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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Matt The Awards - 2014 Highlights

I've been reading all sorts of 2014 Round-ups and Top 5/10 Lists of this and that (including a bonkers Hot Dinners readers poll of new restaurants that somehow saw the Cereal Killer café win), and I decided to get a piece of the action. You know I love a good list, so I've made a whole bunch for you. It was a busy year, so I had a fair amount to choose from.

They aren't all necessarily things that opened last year - just highlights from my numerous escapades in 2014. Enjoy!

P.S. Please leave comments with your own top picks and I might tweet some of them out.  And remember that this is all just a bit of fun, and that I have almost certainly been bribed by everyone mentioned below...

Matt The Trips : New York / Chicago / Minneapolis / Toronto / Edinburgh / Paris

Top 5 Restaurants

Runners Up : Smoking Goat // The Dairy // Trinity // Rotorino 

Winner : The Manor

I've gone a bit SW4 heavy here, but not because I live nearby in Battersea.  A meal at The Dairy changed everything, swiftly followed by an equally superb lunch at Trinity, before The Manor stole the show at the end of the year with perfect bread, hay smoked pigeon and desserts shrouded in nitrogen.  Smoking Goat in Soho (dark & messy Thai BBQ) & Rotorino in Haggerston (relaxed & boozy Italian) came close with fantastic food and atmosphere to match.  Pizza Pilgrims had an incredible year but didn't quite make my Top 5, and Corner Room also pushed for a place.

2015 Wishlist : Clove Club // Typing Room // Gymkhana // Lockhart // Barrafina // Lyle's //  Bad Egg

2015 Openings : The Good Egg // Berber & Q // Chick N Sours // Bao // Bo Drake // Duck & Rice

Top 5 Bars

Runners Up : El Nivel // Original Sin // BYOC Camden

Yeh, I know, I've already copped out and chosen two winners.  But it's my awards, and I'll do what I want.  It's been the year of agave for me, so El Nivel came pretty damn close (and 184 Hackney Road almost made the Top 5 too).  Massi's Mezcal Fix with roasted pineapple and saltwater spray was one of the cocktails of the year.  Original Sin has only just opened so doesn't take the top spot, but Happiness Forgets cocktails + pool table = heaven. It will be one of the stars of 2015. Order the Sea Fizz, a Mezcal & Cachaca based Fizz (see the pattern here?).  BYOC Camden might not be on everyone's list, but Jill and Davide knocked it out the park, making us seven boozy beverages for our £25 in a two hour slot in speakeasy surroundings - a unique experience.

Peg + Patriot is a home away from home.  Matt Whiley, James Stevenson, Ally Martin & co. taught everyone the word rotovap, created serious drinks with Irn Bru, Marmite & Pak Choi, and put Bethnal Green on the map (with a little help from Satan's Whiskers).  Just look at this menu.  I dare you not to have a good time there.  

But they share the spoils with Bermondsey Arts Club, a wonderful little art deco cocktail bar in a refurbished public toilet (WC Clapham and Ladies & Gentlemen make that a 2014 trend).  On my first visit, Milo Occhipinti went off menu for us with a Mezcal, Cynar, Celery & Lime creation.  On my second visit, it had made it on to the menu permanently.  On my third visit, Milo, Adam & Jake launched their outrageously good Winter menu and the rest of London started paying attention. And on my fourth visit - well, I haven't been anywhere else four times, so that's all I need to say.  Don't take my seat at the bar.

Top 5 Pubs / Taprooms

Winner : Mother Kelly's

Hidden gems Tapping The Admiral and Jerusalem Tavern are oldies but goodies, with steamed up windows, affordable beer, bargain whiskies, pub trained cats, bar games and cosy corners - I wish they were both closer to home.  Beer Rebellion started life as a pop-up in Gypsy Hill before moving in to the Post Office next door for good.  Drink fresh Late Knights beer on an incline and forget about the hustle and bustle of London.  And Brewdog channelled Brooklyn with their spacious stripped back Shepherd's Bush beer mecca complete with arcade machines - this is the place to come with friends for an entire day.

But I keep coming back to Mother Kelly's.  Bethnal Green has another winner; 19 taps and a multitude of fridges bursting with beer to take home or drink on site.  It's more of a taproom than a pub, with long tables, canteen chairs and street art from McFly's drummer (!) on the railway arch walls, but great beer, stellar service from Steve Taylor, and overflowing bread & cheese boards ensure that it's still a warm & welcoming place to drink.  Plus there's Mission, Redchurch Brewery, Satan's Whiskers, Typing Room and Peg & Patriot round the corner. Sorted.

