28 December 2020

Bex's Coffee and Food Awards: 2020 Edition

And so here we are, inching closer to the end of what has been an exceptionally challenging year. Despite everything, I know I'm very lucky to have remained healthy and in work (busier than ever, in fact, as I work for a science journal) throughout, but it's been such a difficult year for the hospitality industry, as coffee shops and eateries have had to adapt and then adapt some more in the face of constant change. Many places have already closed permanently or may have to do so in the coming months, with devastating consequences for the staff and on our changing neighbourhoods. It's more important than ever to continue to support local businesses, especially those you really care about, wherever possible — and, of course, wherever safe. Do check establishments' websites and/or social media to find out the latest information on opening hours and restrictions.

As part of my end-of-year round-ups, I usually highlight some of my favourite coffee and food favourites. This year is no exception, but as I only made one international trip before travel was shut down, I've rejigged the categories accordingly. As always, I've only included places I visited for the first time this year. Without further ado, here are some of my coffee and food favourites of 2020.


1. Best new London coffee shop

Saint Nine Coffee

It's challenging to open a new coffee shop in London and keep it running even in normal times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic with constantly changing guidelines and legal regulations. In recognition of this, I created a new category this year for new openings in London. And of all the new speciality coffee shops I've visited, Saint Nine Coffee in Bankside may well be my favourite and is close enough for me to pop out for a lunchtime coffee while working from home. I've always had a very warm welcome from Laith, Ashley and Zoe, and they serve great espresso-based coffee from Assembly and Round Hill Roastery. The centrepiece of the small coffee bar is the stunning mural by Gabe Sapienza that wraps all the way up one wall onto the ceiling. If you're in the Southwark area, do stop by for a coffee and to say hi.

Runners-up: NOLABlack Box. Also of note: BUSIEstablishment CoffeeOver Under (Ladbroke Grove), Queens of MayfairWatch House Roastery.

2. Best new-to-me London coffee shop

Amoret, Notting Hill

I was late to the Amoret party, but when COVID-19 prompted me to get a bike this summer, I was able to visit neighbourhoods a little further afield than those to which I could walk, and I've enjoyed cycling over to Notting Hill, admiring the colourful houses and stopping for coffee and to buy beans at Sadiq Merchant's lovely coffee shop on Pembridge Road. The coffee is roasted on site, and there are often some really special coffees on offer, from an unusual natural Indonesian with rich, winey notes to a top-notch Colombian Gesha. You really can't go wrong, and both the espresso-based drinks and hand-brewed filter coffees are expertly brewed.

Runners-up: Paradox Design + Coffee, Formative Coffee. Also of note: Hagen EspressoLane Eight Coffee, Lyle's.

3. Best UK coffee shop

New Ground Coffee (Oxford)

My domestic travel was limited greatly this year too, for obvious reasons, but I was able to make short trips to Bath and Brighton, as well as back to my support bubble in Oxford a few times. It was during one of these latter trips that I visited New Ground, a coffee roastery and social enterprise in Headington, a short cycle ride from my parents' house. There are a few seats — and gorgeous ceramic cups — available for those who want to drink in, COVID-19 restrictions permitting. I've been a few times and both the espresso-based drinks and pourover coffee are of very good quality. I also bought some rare naturally processed Kenyan beans, which I enjoyed at home brewed in the V60.

Runners-up: Wolføx Lab (Brighton), Forum Coffee House (Bath). Also of note: Bruin Cafe (Wheatley), Coffee@33 (Brighton).

4. Best rest-of-world coffee shop

Elm Coffee Roasters (Seattle)

Although I only made one international trip this year, to New York and Seattle, I managed to visit 17 great new-to-me coffee shops. It was hard to pick just one from the trip — particularly the Seattle component, as I sought to caffeinate my way through a conference — but Elm Coffee Roasters' Pioneer Square branch really stood out. Both the espresso and filter coffee were brewed very well, and I loved sitting opposite the light wooden coffee bar as the morning sun streamed in. Ah, it already feels like a long time ago! Check out my Seattle coffee guide for 12 other speciality coffee suggestions, from old timers to newbies.

Runners-up: Yafa Cafe (NYC), Espresso Vivace (Seattle)


5. Best London restaurant

Brat x Climpson's Arch

I'd been wanting to go to Tomos Parry's Shoreditch restaurant for a long time, but instead was able to visit his al fresco residency at Climpson's Arch with my brother on a sweltering summer's evening. You don't have to have the grilled turbot, but you probably should: like everything we ate, it was delicious. In fact, plan to go more than once so you can try the dishes on the menu you didn't have space for first time around.

Runners-up: Bermondsey Larder, Lyle's

6. Best rest-of-world restaurant

Buttermilk Channel (NYC)

This was another restaurant that had been on my to-visit list for some time, but getting a table during the weekend brunch rush always proved tricky. Instead, I went for an early supper one day after I'd finished at the office. I had the famous buttermilk chicken and cheddar waffles, which were as good as I'd been told, and the staff were all incredibly welcoming.

Runners-up: Heartwood Provisions (Seattle; now sadly permanently closed), OAK (Bath). Bonus entry — best name — Damn the Weather (Seattle)

7. Best brunch

Queens of Mayfair (London)

After some months without indoor dining, Queens of Mayfair provided a suitably elegant venue for a return to form. And their multi-course brunches, served alongside speciality coffee from Difference, or cocktails if you prefer, are a real treat. I'd like to return to Queens to try their pourover coffee (and you may have seen the headlines about their £50 Ethiopian Cup of Excellence coffee from producer Nigussie Gemeda Mude), but my flat white was great, as was my avocado and halloumi on toast. A lot of attention-to-detail has gone into Queens of Mayfair, and the food is as beautifully presented as the cafe itself.

Runners-up: 17 Grams (Brighton), Over Under (London)

8. Best tasting menu

The Clove Club (London)

When another London lockdown was implemented just before my final week of annual leave, I panic-booked myself into The Clove Club, in Shoreditch Town Hall, for a last hoorah. And what a hoorah it was. The food was exquisite, the service was wonderful and it was a fantastic way to celebrate a pre-lockdown, early birthday dinner. I can't wait to go back!

Runners-up: Olive Tree (Bath), Six by Nico (London)

9. Best COVID pivot

Oli's Thai (Oxford)

In normal times, it's very difficult to get a table at Oli's Thai, an acclaimed Thai restaurant in Oxford's Magdalen Road, but we were able to book a takeout slot during my aforementioned locked-down birthday. The food was all delicious, especially the confit duck panang, and although eating at home wasn't quite the same experience as dining at the restaurant, it was still darn good.

Runners-up: Rice Error (London), Bwyty Mawddach (Barmouth)

10. Best street food / treat food

Tacos Padre (London)

This year, I've been more grateful than ever to live so close to Borough Market, both for the excellent grocery shopping and for the fab street food options. There are lots of good choices — including Mei Mei, which took me right back to Singapore — but Tacos Padre has been my favourite, and a regular Friday lunchtime WFH treat. I usually get the beef short rib, pork cochinita and cauliflower al pastor.

Runners-up: Pistachio pain au chocolat at Bread Ahead (London), BEC at The Bagel Guys (London)

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