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21 December 2011

Bex's 2011 London Food and Drink Awards

It's that time of the year when I usually start to compile lists of my favourite movies, books and music of the year but this year, I've also decided to do a round-up of some of my favourite new places to eat and drink in London. These places aren't necessarily new to London but I first visited them all in 2011 and being me, I've prioritised caffeine, burgers and gin.

1. Best new macchiatoTapped & Packed (Fitzrovia)
Tapped & Packed has been around on Rathbone Place for a while but I only got around to checking it out when they opened a branch on ToCoRo. There is no sign outside--just a suspended bicycle--and the sugar comes in old Tate & Lyle tins. The decor is very minimalist and natural and it's a great place to relax and recaffeinate, away from the bustle of ToCoRo. Most importantly, though, their macchiatos are rich, smooth and delicious.
Runner up: Store Street Espresso

Tapped & Packed's macchiato

2. Best new brunchSt Ali (Clerkenwell)
If I had done a best new borough of 2011, it would probably be Clerkenwell. Although I work relatively close, Clerkenwell always felt a little too far to go at lunchtime. Nonetheless, I've been to St Ali a couple of times now. They roast their own coffee, which is gorgeous, but they also have a great brunch menu--French toast with sweet-cure bacon and syrup really hit the spot but most of the other options on the menu also sounded tempting.
I'm actually quite boring when it comes to brunch and I felt I couldn't nominate the Riding House Cafe again, so there is no runner up in this category.

3. Best new street foodeat.st (King's Cross)
Lunchtime at King's Cross used to be a rather boring affair. It was usually a choice between the not-exactly-cheap gastropubs and sandwich-type fodder. Now, we have our own food stalls on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, tucked away near the building site between the back of King's Cross and St Pancras. The stalls change from day to day, but my favourites include Homeslice (delicious wood-fired pizza), The Red Herring Smokehouse's posh bacon sarnies, and The Ribman's pork rolls.
Runner upExmouth Market

4. Best new cocktailExperimental Cocktail Club (Soho)
I still haven't managed to visit the two cocktail joints at the top of my to-drink list (Callooh Callay and 69 Colebrooke Row), but I did make it to London's snooty sister of the Parisian Experimental Cocktail ClubI've complained before about the shocking service in the London ECC, but this category is best cocktail, not best bar, hence the ECC's victoryits signature St Germain drink being the best cocktail I've had this side of the Atlantic this year. London still needs to take a cue from New York on the secret speakeasy front...
Runner up: Purl (Marylebone finally gets itself a cocktail bar!)

5. Best new burger: Meat Liquor (Marylebone)
I first read about Marylebone burger-and-booze newbie, Meat Liquor, in Time Out shortly before it opened last month but because it is closed on Sundays and Mondays and because I've been so busy over the past month, I haven't been able to test out the claims of faultless burgers and fab, boozy cocktails. Meat Liquour doesn't take bookings and the queue can get pretty intense. Luckily, we got there at around six this evening and didn't have to wait long. By the time we left, at about seven-thirty, the queue was halfway up Welbeck Street. The music was loud (metal, mainly) and the decor was very cool: angry red and black graffiti scrawled over the walls, including the surprising central cupola, and very little lighting. Meat Liquour definitely gets bonus points for bringing some much-needed coolness to Marylebone. More importantly, though, my bacon cheese burger was, as promised, superb, and the fries ("not chips") and onion rings were also tasty. An interesting cocktail list fulfilled the "liquor" component; I opted for something fruity and with a hint of Absinthe.
Runner up: Riding House Cafe (see below)

Meat Liquor and its central cupola
6. Best new restaurant: The Riding House Cafe (Fitzrovia)
This was a very easy category for me to award. I've been to The Riding House Cafe five or six times since it opened in the spring and every time has been great. I love the concept of all-day dining--visiting a place first thing for coffee and some brunch, turning up for an afternoon pudding, or coming for cocktails and/or dinner--and the RHC does it very well. On most of my visits, I've ordered the following: a small selection of the sharing plates as a starter, the cheese burger (perfectly medium rare), and, if I have room, one of the chocolatey puddings. Oh, and the cocktails are great too; my favourite is the raspberry and elderflower Collins.
Runner up: Spuntino (it wouldn't be Bexquisite London restaurant round-up without a Russell Norman component)

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