Top 5 Lunch & Brunch

Runners Up : Italo Deli // Di Lieto // M1lk // Fields

Lambeth is concealing not one but two wonderful cafés - Di Lieto and Italo Deli.  They used to be partners before falling out, but there's no need to pick sides. Family run Di Lieto Bakery is always full of local Italians, a better indication of quality than anything I can give you.  Grab an enormous plate of fresh pasta for around £5.  Italo Deli is a hidden gem in the idyllic Bonnington Square, full of Bermondsey's finest produce including Kernel beers, London Honey Co. honeycomb, and Coleman Coffee.

I'm not hiding my South West London bias here; I'm hardly going to regularly schlep out East for lunch or brunch.  Two of the very best down here are M1lk in Balham and their brand new sister site Fields on Clapham Common.  Go along for Workshop coffee, Convict muffins, espresso hollandaise and hay smoked ice cream. Aussies know how to make breakfast.

The winner though, hands down, is Park Road Kitchen.  Not a single week has gone by since they opened in March that I haven't got something to eat at my favourite local rotisserie and deli.  Aside from the delicious daily roast chickens & potatoes, fresh sourdough, homemade soup and Ottolenghi level salads, there are weekday lunch specials for only £5 including Pork Belly and Ribs with Mac'n'Cheese.  It's worth going out of your way for.  Luckily I don't have to!

Top 5 Breweries

Winner : Anspach & Hobday

As I write this, we're now up to 78 breweries within the M25, and many more are on the way, so it's time to get on board the beer train.  Keep track on Beer Guide London.  Here are five of my favourites:

1. Kernel Brewery - One of the founding fathers of the new wave, and still head and shoulders above most.  Their brewery taproom (open 9am-2pm) in Bermondsey is rammed every Saturday.

2. Beavertown Brewery - The core range of Gamma Ray, Neck Oil, Black Betty, 8 Ball and Smog Rocket is second to none; their Duke's Brew & Que brewpub and BBQ hangout is incredible; they're leading the canned beer charge with Fourpure & Camden; and they have an awesome taproom in Tottenham.  

3. Brick Brewery - One man army Ian Stewart gave Peckham exactly what it needed in an awesome archway location.  Look out for street food in the yard outside, such as the Crust Conductor pizza bus.

4. Late Knights Brewery - These guys are quietly taking over South London with their wonderful, friendly little boozers showcasing their own beer alongside other local brews.  The Gipsy Hill branch is my favourite.

5. Anspach & Hobday - After finding them handing out samples on a snowy Southbank in 2013, I followed Paul & Jack's ascension from homebrewers to award-winning pros.  Their Porters are extremely popular but the subtle Smoked Brown is the game-changer for me.  They also put the fun back in to a scene that occasionally takes itself too seriously, with beer & baking competitions, Oktoberfest, and carol singing amongst the event highlights.  And they are the only Bermondsey brewery (currently) to regularly open on a Sunday.  Winner.

Taprooms I'm yet to visit: Orbit // Gipsy Hill // London Beer Factory // Wild Card // Beavertown

Top 5 Popups

Winner : Model Market

Your only hope of staying on top of the popups is to subscribe to London Popups.  The weekly newsletter is essential reading (and rather daunting!).  It's a broad category for my "awards" and is really just an excuse to include some top experiences that don't fit elsewhere.

Highlights from this year include a bonkers two hour cocktail session in Old Street Station with the Underground Drinking Club (go and look at the photos), and bottled beers in a stranger's flat with the Craft Beer Social Club.  Som Saa and The Good Egg were two of the best food popups.  The former arrived in the charming Climpson's Arch hideout with stunning lesser known Thai dishes that got Fay Maschler's attention.  The Good Egg held brunches at Cortado on the canal as well as in Hackney Wick, and ended the year in style with a Christmas in Jerusalem special in Ladbroke Grove, and a successful Crowdcube campaign to open a permanent restaurant in Stoke Newington.  Their all-day brunch café is set to be one of the most exciting openings of 2015.

One thing really blew me away though this year - Street Feast's Model Market.  Dalston Yard was an incredible use of space, but they took it to another level when they converted a disused Lewisham market into a buzzing street food party.  Rather than just parking up their vans, traders were invited to build their own temporary diners in the old shop fronts, so that you found yourself enjoying shandies in a former hair salon, and BBQ in an old record shop.  London at its best.

Top 5 Street Food

London Street Food continues to go from strength to strength led by Street Feast and Kerb, though 2014 saw many traders move off the roads into temporary spaces or permanent homes, and many copycat lunchtime markets started popping up like the soulless Vauxhall Street Food Garden.

