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The Best Things We Ate In 2021

Another so-so year made better by some pretty great meals.

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There have been lows, there have been middling highs, and then there’s been England at the Euros. Frankly the less said about 2021, the better. But amongst all of the aimless walks, the park bench snacks, the heater-worshipping dinners, and the celebratory-pretending-everything-is-normal drinks, there’s been some incredible food. Here, the Infatuation London team choose our personal 2021 eating highlights.


THE DISHES

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Bright

Coq au vin jaune

“Back in January 2021, it was cold and grey, everyone was indoors, and the year ahead was feeling a little glum. Yes, everything was the same as now. Netflix and ill. Thankfully a shining light down the end of my then road, Bright, had something to get me out of the funk. Their coq au vin jaune got me nostalgic for the old days (AKA life) and was the perfect reminder of how transportive good food can be. Did someone say turkey au vin jaune? Don’t mind if I do.“— Jake Missing, Senior Staff Writer


BBQ eel temaki

“Don’t like eel? Feel conflicted about anything related to a grill after that time you got feral with some BBQ sauce in your bed? Whatever. You’ll still love this tender fishy smoke show. It’s just that good. Strong contender for my favourite hand roll in London.”— Heidi Lauth-Beasley, Staff Writer


Chicken thali meal

“Ganapati’s chicken thali is the type of meal that causes you to worry that if you take a breath between bites, your stomach might tell you you’re full and you’d have to stop dipping the paratha in the creamy, sweet, and slightly spicy chicken curry sauce. An excellent lunch. It’s satisfying, exciting, and might end in a nap. Oh, and it’s great value at £12.50.” — Rianne Shlebak, Staff Writer


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The Cadogan Arms

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Strawberry sherry trifle

“Sponge and jelly and whipped cream and tiny bits of strawberry make for a perfect dessert. Light, creamy, and very very pretty, there's a high likelihood that this delightful bowl will leave you in a sugar-induced reverie, dreaming of birthday parties past.” — Oliver Feldman, Senior Editor


Fried original chicken

“Anyone who lives within delivery distance of this Korean fried chicken spot in New Malden is a winner. They’ve got a bunch of different flavours like honey butter, and garlic soya, but the fried original is where the extreme crunch is at. Salty, slightly spicy, and unbelievably crispy, this may be my favourite fried chicken spot in London.” — RS


Fuji Aztec apple & baked custard

“Fancy meals aren’t really my thing but the extravagance of Ikoyi, in both flavour and cost, means it will live long in memory for me and my bank account. The dessert—Fuji Aztec apples turned into a glistening, caramel-looking sauce with baked custard ice cream—was a total mic drop after a meal of straight 10s. The apple element was, for all intents and purposes, the most sensational baby pureé the world has ever seen. In and around blobules of it was honeycomb, and, on top, a scoop of the creamiest of custard ice cream plus an artful squiggle of more apple stuff. It all reads very familiar. Like apple crumble and ice cream, really. But it tasted otherworldly.” — JM


Babka

“If you’re familiar with the bakeries that cater to London’s Jewish community, you’ll know that chocolate yeast cakes come in all shapes and sizes. Carmelli’s babka is the densest, the chunkiest, the chocolatiest and therefore, in my humble opinion, the best. It’s an intensely satisfying loaf shaped thing—packed with chocolate, and covered in handfuls of streusel—that I’ve returned to over and over this year.” — OJF


Bucket

“This wondrous array of deeply satisfying fried stuff arrives on a glistening tinfoil-covered tray that has convinced me once and for all that there are many readings of Rihanna’s ‘shine bright like a diamond’ lyrics. Seriously meaty lobster tails and XXL bang bang prawns, Trap Kitchen are masters at doing exceptional seafood dressed down in its casual best.” — HLB


Chicken tikka roll

“The Genesis cinema has a notoriously excellent and thorough security guard who laughs in the face of rustling bags and contraband Haribo. However, I speak from experience when I say that a back pocket chicken tikka roll smothered in raita from Shalamar can be sneaked through. If you power walk past before he clocks the irresistible smell, that is. Both of these places, Shalamar and the Genesis, got me through big chunks of this year. Neither pretend to be anything fancy and both succeed in being lovely, low-cost spaces that welcome anyone and everyone.” — JM


