absorb all the melted butter (a few tablespoons). Cook the clumped butter and flour for a minute or two while still stirring, then start adding milk. The milk can be added all at once or little by little, either methods work. I usually do it gradually since I don’t measure the ingredients beforehand. As the milk meets the flour/butter mixture it will first stiffen (or become clumpy is adding a lot of milk at once) but whisk briskly and the béchamel will soon become silky. When it reaches the desired consistency, anywhere from lava thick to gravy thin, add a generous pinch of salt, black pepper, and lots of nutmeg. Optionally, melt a small handful of grated cheese into the béchamel.

Cut up the cauliflower into small florets and wash in cold water. Trim off the hard stalks of the kale, cut into pieces about 4 to 5 cm (1 1/2 inches) long, wash, and strain as much of the excess water as possible. Trim (top and tail) the leeks, remove the tough outer layer, and slice thinly. Wash in cold water and strain thoroughly.

Rub a large ovenproof dish all over with the (peeled) garlic clove, then butter the dish.

Scatter the vegetables into the dish and toss with a generous pinch of salt and ground black pepper.

Pour the béchamel over the vegetables as evenly as possible, making sure to reach the edges, then cover generously with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for at least 45 minutes (up to an hour) until brown and bubbly. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Portuguese walnut cake

12 December 2022

Monday 12 December

It’s a snow day. Rather, it’s a snowy day, as two out of three schools are open. It’s magic! The city muffled, the children’s glee. The quiet. Louise was so excited when the first flakes started falling last night, she rushed outside barefoot.

This morning the snow was already wet, weighing the trees, but the blanket is persisting. It is so pretty. A fox is lolling on our garden table. Nose muzzled under its tail; sometimes, it yawns. It is dark amber and fuzzy, and, slowly — am I growning to accept it? They were cubs in the spring and tormented my patience scrupulously. Trampling, unnearthing, destroying every effort in the garden. Killing off even the indestructible anemones that have been there since before we moved in nine years ago. I cursed the cubs daily. But early this morning, I looked for their prints in the snow. And now, one is looking up at me through the window. I daren’t disturb it. I am growing an affection, maybe.

The cake was two weeks ago. Our friends brought a walnut cake for Thanksgiving, a recipe handed down from their grandmother, and, a few days later, when I asked Max what he wanted for his birthday, he chose the ‘snow’ cake. It took me a moment to understand what he meant — after a string of impractical requests in true nearly-7-year-old fashion: a frog cake, a chicken nugget cake… I thought the ‘snow cake’ was another joke. He meant the walnut cake with a powdering of icing sugar which we’d been gradually decimating, thin slice by tiny thin slice, since Thursday.

When I asked for the recipe, the answer was : ‘so simple, it’s mainly just eggs!’ (And nuts and sugar.) Which seems to be a hallmark of many Portuguese cakes and desserts in general. The simplicity, and the abundance of eggs.

Portuguese walnut cake recipe
Such a simple recipe and such a luscious, moist cake.

250g sugar
250g walnuts, ground
6 eggs
2 Tbsps flour
Pinch of salt
A sprinkling of icing sugar for decoration

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line a 24cm (9″) cake tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks.

Mix the ground walnuts, sugar, and flour with the egg yolks.

Beat the egg whites ‘into a castle’ (a Portuguese expression which means — quite manifestly and much more poetically— to ‘stiff peaks’) and fold them carefully into the walnut / sugar / egg yolk mixture. Mix gently until the dough is uniformly coloured.

Scrape the dough into the buttered tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool before removing from the tin and serve with whipped cream.

And that is why we were late for school …

Pecan pie and a Boulevardier cocktail, more good things for Thanksgiving

9 December 2022

Yesterday I wrote about some disasters of our Thanksgiving meal, one perfect exception — the stuffing —, and a few other good things. I alluded to a pecan pie, and, despite the photo, quite forgot to mention the cocktail, which we sipped late into the night long after the last guests had left and the dishes were all washed. I am using this as a reminder for next year.

Photo by Thomas

Note number one: Premix the Boulevardiers

When friends arrive mid-afternoon, is it too early to start mixing bourbon? Absolutely not! I hear you whisper, and I am listening. Yet our habitual scenario is to start mildly with beer and wine. Too often we miss the moment. Next time a carafe of Boulevardiers will simply be ready — regardless of Helen Rosner’s injunction to “[not] make this ahead of time; the flavors soften and blur as they rest.” Better a lightly melded cocktail, then none at all.

Boulevardier recipe
It is often described as a variation on a negroni — the classic version of which is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari — in which the gin is substituted for bourbon or rye whiskey. Many recipes recommend a higher proportion of whiskey.

1 to 2 oz of bourbon or rye — whiskey choice and proportion both according to individual taste
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz Campari
Orange or lemon peel to garnish

Add all the ingredients (except the peel) to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well until chilled.

Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass, or over ice into a rocks glass.

