31 December 2023

Bex's Coffee and Food Awards: 2023 Edition

As the end of 2023 hurtles towards me, I am frantically typing up the 13th edition of my annual speciality coffee and food awards, in which I share my favourite coffee shops, eateries, bars and individual dishes from among those I visited for the first time in 2023 — in London and on my travels around the world.

I've had the opportunity to visit some really excellent speciality coffee shops this year and to eat some fantastic meals— some very close to home and some thousands of miles away. It was a pleasure to return to New York for a special birthday (and coffee-shop hopping, of course) and to visit Thailand and Madeira for the first time. I was blown away by the speciality coffee scene in Chiang Mai and Bangkok and the food was even better. I probably could have done a Thailand-only version of these awards! In the UK, I paid a first visit to Glasgow (check out my coffee city guide too) and spent even more time in Birmingham, Brighton and Margate.

Head to my dedicated coffee guides and travel guides for even more recommendations for places to caffeinate, eat and drink in London and the rest of the world. But first, read on to find out which places made my shortlist this year.


1. Best London Coffee Shop

Nagare Coffee (Spitalfields)

London has seen some fantastic new speciality coffee openings this year and I've also managed to visit some of the coffee shops that had been on my list from before this year. The one place that I've kept returning to is Nagare, a Japanese-influenced café opposite Spitalfields Market. All of my favourite coffee shops feature excellent coffee, warm service and beautiful design and Nagare does this in spades. They often showcase top-notch Asia–Pacific roasters, the coffee is impeccably prepared and the staff are all lovely. The sweet treats and perfectly curated collection of coffee-brewing kit are on point too.

Runners-up: Batch Baby (Haggerston) and Colonna & Small's (Clerkenwell). For more London coffee inspiration, check out my latest London coffee shop reviews and my full London speciality coffee guide.

2. Best Rest-of-UK & Europe Coffee Shop

Forts (Margate)

This category was harder to whittle down than usual this year, thanks to my multiple visits to BrightonBirmingham and Oxford, as well an exceptionally well-caffeinated long weekend in Glasgow and a coffee-centric trip to Madeira. In the end, though, Forts in Margate was my favourite new-to-me coffee shop of the year. Well, along with its sister cafe in Broadstairs, which I visited earlier the same day. Forts, again, meets — and exceeds — all my top coffee shop criteria, with its diverse menu of interesting and rare single-origin coffees, all beautifully brewed and served by friendly, knowledgable staff in the attractive seafront cafe.

Runners-up: Us v Them (Glasgow) and Land Food & Coffee (Madeira)

3. Best Rest-of-World Coffee Shop

Ministry of Roasters (Chiang Mai)

Of all of the cities I've visited around the world, Chiang Mai in Thailand has what may be the highest proportion of really top-quality speciality coffee shops and roasteries for its population. You can barely walk one block in the Old City without stumbling upon another impossibly beautiful cafe serving well-brewed espresso-based drinks, single-origin pourovers and creative signature drinks. Ministry of Roasters was the coffee spot that best embodied all of these features: both my piccolo and Black Pink (cold brew with guava, lychee and lime) were impeccable. The cafe also serves as a training centre for baristas and roasters and the space is a shrine to sensory experiences, from the coffees you can sniff from perfume bottles to the graphical depiction of flavour notes along the walls.

Runners-up: Do Not Feed Alligators (NYC) and PAGA Microroastery (Bangkok)


4. Best London Restaurant

Kudu (Peckham)

I enjoyed my first supper at Kudu in Peckham so much that it inspired me to finally update my London restaurant guide! This small neighbourhood restaurant has a South African-inspired menu and is best enjoyed with several other people so you can sample as many dishes on the menu as possible. The parmesan churros with miso mayo almost made it into my Best Dish shortlist but the other dishes I've tried — including the sourdough waffles with fried chicken, fried egg kimchi and maple pictured above — have all tasted great too. The interior design is gorgeous too.

Runners-up: Rambutan (Borough) and Sentosa (Bermondsey)

5. Best Rest-of-World Restaurant

Le Pavillon (NYC)

It wasn't easy to pick out one restaurant to celebrate a milestone birthday in New York — especially when your birthday is in November and most menus are mushroom-heavy but you don't favour fungi — but Daniel Boulud's Le Pavillon was perfect. The food was delicious, beautifully presented and creative without being unnecessarily fussy, the service was excellent and the views of the Chrysler Building were almost as good as getting to go up it!