Lobster roll

“This roll is perfect. A soft brioche with a good tear, and just a hint of sweetness to really let the sweetness of the lobster take centre stage. And that lobster is top tier. It’s £18, but you get a hefty portion and for the experience of sitting in Green Park on a sunny day eating this lobster roll after months of metaphorical and literal darkness, I’d have payed double that.”— HLB


Jerk chicken sandwich

“I lost count of the amount of times in early 2021 that I stood alone in Crocs and pyjamas outside the Old Town Hall on Mare Street, attempting to manifest Rainbow Cookout into existence, before dejectedly moping up to Percy Ingle (RIP) for a consolatory cream finger. Anyway, finally, finally, Rainbow Cookout appeared before me in early May. Naturally, I’d just eaten (a sandwich), but, naturally, that didn’t stop me from eating (another sandwich) again. This one was jerk chicken. The meat from a freshly grilled leg methodically pulled off by Otis—the world’s most laconic and considered grill master—and its crisp blackened skin carefully removed with Peking duck-like precision. It was put between two, thick, wholemeal slices, and topped with careful ladles of fragrant and spiced gravy. 100% worth the wait.” — JM


Big platter

“Cue Point’s big platter comes with their 16-hour smoked brisket, lamb barbacoa, buffalo chicken wings, fries, coleslaw, hush puppies (a Cue Point take on an onion bhaji, and something I will not be hushing about any time soon), and their Afghan chutney and dips. The meats were tender, the buffalo wings crispy and tangy, and the portion so generous that a lot of it ended up as a very welcome takeaway.” — RS


Ricotta sour cherry gelato

“I like to eat ice cream almost every day. It’s like therapy, except cheaper and my freezer never asks me if these feelings might be related to my parents’ divorce. That’s why I can say with total authority that Gelupo’s ricotta and sour cherry is the best gelato in London. Gloriously creamy but never sickly thanks to the sharp hit of sour cherry, you’re going to want to opt for two scoops to really savour every second of sweet, fruity goodness.” – HLB


Jerk chicken

“According to Google Maps, JB’s Soul Food is 9.1 miles by bicycle from my flat. I can cover the distance in anything between 45 and 75 minutes depending on traffic, and the reason I know this is that I made this journey quite a few times in 2021 to get myself a portion or three of their spicy, sweet and smokey jerk. It’s probably the single serving of food I’ve thought about the most this year.” — OJF


Boneless chicken

“Juicy, succulent, and beautifully marinated, the boneless chicken here is excellent. With that being said, you should come here knowing that you're also going to need the ‘big special bread’ alongside all of the starters. Also the minced chicken and minced lamb. Basically, it’s all pretty great. But, whatever you do: boneless chicken.”— RS


Lamb belly galouti

“Galouti means something that melts in your mouth, and these sublime, dinky little patties more than live up to the description. My only gripe is that they come three to a serving when I could easily eat a dozen of them. Plus, I could drink the coriander and mint chutney they come with by the pint.” — OJF


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Nanny Bill's

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Dalston dip burger

“Let’s talk gravy. It’s the under-appreciated food spouse of our nation. Nanny Bill’s understands this and for that I salute them. Their Dalston Dip burger comes with a pot of thick signature gravy to smother your burger in. It was a mess, just ask my sofa cushions. But, it was also such a stellar change from your average double cheeseburger. Plus, the soft, seeded buns are officially my favourite in London. Viva la gravy burger revolution.” — HLB


Cheese and garlic Marmite pizza bread

“A while ago a friend told me that whenever her period is starting, her partner knows to immediately line her up a whole cheese and garlic Marmite pizza bread from Yard Sale. It’s one of the most touching and umami-filled gestures of love I have ever heard. It’s also a wildly delicious one. This is—and I don’t say this lightly—something close to perfection. It’s gooey, it’s salty, it has tar-like Marmite that’s bubbled and submerged itself into crust. It has priority over the pizza and it’s got me through much of this year.” — JM


Fried shrimp po’ boy

“PSA: anyone who likes shrimp and huge sandwiches should probably get acquainted with this beast of a roll. The shrimp is crispy, the mustard adds a nice sweetness, and the brioche bun is the perfect vehicle to safely deliver it all to your mouth.”— RS


Presa Ibérica

“These two gloriously cooked wedges of cartoonishly pink pork, swimming in their own juices and a thrillingly tangy, herby, and spicy mojo verde sauce are hands down the best £18 you can spend at Barrafina Dean Street if you’re lucky enough to see it on the specials board.”— OJF


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