Squeeze and drop the citrus peel into the glass.

Note number two: A very good pecan pie

I was relying on Balthasar to make our best, award-winning pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. But on Wednesday evening, as we settled into the kitchen — Thomas for his now traditional cranberry curd pie, and I with the intention of gaining a head start on some prep for the next day — Balthasar was nowhere around and the promise of pumpkin pie soon evaporated.


Thanksgiving cannot happen without either pumpkin or pecan pie. One may be enough but they cannot both be absent. And pecan is quicker.

After frantically tracing emails back a decade looking for a friend’s mum’s recipe (I didn’t find it), I went straight to Smitten Kitchen — a site I’ve always followed but if I’m honest have only rarely cooked from, though, always, cake! Reliably, I found an ideal recipe.

Here is the direct link to Smitten Kitchen’s excellent pecan pie .

And now I am very much looking forward to next year’s Thanksgiving!

‘Valeryn Monroe’ turkey stuffing

8 December 2022

Thursday 8 December

It has taken me two weeks to accept all that went wrong with my Thanksgiving meal. Don’t misunderstand, it was a very fun evening, with old friends with whom we’ve celebrated often, and new close friends too.

So I will try not to dwell too long on the — culinary — disappointments. But, the turkey was much too … big. I prayed it would fit in the oven. It did, though barely, firmly wedged against the oven walls on either side, and then, somewhat inexplicably, cooked so fast that it was barely rescued from the dismal precipice of looming dryness. The gravy was a bit of a disaster and I will ascribe that to my stubborn reluctance towards gravy in general. The vegetables — overcooked. Perhaps we were having too much of a good time in the kitchen. The celeriac mash, often an astonishing highlight, lacked depth. Thomas refused to add more potatoes ! He berates me for not delegating enough in the kitchen and then he doesn’t follow instructions !!

But there were highlights, too. The cranberry lime sauce that electrifies the plate. The many cakes, which were delicious (plus another walnut cake on which more later).

And then there was the stuffing.

It was amazing.

Neither the name (a combination of me and Marilyn Monroe. Ha!) nor the idea are mine. Each fourth Thursday of November messages swish across borders and continents with the friends with whom we have celebrated over the years. A barely nostalgic, wonderfully sappy love fest of Thanksgiving greetings and recollections.

Last year I received this message:

“We made a ‘Valeryn Monroe’ stuffing — a hybrid of your Apple-Chestnut-Bacon recipe, with some ingredients from the Marilyn Monroe stuffing: liver, chopped celery and spices. A nice fusion.”


What a genius idea, I took note and kept it in mind for this time. I searched for Marilyn Monroe’s stuffing recipe (?!), incidentally also a good story, and followed my friend’s suggestion for the mash-up. It solves any weaknesses my traditional stuffing might have had: namely its want of celery, and offal.

This version is so great, it will certainly become the standard.

And so we concentrate on the good things.

I will be making duck for Christmas, but should you be planning turkey, this stuffing is, unequivocally, the best.

Valeryn Monroe’ stuffing

Olive oil or, ideally, duck fat
200g pancetta, ideally sliced paper thin
4 to 5 red onions, sliced into half moons
4 to 5 stalks of celery (reserve the leaves), sliced into 3-4 cm pieces
4 to 5 tart apples, peeled, quartered, and each quarter cut in half crosswise
400g cooked chestnuts
Liver from the turkey (or about 75g to 100g chicken livers)
Large bunch of parsley, washed and leaves plucked
Sage leaves, washed, stalks removed
A good handful of leaves from the celery stalks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp mace (not essential but a nice touch)

A large, heavy cast-iron skillet (frying pan) is ideal to prepare the stuffing though any large skillet will do.

Heat a little olive oil (or duck fat) in the skillet and cook the thin slices of pancetta in batches until just crispy. Remove from the skillet (leaving the fat!) and set on a paper-towel lined plate.

Add a little oil/duck fat if necessary and cook the sliced onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and turning golden at the edges. Season with a good pinch of salt. Remove from the skillet and put them into a large bowl.

Add a little more oil/duck fat and cook the celery, stirring regularly, until it starts to soften. Season with a pinch of salt and add to the bowl of onions.

Again, add some oil/duck fat and cook the apples, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned on more than one side. Remove from the skillet and add them to the bowl.

Same thing for the chestnuts: add a little oil/fat in the skillet and brown the chestnuts (which are already cooked), until they become a little crispy. Crumble the chestnuts, creating bits of different sizes, and add those to the bowl too.

Finally, add some fat and cook the liver(s). This goes very fast, it should remain just pink inside.

On a cutting board, chop up the liver and the bacon, and add it to the bowl.

Now chop the herbs: the parsley, sage, and celery leaves.

Gently mix together all the ingredients in the bowl, ideally by hand. Add some salt, pepper, and the mace if using. Mix again.

The stuffing is now ready to go into the cavity of the bird.

[Instructions and cooking times for the bird can be found here.]

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