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The BMW Square Meal Restaurant of the Year is one of the most coveted awards in the hospitality industry. It not only rewards all-round excellence, but is also an accurate barometer of the scene – a factor that has been brought into sharp relief by the ongoing recession. In addition to dazzling food, serious wine, service that matches aspirations and that elusive quality called ‘feel-good factor’, contenders must more than ever before take a convincing stance when it comes to value.
With the award now in its 11th year, our gratitude goes to BMW for its continued sponsorship. BMW is a company that epitomises an innate sense of style, innovation, reliability and, of course, value – exactly the qualities we expect from a top-flight restaurant.
Assessing the merits of individual restaurants involves a two-pronged approach. We rely on our reviewers’ knowledge, but also take on board the opinions of Square Meal’s legion of readers. We are hugely grateful to all those who have taken the trouble to share their own thoughts and experiences (via the web, restaurant cards, survey and email). Their views give us a snapshot of the restaurant scene, mapping out the big trends and also pinpointing those restaurants that are excelling (and those that are falling short).
Despite the downturn, it has been a fascinating year for both new openings and established restaurants. A quick glance at the shortlist (see list above) reveals a glittering array of high-performance venues shoring up their reputations and a clutch of young contenders that have made a real impact since launching. The Gordon Ramsay/Angela Hartnett show at Murano has been doing great things, likewise The Ledbury in Notting Hill. Richard Corrigan has built on the success that earned him early acclaim, and it has been a profitable time for enterprising yearlings Bocca di Lupo and Terroirs – both founded on the principles of quality and value.
However, none of these could get close to Arbutus, a restaurant that has already become legendary as a totem for affordable excellence. Opened by chef Anthony Demetre and restaurateur Will Smith in 2006 (pictured, far right and second left with BMW's Richard Hudson, far left, and Square Meal editor Ben McCormack, third from left), it has always eschewed culinary complexity and maintains a very distinctive ethos: ‘We have no sommelier, no extras, no tablecloths – but the food speaks for itself,’ says Anthony Demetre.
That modest description doesn’t tell the whole story but it says much about the Arbutus credo that the owners have stayed true to their original values since becoming the BMW Square Meal Best New Restaurant in 2006. ‘I’m a great believer in consistency and we’ve maintained that for more than three years now; you’re only as good as your last meal,’ said Demetre on receiving the award.
Arbutus is not only a supreme example of what can be achieved in times of adversity; it remains a dream ticket for affordable luxury and will continue to shine whatever the economic climate. Our heartiest congratulations go to the entire team.