Every year-end, Eater conducts a year-end survey, canvassing a host of writers, photographers and assorted others – mostly in the US, but also from around the world (and including yours truly) – for their pronouncements on gourmet matters.
The answers are all up there online. But because they are scattered over several separate posts, I have gathered my answers to their survey together here.
A slew of new restaurants opened in Tokyo this year, but none have nailed it for me quite like Anis. Chef Susumu Shimizu proves that, as long as you have superb ingredients and technique (his was honed at Arpege) it doesn’t matter how far you are from the bright lights of the city center.
It wasn’t just the foodies: all of Japan was thrilled that the nation’s traditional cuisine, washoku, was recognized by UNESCO as an intangible World Heritage.
Most were equally dismayed by the ongoing revelations of menu fraud (mostly substituting cheaper ingredients for high-end brand-name food products) — especially at hotels with names that were formerly trusted.
Gen Yamamoto’s intimate 8-seater bar feels as tranquil and traditional as a tea ceremony chamber. His artfully constructed fruit and vegetable infusions are structured to the seasons in just the same way as a kaiseki meal. Order a flight of 5 or 7, then sit back for a meditative couple of hours.
Also: Restaurants serving “gibier”. The French word has been coopted into Japanese to signify for all game meats, especially wild venison and boar from the Japanese uplands.
Also: Gourmet popcorn. Following hard on the heels of the American pancake boom, it has now become essential (for some, at least) to wait in line over 2 hours just to be able to buy popcorn in exotic flavors.
What’s not: Fads die as fast as they are born in Tokyo. For several years, Belgian beer was everywhere. Now it’s getting well overlooked in favor of craft ale, mostly locally brewed.
Outside of Tokyo — perennially at the top of my list — San Sebastian remains a tried and true favorite.
And I’ve been very pleased to find that London is really starting to deliver on the hype, with a new groundswell of great little restaurants, most of them well removed from the West End.
Kitchen Table (Fitzrovia, London) was also one of my meals of the year.
The elephant in the room that no one is talking about in Tokyo is the impending takeover of Japanese agribusiness by Monsanto, through the forthcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement. Hello GM crops; sayonara traditional agriculture.
In Tokyo, dinner at Kojyu represents the apogee of contemporary kaiseki. In Kyoto, Mizai encapsulates the deep essence of traditional Kyoto cuisine and hospitality. But the absolute funnest meal of the year was the gala collaboration dinner by Zaiyu Hasegawa (Jimbocho Den) and Hiroyasu Kawate (Florilege), held at the former to mark the latter’s 4th anniversary.
Abroad, I was absolutely blown away by my (belated) first-ever visit to Noma.
But in absolute terms, nothing prepared me for the sheer brilliance of Oslo’s undersung gem, Maaemo. Esben Holmboe Bang’s cuisine is superlative; while Pontus Dahlstrom ensures everything front-of-house runs like Nordic clockwork. Meal of the year for me.
2013 was the breakout year for Jimbocho Den. In 2014, expect the mainstream to start catching up and lionizing this innovative restaurant and its irrepressible chef, Zaiyu Hasegawa.
Chef Hasegawa was one of those I tipped for big things in the 2012 Eater survey.
And watch the reborn L’Osier pick up plaudits, gongs and stars (it formerly had three), under its new head chef, Gagnaire alumnus Olivier Chaignon.