Runners-up: Ox & Finch (Glasgow) and Avista (Madeira)

6. Best Dish

Pad Thai at Thipsamai (Bangkok)

Pretty much everything I ate in Bangkok and Chiang Mai could have made this shortlist — had fried chicken not featured so heavily on last year's list, the Polo Fried Chicken dish might well have won this year too! Perhaps it's a bit boring to pick a pad Thai when I ate so many more interesting and authentic dishes in Thailand but pad Thai has long been my favourite comfort food and Thipsamai, the OG of Bangkok pad Thai spots, is the place to get it, especially with the huge river prawns I got in the upgraded version. The version I made in my Chiang Mai cooking class (and the khao soi curry) came pretty close, though!

Runners-up: Garlic-fried chicken at Polo Fried Chicken (Bangkok) and the taco al pastor at Zapote (Shoreditch, London)

7. Best Tasting Menu

Saawaan (Bangkok)

OK, so Le Pavillon wasn't the only place where I had a birthday celebration meal. On my last day in Thailand, my flight wasn't until 2 am, which meant I had time to linger over the tasting menu at Saawaan in Bangkok. Each course looked and tasted great, paying homage to many cooking techniques, flavours and dishes from across Thailand — it was a delight to enjoy the elevated takes on some of the street food classics I'd enjoyed throughout my trip. The staff also made me feel really special, which is not always a given for solo diners at fine dining restaurants. The two British runners-up were exceptional too.

Runners-up: Ubiquitous Chip (Glasgow) and Folium (Birmingham)

8. Best Brunch

Cosme (NYC)

Whenever I'm in the US, I try to eat Mexican food at least once and Cosme had been on my list for some time. During my recent visit, I went for brunch with my family and a good friend and we had a real feast. The cadillac margaritas, the duck enmoladas and the lamb barbacoa were all superb, but the corn omelette with herbs stole the show. Incredibly creamy and almost sweet, it was so moreish I almost wished I didn't have to share! My only regret is that we didn't have room — or time — for churros. La próxima vez!

Runners-up: Perch (Birmingham) and Esters (Stoke Newington, London)

9. Best Sweet Treat

Dinosaur doughnuts with pandan custard at Go Neng (Chiang Mai)

I enjoyed pa tong ko (Chinese doughnuts) with pandan custard on a street food walking tour I took in Bangkok but you know what's better than doughnuts with custard? Dinosaur-shaped doughnuts with custard. Go Neng is a small street-food stall in downtown Chiang Mai where the doughnuts come shaped like a T. rex, a dragon, a crocodile or an elephant. Delightful to eat and just as fun to watch the vendors frying the doughnuts and the inevitable tourist selfies. I paid about 50 THB (£1.15) making this by far the cheapest food on this list!

Runners-up: Rose pistachio croissant at l'Appartement 4F (NYC) and duck egg custard tart at Noble Rot (Mayfair, London)

10. Best Cocktail

Lost Paradise at Moon Bar (Bangkok)

While in NYC, I had an excellent cocktail on the 64th floor at Overstory in the Financial District. 26 days later and 8,600 miles away, I was enjoying another superb cocktail on the 60th floor at Moon Bar in Bangkok. Although the view from the former was incredible, it was also November in New York and so we were inside for most of our time there. I didn't have that problem in Bangkok and the panoramic 360-degree views from Moon Bar were incredible. The mixology was great too and even with the view-tax in place, the drinks were, of course, about one-third of the price of NYC. If you're not fussed about a view with your cocktail, check out the intensely pink Nusara bar in the Riverside district.

Runners-up: Monster Munch Martini at the Finnieston (Glasgow) and Pink Tuxedo at Overstory (NYC). Honourable mentions to all of the amazing pineapple + mezcal or tequila cocktails I drank this year at: Pimalai Resort (Ko Lanta), The Finnieston (Glasgow), Ubiquitous Chip (Glasgow), The Double Red Duke (Cotswolds), Noko (London) and Zapote (London)!

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