30 December 2021

Bex's Coffee and Food Awards: 2021 Edition

Welcome to the 11th edition of my annual speciality coffee and food awards, where I am highlighting some of my favourites from the coffee shops and eateries that I visited for the first time this year. For obvious reasons, I travelled much less than normal this year, although I did manage a holiday in Malta in September, as well as city breaks in Porto, Edinburgh and Canterbury, and regular visits to Oxford, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. As such, just like last year, I've rejigged the regions covered in each category so that I can showcase as many of the places I've loved closer to home and further afield. As the pandemic continues to disrupt life as we knew it, it's more important than ever to support the hospitality industry — respecting all local guidelines that may be in place, of course.

If you're keen to read more of my speciality coffee recommendations, you may find my London coffee guide to be a useful starting point; there are currently more than 150 coffee shops featured. For coffee suggestions both in London and the wider world, you can find all of my posts here. And you can read all of my food-related blog posts here.


1. Best new London coffee shop

Nostos Coffee

It's no coincidence that my favourite new London coffee shop of 2020 and of 2021 are both places where I found a sense of connection and community in these COVID times — as well as excellent coffee, of course. In fact, it was from Laith at Saint Nine that I first heard about Nostos Coffee, a wonderful neighbourhood coffee shop near Battersea Park. At Nostos, they pride themselves on serving coffee you can't have anywhere else and indeed, they always have a well-curated selection of coffees from different roasters, expertly brewed as espresso-based drinks or as a pourover. You'll also get a very warm welcome from Edison and Anna.

Runners-up: Intermission Coffee and Good as Gold. I also have a guide highlighting 14 of my favourite recent London speciality coffee shop openings.

2. Best new-to-me London coffee shop

Carbon Kopi

Like Nostos, Carbon Kopi is located in a neighbourhood that isn't that easy to get to from Bermondsey, but thanks to my trusty bike, I've been able to explore more areas of London during the past 18 months. Carbon Kopi opened just over two years ago so I was late to the party, but what a mighty fine party it was. I enjoyed my piccolo and cold brew, both brewed with Square Mile coffee, on the sunny patio. I was too early for the return of the brunch menu, but the chicken pesto toastie fuelled me up for the bike ride home. The staff are all lovely too.

Runners-up: Wood St Coffee and Craving

3. Best UK coffee shop

Fortitude Coffee (Edinburgh)

It was hard to pick just one coffee shop from the 11 I visited when I was in Edinburgh, but the New Town location of Fortitude Coffee just pipped Cairngorm Coffee at the post. I had what was one of my favourite piccolos of the year, brewed with a Guatemalan La Ponderosa Gesha, and very much enjoyed talking to the barista about coffee, Edinburgh and Edinburgh coffee shops. The stylish interiors of the Georgian townhouse are lovely too, even in semi-lockdown mode. If you like your coffee with a side of pinball or books, check out my two runners-up in Birmingham and Whitstable, respectively.

Runners-up: Tilt (Birmingham) and Blueprint Coffee & Books (Whitstable).

4. Best rest-of-world coffee shop

So Coffee Roasters (Porto)

'Rest-of-world' is perhaps an overly broad category when this year, Portugal and Malta were the only countries I was able to visit outside the UK. But I visited a total of 11 coffee shops in Porto and Valletta, so there is plenty of good speciality coffee to highlight. If you have time for only one speciality coffee shop in Porto, you can't go wrong with So Coffee Roasters' stylish, minimalist cafe on Rua de Sá de Noronha. The Colombian coffee I had as a V60 pourover was exceptionally well brewed and the presentation was great too, with the coffee served in a mini milk bottle, accompanied by a card with more details about the coffee and the farm. The piccolo I had on another occasion was just as good. I love this quote from their website too: "You are not a banker. You can be a little emotional about coffee."

Runners-up: C'alma (Porto) and Lot 61 (Valletta).


5. Best London restaurant


I went to Fallow as part of a staycation weekend in London with my parents and it was one of my favourite meals of the year. From the black garlic croquettes and the corn 'ribs' to start, to the bacon cheeseburger, and the pictured fig leaf soft-serve ice cream with chocolate hazelnut crumb, every element was excellent. The service was brilliant too. NB: since my visit, Fallow has relocated from Heddon Street to St James's Market.

Runners-up: Maison François and Pedler Good Fortune.

6. Best rest-of-world restaurant

Noto (Edinburgh)

I ate a lot of great food in Edinburgh, and on my other travels this year, but the one dish that stuck in my mind was the potato dauphine at Noto. As I described it at the time: impossibly light potato beignets filled with umami miso mustard goodness. Technically, the dishes are meant for sharing, but I was glad I didn't have to share these with anyone else!  The rest of my meal at Noto was just as enjoyable: great food in a relaxed but intimate setting.

Runners-up: Esquina do Avesso (Porto) and The Goods Shed (Canterbury).

7. Best brunch

Buvette (London)

My dad has long been a fan of the original Buvette in New York, but I've never managed to go, so when they opened a restaurant in Notting Hill, it was time to put that right. I had 'le sandwich': waffles with maple syrup, crispy bacon, fried egg and cheese. My mum's croque monsieur, pictured below, was just as good and even more Instagrammable.

Runners-up: Manna (Porto) and Bühler and Co (London).

8. Best tasting menu

KOL (London)

Regular readers will know that I love tasting-menu experience, and this has been more true than ever since foreign travel has become more difficult. Instead, restaurants like KOL in Marylebone take you on a journey around a particular cuisine, sampling different ingredients and cooking styles. Angelina, in Dalston, was a close second with its Japanese–Italian fusion food, but the Mexican feast we enjoyed at KOL was really exceptional. We opted for the nine-course menu, plus a bonus mole course, and the food, drinks and service made for a very memorable night. The lobster tacos, pictured below, were one of my favourite courses.

Runners-up: Angelina (London) and Noni (Valletta).

9. Best sweet treat

Orbit at Brasserie of Light (London)

It's probably no surprise that, like many people, I sometimes choose my food based on its Instagrammability. That is definitely true for the Orbit dessert at Brasserie of Light — just look at it! — but it was delicious too, with salted caramel ice cream, honeycomb and chocolate mousse inside the duo-chrome planet, milk foam underneath and popping candy around the edge. The other food and cocktails were also very good at this restaurant where the décor is probably best described as bonkers baroque, with a giant flying pegasus suspended from the ceiling.

Runners-up: Giant stracciatella gelato at Ave Mario (London) and white chocolate ice cream at Knoops (Rye).

10. Best cocktail/drink

Early (Porto)

Porto ended up being my 'bonus' holiday this year: booked at short notice, it was a delight to enjoy some sunshine, sea and sights in this great Portuguese city. And within a couple of hours of touching down at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport, I was dining at Early, an all-day restaurant close to my hotel in Cedofeita. I could have shortlisted the unusual but delicious black sesame crème brûlée in the sweet treats category, but the cocktails I drank here were fab, especially the kombucha margarita, which tasted as good as it looked. If you're in the market for a nightcap while in Porto, I can also recommend the Royal Cocktail Club.

Runners-up: Yard 32 (Valletta) and Scotch at The Balmoral (Edinburgh).

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