From oysters in Argyll to gazpacho in Lichfield – 12 restaurants to try right now | Restaurants

Inverlonan, nr Oban, Argyll & Bute

Chosen by Pamela Bruntonchef and co-owner, Inver, Cairndow, Argyll & Bute

Inverlonan is a rural retreat with bothies on a cliff overlooking Loch Nell. It started with dinners in a disused stable, with straw on the floor and tea lights between the brickwork. We went last November when it was freezing. They brought us blankets and hot water bottles. The chef cooked everything – 11 small courses – over a fairly rudimentary fire set-up. We had oysters with buttermilk, black garlic and elderberries, and local venison with beetroot, and a lollipop topped with dried red currants, all extremely tasty. It certainly doesn’t have the luxury you would expect from fine dining, but it was an exciting, unique experience.

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Grace & Savor, Hampton Manor, Solihull, West Midlands

Chosen by Alex Nietosvuorichef and co-owner, Hjem, Hexham, Northumberland

Grace & Savor, which opened only a few months ago, uses as much produce as possible from its own garden and farm. The design of the place is incredible – the dining room has large windows that open onto a beautiful walled garden. The chef, David Taylor, worked at Maaemo in Oslo and the food is very Scandinavian inspired – I had a particularly good dish with raw prawns. The roasted leeks with beef garum and butter sauce was a very clever dish that brought out the best in a simple product. And the fried sourdough starter with aged beef and wild garlic was another highlight.

Chosen by Ravinder Bhogalco-founder Jikoni, London

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Sri Lankan food is often mistaken for Indian food, but it is so different, and what Paradise does really well is show how uniquely Sri Lankan its dishes are, with colonial influences from Portuguese and Dutch cuisine. The meal was like an unfolding feast of taste. I especially remember the fried long eggplant with jaggery moju, turmeric and chili. It was so dark and caramel-like and the spices were euphoric as the fragrant and smooth moju washed the heat away. There is now room to tell Sri Lankan stories – you may not have found that so often in the past. And Paradise is unashamedly Sri Lankan. It tells a unique immigrant story and eating there is a real education. You feel enriched by the experience. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.

Chosen by Shuko Oda, Co-Founder and Chef, Koya, London

Adejoké Bakare, chef-owner of the West African restaurant Chishuru, in Brixton.
Adejoké Bakare, chef-owner of the West African restaurant Chishuru, in Brixton. Photo: Amit Lennon/The Observer

Chishuru in Brixton Market serves West African cuisine and is run by a female chef, Adejoké Bakare. I don’t know much about West African food but when I go there it reminds me of Japanese food. Last time, the set lunch started with a savory bean cake served with pumpkin seed tapenade and a scotch bonnet sauce. It’s quite a kick to start your meal, but wasabi has a similar effect. The main course was grilled mackerel with pickle and rice on the side – again so familiar and comforting to me. I have been back many times. A casual and delicious way of eating is really what I appreciate now, rather than multi-course menus, and Chishuru does that so well.

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Chosen by Erchen Chang, Creative Director and co-founder, Bao, London

Cafe Cecilia, at Broadway Market, is about simple cooking with no fuss. The chef, Max Rocha, worked at St John and the River Cafe, and those influences are in his food and in the elegance of the room, but you can feel his Irish heritage coming through too. It’s casual, but you feel well looked after. The last time I went I had monkfish with monks beard and mussels – simple, beautifully cooked. Another time I ate the onglet with fries, which feels like a holiday classic on a hot day, sitting outside with an ice cold cocktail by the canal. The Guinness ice cream sandwich is one of my favorites. Comfort food is what is needed now, and Cafe Cecilia does it very well.

Chosen by James Cochran, Chef, 12:51, London

Ricotta cheesecake at the Plimsoll, London.
Ricotta cheesecake at the Plimsoll, London. Photo: Karen Robinson/The Observer

I think the British pub has lost its identity. Everywhere is trying to be a gastropub, and too much money is spent on furnishing. The Plimsoll is a local, tucked away in the back streets of Finsbury Park, with the smoky atmosphere of an old style pub. There are informal bar stools, the decor has a 60s/70s atmosphere. Originally the chefs, Jamie Allan and Ed McIlroy [AKA Four Legs], were at the Compton Arms in Highbury. The burgers there were absolutely smashing, and they’ve kept them on the menu here. It’s classic British pub food – they can have a lasagna, or fish and chips, or a prawn cocktail. It evokes many memories of the time when I met my grandparents in the pub as a child. It’s hearty food executed very well in this little hidden gem.

