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The best meals I’ve had in 2016

Revisiting some of my most memorable experiences of the year

brunch Updated: Dec 17, 2016 18:30 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Kebab
Chilli stuffed with lamb at Tian, Delhi

I always intend to do a list of the best meals I have had each year. But so poor is my rapidly ageing memory that by the time I get around to actually writing the piece, I’ve usually forgotten what I ate and where.

So, thank God for Instagram. It not only preserves my food photos, but it also provides a date and location. So based on my posts, here is a list of my best meals of 2016 from around the world.

Soam: January 31, Mumbai
My favourite South Mumbai restaurant! There are many styles of bhelpuri in Mumbai. My favourite is the one that Gujaratis make at home with just the right balance of sweet and teekha chutneys. Soam does the best version of that style that you will get outside a private home. There is also a menu of great Gujarati food but it’s the chaat that does it for me, every time!

Noma-Australia: March 3, Sydney
Rene Redzepi took his famous and influential restaurant to Sydney for a pop-up and created a new menu based on local ingredients. The dishes I remember were a plate of local shellfish, covered with a thin solidified layer of chicken broth (brushed with crocodile fat) and fresh snow crab flavoured with egg yolk and a condiment (like the Thai nam pla) made from fermented kangaroo meat. The most famous dish was the abalone schnitzel but it’s the crab that lingers in my memory.

Bennelong: March 4, Sydney
The best meal I had in Australia was at the counter at this restaurant at the Sydney Opera House. The owner is Peter Gilmore, one of Australia’s most famous chefs and the food was sensational: Wagyu tartare, bresaola made specially for Gilmore and a take on the Lamington, Australia’s national dessert. There is a proper restaurant too, but I like the idea of sitting at the counter and watching the chefs at work.

Gaggan’s creative menu never ceases to surprise one

Firedoor: March 6, Sydney
Another of Peter Gilmore’s ventures. The chef, Lennox Hastie, uses specially bred Angus with a marbling of 5, ages it for 221 days and cooks it over an open fire to create one of the world’s best steaks. Once again, I sat at the counter, felt the heat from the fire and watched Lennox cook the meat.

Farzi Cafe: March 28, Dubai
This is the first Farzi outside India and I was startled by how different the food was. There are fewer gimmicks, the access to international ingredients means there are many new dishes and the ambience is reminiscent of a cafe in London.

Meatlicious: April 1, Bangkok
Gaggan Anand’s steak house does not have Firedoor’s ambition, but Gaggan sources the finest Miyazaki Wagyu from Japan and then sells it at ridiculously low prices. If you like steak, this is where you should go (also try the foie gras crème brûlée). Gaggan is hardly ever there himself but the kitchen team is young and enthusiastic.

Narisawa: April 7, Tokyo
Yoshihiro Narisawa is the best modern Japanese chef in the world and the French-Japanese food is mind-blowing. Simple dishes, such as a lobster tartare, are elevated to levels almost beyond perfection. It’s not traditional Japanese and the service style is European, but I don’t think that there is a single chef anywhere who can bring out the flavours of Japan with such international flair. The thinking man’s Nobu!

Foie gras at Silvio Nickol in Vienna

Gaggan: April 10, Bangkok
I’ve eaten at Gaggan’s main restaurant quite often now. But he never ceases to surprise me. On this occasion, I had his faux lamb chop (now called a shami kebab), his fish khichdi and the world’s lightest idli. (I went back several months later and over half the dishes on the tasting menu had changed; the mark of a creative chef!)

Tian: April 29, Delhi
Vikramjeet Roy’s skill with showy molecular techniques should not distract us from his brilliance as a chef. For this meal, the standout was a large chilli stuffed with ground lamb and served in a Thai sauce. Long after we have tired of his smoke and his spheres, we will remember that, even without the molecular trappings and the imported Japanese ingredients, he is among the best chefs of his generation.

La Colombe d’Or: May 11, St. Paul-de-Vence
This is one of the French Riviera’s most famous historic restaurants, so famous, in fact, that it is a bit of a tourist trap now. But there are still some things they do very well: fresh asparagus in a classic hollandaise and a heavenly hot Grand Marnier souffle. And the history makes it special.

Goila Butter Chicken: May 20, Delhi
I have still to go to one of Saransh Goila’s butter chicken places, but he organised a tasting in Delhi before he opened in Bombay and I thoroughly enjoyed early versions of the butter chicken that would make him famous later that year.

Shami kebab at the Delhi Pavilion

Delhi Pavilion: June 7, Delhi
The shami kebab is the humble kebab that most great chefs don’t bother with. Full marks then to the Delhi Pavilion at the Sheraton, New Delhi, for recreating the Delhi original and making it with chopped (rather than minced) meat along with other Delhi dishes, including a terrific butter chicken made with desi tamatar.

Bank: June 18, Vienna
Rare is the restaurant at a European hotel that is any good unless it has been outsourced to a famous chef. One exception is Bank, the huge brasserie at the Park Hyatt in Vienna. The room is stunning but the food, though simple and classic (think wild boar sausages with potatoes or roasted bone marrow), is the real star.

Sacher: June 19, Vienna
Opinions differ on the best Sacher torte in Vienna. Most foodies prefer Demel’s version. But I stick to the original at the hotel that invented it: delicious chocolate, cherry and unsweetened cream.

Silvio Nickol: June 22, Vienna
The consensus is that Steirereck is Vienna’s greatest restaurant. But I prefer the lesser known Silvio Nickol, which is smaller, classier and does complex food i.e. foie gras with chocolate, cherry, milk crisps and God alone knows what else! Like Steirereck, Nickol has two Michelin stars. Unlike Steirereck, he deserves three.

The Clove Club: July 3, London
For my money, the most exciting London restaurant at the moment. It only has a tasting menu at a Shoreditch location and you have to pay in advance. It serves superb European-style food which defies description. Eat it and see. This is the next generation of great British restaurants. You will hear more of the chef, Isaac McHale. (The restaurant can be hard to get into, but the bar does food from the same kitchen.)

Masala Library: July 10, Delhi
Among the chefs of his generation, Saurabh Udinia (who is only 28) is the man to watch. His food at Masala Library is breaking free of his old influences (Indian Accent, Gaggan, etc) and with the encouragement and support of a foodie boss (Zorawar Kalra), Saurabh is finding an original voice. I loved the Mizo and Naga-influenced dishes and a south Indian prawn with curd rice puree was a triumph of spicing. The tasting menu is full of tricks and surprises but I prefer to go a la carte.

Wild boar sausage at Bank in Vienna

Social Eating House: Aug 1, Hong Kong
You won’t find this unless you know where to go. I only went because the HT’s editor Bobby Ghosh, who has lived in Hong Kong, sent me. It is a vast, reasonably priced restaurant with amazing food. The standout dishes, for me, were the Sichuan fish in chilli oil and the beef with cucumber and wasabi peas in a mustard sauce. The pigeon – its most famous dish – had finished on the day I went, alas.

8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana: Aug 2, Hong Kong
This is the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy to get three Michelin stars and it is easy to see why. Superlative cooking, no poncy presentation, and no Frenchified touches. The chef Umberto Bombana is the truffle king of the east, but I also had his wonderful beef cooked two ways (sirloin and short rib) and his world famous Limoncello soufflé. Easily the best European restaurant in Hong Kong, way ahead of Joël Robuchon’s L’Atelier and the more hyped Amber.

That takes us through the first half of the year. I have an equally long list for the next six months of the year, but we will save that for another column; next week, perhaps!

The second part of the best meals series will be carried next week.

From HT Brunch, December 18, 2016

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