This week, a few of us were invited to the National Restaurant Awards where the UK’s 100 top restaurants (as decided by 180 chef, restauranteurs and food critics) were revealed. Many industry events can often seem a bit stiff but these never are. There were huge cheers all around the Hurlingham Club last night for the crowd favourites – a great example of how supportive and tightly knit this industry is.
The big winners of the night were The Sportsman in Kent who have managed to nab the number one spot for the second year in a row, thanks to their Michelin-starred gastro pub food. Chef-patron Stephen Harris jokingly describes The Sportsman as ‘a grotty boozer by the sea’. But the restaurant has gone from strength to strength recently, winning not only National Restaurant of the Year but also Best Gastropub.
There was a strong showing from London venues this year, particularly those in Soho and Shoreditch. The top ten included old favourites: The Ledbury, Barrafina Adelaide Street and The Clove Club. And two complete newcomers too: Elystan Street and Kiln.
There has also been a new wave of Asian restaurants this year. Last year there were no Asian restaurants in the top ten. Now there are three. Aside from Kiln, the top ten also includes Chinese restaurant A Wong (who have jumped from 19th to 3rd place) and Thai restaurant Som Saa, last year’s One to Watch.
There was a huge swell of applause for Shaun Hill of The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award. And so too for Chef to Watch winner Elizabeth Haigh, who managed to beat Acorn winner Tommy Banks of the Black Swan. Keep your eyes peeled for Elizabeth’s first solo venture, Shibiu, later this year.
Thanks to William Reed for organising the event, the sponsors for the delicious food (and drinks – which we sampled intensively) and, of course, the wonderful chefs who make this industry the most amazing place to work.