The BMW Square Meal Restaurant of the Year rewards the restaurant that we think is currently offering the most outstanding package – one that includes top-drawer food, value, great service and that all-important feel-good factor. Much like our sponsor, with its innate sense of style, innovation and luxury, the winner has to show all-round excellence too. So, helped by all the feedback we’ve received from our readers, we put the shortlisted restaurants under the microscope to determine our winner…
There’s no doubting that 2015 was a cracking year for new restaurants, with the likes of Bao (below) and Kurobuta opening our eyes (and taste buds) to thrilling new ways of genuinely affordable eating out. The former made the transition from Hackney market stall to red-hot Soho newcomer with backing from the Sethi siblings (the team behind 2014’s Restaurant of the Year Gymkhana), and proceeded to wow us with pillowy, umami-rich Korean buns that are worth every second of waiting in the inevitably long queue.
Kurobuta, meanwhile, is the sort of Asian mash-up that Australians do so well: in this case, ex-Nobu chef Scott Hallsworth made the headlines by bringing a punk aesthetic to the King’s Road and getting foodie London hooked on his in-your-face east-west flavours. If you’d never normally dream of having a night out in Chelsea, make an exception for this mould-breaking Japanese joint.
Then there’s Sexy Fish (below) the newest restaurant (for now) from Richard Caring’s ever-expanding Caprice Holdings. Combining a fashionable pan-Asian template with a moneyed Mayfair postcode, this supremely slick newcomer has instantly established itself as the most desirable ticket in town. As a result, the name Sexy Fish is now on everyone’s lips.
With so many strong newcomers on the scene, established classics have had to raise their game in response, revealing new looks and new premises – proving that evolution is just as valuable a quality as revolution on the restaurant scene.
In spring 2015, Chutney Mary upped sticks from the New King’s Road premises it had occupied for 25 years, inventing itself anew in St James’s Street with breakfasts, lunchtime snacks and evening cocktails, while still offering the same seductive mix of high-end regional cooking and urbane service. Smart locals instantly took it to their hearts.
In autumn, another premier-league Indian, The Cinnamon Club (above), marked the run-up to its 15th anniversary with a sophisticated refurb and an updated menu of flawlessly presented, masterfully flavoured modern Indian cooking – a powerful reminder of this restaurant’s remarkable staying power.
And it was a brilliant year for Barrafina, with the opening of a third outlet on Drury Lane. Expansion hasn’t led to a drop in quality, but it’s the more spacious Adelaide Street branch, with its greater emphasis on spanking-fresh seafood and roomier surrounds, that earns a place on this year’s shortlist.
Nor is innovation ever far away: Simon Rogan’s Fera has pushed the boundaries of British cooking one step further with the opening of the Aulis development kitchen (above), while Tom Sellers’s Restaurant Story is at the cutting edge of culinary invention. Both restaurants prove that Britain is at the forefront of gastronomic creativity. And, of course, The Ledbury (another past winner) still deserves a place on the shortlist for chef Brett Graham’s unfailing commitment to perfection.
But for this year’s winner we turned to east London, the creative hub of the capital. The Clove Club (pictured below) is a rare breed, somewhere that combines high-end food credentials with a cool young clientele. Its three young owners, Isaac McHale, Johnny Smith and Daniel Willis (pictured, top), first hit the local scene as part of the Young Turks collective and opened The Clove Club through crowd funding in 2013. The innovation didn’t stop there: they recently had the chutzpah to introduce a ticketing system for dinner, where punters pay for their meal up front – a bold move they’ve pulled off handsomely.
Then there’s McHale’s cooking, which counterpoises the familiar with the challenging while never being anything less than utterly delicious. The action takes place in a stripped-back dining room where an open kitchen breaks down the barrier between chefs and customers.
As Square Meal’s editor Ben McCormack says, “The Clove Club is a restaurant that reflects London in all its cosmopolitan dynamism. It’s re-defined our expectations of what high-end dining can be like, and continues to innovate on all levels. But most importantly, it delivers the sort of food that you can’t wait to try again in surroundings that are both fashionable and friendly. It’s already fulfilled its early promise and still has potential in fistfuls – we can’t wait to see how it develops in the future.”
Restaurant of the year SHORTLIST
Barrafina Adelaide Street, Covent Garden
Chutney Mary, St James's
The Clove Club, Shoreditch
The Cinnamon Club, Westminster
The Ledbury, Notting Hill
Restaurant Story, London Bridge
Sexy Fish, Mayfair
Following the presentation of his award, McHale said: “We just wanted to do a restaurant for our generation, one that was ambitious but also laid-back – a place that didn’t need all the old trappings of luxury to prove that we were serious. To that end, I think we have achieved what we set out to do. We couldn’t innovate by copying what had gone before.”
We offer our heartiest congratulations to McHale, Smith, Willis and all of their team, but urge you to visit every one of the shortlisted restaurants over the next year.
To view our previous winners take a look at our BMW Square Meal Award Hall of Fame
This article was published 20 January 2016