Yellowhammer, Stockport, Greater Manchester

Chosen by Mary-Ellen McTague, Chefpatron, The Creameries, Manchester

Yellowhammer is a new bakery, deli and pottery studio in Stockport. It is co-run by Sam Buckley, whose restaurant Where the Light Gets In is upstairs. Everything about Where the Light Gets In is done at such a high level, with enormous attention and care, and that goes for Yellowhammer too. It serves bread, rolls and coffee during the day and wine and small snacks in the evening. The products are everything: really beautiful vegetables from the nearby cultivation project The Landing, regeneratively farmed meat, fish from day boats. And the bread is amazing. Stockport does feel like it’s revived a bit, but it’s not exactly an affluent area, so opening a restaurant there – and now this bakery and deli – was a bit daring.

Hern, Chapel Allerton, Leeds

Chosen by Alisdair Brooke-Taylorchef, The Moorcock Inn, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Chef Rab Adams at his restaurant Hern in Chapel Allerton in Leeds, West Yorkshire.
Rab Adams, head owner of Hern in Leeds. Photo: Richard Saker/The Observer

This small neighborhood restaurant on the outskirts of Leeds is an unassuming place but the skill level is very high. There is only one person cooking and one person at the front, with a four course meal for £40. The cuisine is modern, but often inspired by old recipes, such as tomatoes cooked in cream, served with herbs and croutons. God damn it, it’s delicious. I go all the time and I’ve never had a bad plate, and some dishes are good for yourself. You just think, “Why aren’t there more places like this?”

Chosen by Gareth Ward, Chef, Ynyshir, Wales

The Kitchen of Upstairs by Tom Shepherd, in Lichfield, Staffordshire.
The Kitchen of Upstairs by Tom Shepherd, in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Photo: Video Box Productions

Tom Shepherd’s father owns a jeweler in Lichfield. There was an empty space upstairs, so he gave it to his son to turn it into a restaurant. It really stands out in the city – it feels like stepping into another world. Shepherd is classically trained (he used to work for Sat Bains and Michael Wignall). He is very much his own chef, cooking what he wants rather than trying to cater to the local taste. One of my favorite dishes was the red cabbage gazpacho. And he has a very nice Thai green curry dessert, which I loved. It’s a good sign that places like this are opening in cities like Lichfield – it probably wouldn’t have happened so easily five or ten years ago.

Chosen by Stosie Madi, chef and co-owner, The Parker’s Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire

Anna Tobias (see interview, p37) Cafe Deco opened just after the first lockdown and I went as fast as I could. There is a familiarity with her cooking that really attracts me. It’s very seasonal. It’s very underdressed, but it’s dressed perfectly. Anna does the classics in a modern way, but does not exaggerate. One of my favorite dishes of hers is an egg with mayonnaise on it, the very classic French way. She does this in different guises throughout the seasons. I also love it when she makes cold cut meats with very autumn salads – a delicious Northern European lunch. Her desserts are not very floral, but actually the simplicity is beautiful. And she makes delicious cakes, and I love everyone who bakes a cake.

Chosen by Asma Khan, Founder, Darjeeling Express, London

Miso roasted cabbage, smoked hemp cream, molasses at Apricity.
Miso roasted cabbage, smoked hemp cream, molasses at Apricity. Photo: Karen Robinson/The Guardian

Chantelle Nicholson’s new restaurant, Apricity, is female-owned and 75% of the kitchen staff are female. The emphasis is on regionality, on sustainability, on zero waste, but without all the shrill tones and preaching. On the menu, plant-based food comes first, but meat and fish are also on the menu. We started with something called the waste dip, made with leftover vegetables. It was both sweet and savory, each bite was different. I just thought it was so smart, and a great price at £2. The asparagus with slow cooked egg were great and very seasonal, and the beef ribs were amazing. I normally can’t stand lettuce, but the butter lettuce salad with miso and crispy kale was very tasty. It’s time for chefs to talk about the politics of food, and at Apricity there are discussions about the environment and justice and equality, and there’s great food and a lovely, laid-back atmosphere.

Chosen by Akwasi Brenya-Mensachef, Tatale, London

SlowBurn started as a pop-up when everyone went into lockdown and did something else to keep the lights on. It’s in a denim factory. When you enter you are a little confused at first as there are mannequins and sewing machines everywhere but then you go through and the restaurant is at the back. That gives it a real wow factor. It’s a vegetable-focused restaurant with meat on the side. I really liked the black bean gyoza taco and the eggplant chermoula with spiced chickpeas and sheep ricotta. I spoke very briefly with the chief, Chavdar Todorov. He seems to take influences from different places and from his travels, just like I do. It’s great food, but location wise I don’t think there are many of those kinds of experiences in all of London.

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