One thing I can never resist is a Mike + Ollie slow cooked lamb shoulder & hummus flatbread wrap. Brockley Market is the place to find them.  Patty & Bun continue to have a strong presence outside of their two burger joints.  Vans at Night Tales and Swingers, plus collaborations with Pitt Cue Co ensured that everyone was talking about them at the end of the year.  When Mac Met Cheese is my go-to macaroni cheese stall, as each portion is made individually in record time.  Sammy started the year well with a fantastic popup in Bayswater that was taken before its time.  Fingers crossed he finds somewhere to settle down soon so that I can have some more of his deep fried oreos.  Bill or Beak rose through the ranks very quickly gaining exposure at Wapping Market, Kerb and Paperworks, before running Turntables in East London in December.  You can't go wrong with their duck & pork burgers, or the sourdough, duck egg & truffle oil brunch option.  Ones to watch in 2015.

My winners though are surprisingly not a savoury option, but the superb Crosstown Doughnuts who are absolutely smashing it at the moment.  London may still be way behind U.S.A. on the dough front, but Crosstown are raising the standard (along with Bread Ahead).  The Sea Salt Caramel with Banana Cream is on another level.  Pick them up at stalls all over London including Leather Lane, Wapping Market, Broadway Market, Whole Foods Kensington and their new popup inside Piccadilly Circus station.

Top 5 Spirits

Winner : Del Maguey

My back bar at home has grown substantially this year, not least because I can't bring myself to finish off a few beloved bottles.  Here are some of my favourites:

St.George's Terroir is a quirky gin with a whole load of Californian fir in, and it makes an incredible Tom Collins.  On a similar note, 58 Gin hasn't been released yet, but Mark Marmont is close to completing his distillery in Hackney Wick.  I've got an early batch bottle at home, and it is incredible stuff.  It's equally at home in a G&T and a Martini, with its unique, almost nutty flavours.  Get yourself a bottle as soon as it hits the shelves.

As mentioned before, 2014 was the year I fell in love with agave, and Del Maguey Mezcal takes the top spot.  It's smoky, complex and boozy, and bartenders all over love it.  Vida is the most accessible expression.  Put it in Negronis, in Old Fashioneds, with lime and roasted pineapple, or drink it neat - you can't go wrong. Ocho Tequila ran it pretty close though - the whole range is exquisite, particularly the Single Estate Anejo varieties.  Tequila haters be warned - you will soon be in the minority.

Rounding off my list is Cynar, mostly due to its appearance in Mezcal cocktails around London (El Nivel, Bermondsey Arts Club), and in place of Campari in Negroni twists.  It calls itself an artichoke liqueur, but there's all sorts going on in this quirky Italian amaro.


I'd like to mention a few things that don't really fit in to any of the categories (unless I made more, but I think you've probably had enough).  

1. Wapping Market launched this year in a wonderful site on the waterfront with cobbled pavings underfoot and shady trees somehow evoking Paris - it's the best place to be from 10am-2pm on a Sunday.

2. London Cocktail Week was back and bigger than ever.  £4 cocktails all over London at some of the world's best bars, and rum concoctions in a butterfly house? Yes please.  

3. London came alive during the World Cup, and I went hunting for supporters at different nationality bars all over the Capital - what a month.

4. Breweries have opened all over the city, but Bermondsey is where the fun is at on a Saturday. Several open up to the public in railway arches surrounded by artisan food & drinks producers - start early at Monmouth Coffee & Kernel Brewery and make your way to Maltby St Market.

5. Kansas Smitty's turned an empty space (now inhabited by Pond) into their Backyard BBQ venue for a one off day of incredible music with Southern States inspired food & drink.  They are most probably the tightest band currently on the London circuit.

6. I got chased around Stratford by zombies.


2014 Highlights - Matt The Trips

2014 was also a great year for adventures abroad, including a massive trip to USA & Canada, plus little jaunts to Islay, Edinburgh, The Highlands, Speyside, Padua & Venice. I'll chuck in some slightly out of date Paris tips for good measure.  Stay tuned for full length blog posts on these trips soon (ish).

Top 10 New York

65+ food & drink joints in 7 days.  A bit ridiculous, but ideal for writing a mini-guide.  Ok, totally ridiculous.  Anyway, whistlestop tour time.  

Carnivores cannot miss Fette Sau; it's American smoked BBQ at it's finest.  Couple it with some Crack Pie from Momofuku Milk Bar and a trip over the road to Spuyten Duyvil, a hipster beer bar with a picturesque patio (that's a beer garden to us Brits).  Another great combo is grabbing a Blue Bottle Coffee and checking out the Mast Brother's Chocolate Factory (coming soon to Shoreditch) whilst on the waiting list for an awesome brunch at Egg.

Also in Williamsburg, grab a slice at Best Pizza; play Dig Dug to your heart's content at Barcade, master Skeeball at Full Circle Bar; take a distillery tour at NY Distilling Co.; and visit the Brooklyn Brewery.  Embarrass the locals at Shuffleboard and hang out in a ski gondola at The Diamond; play arcade games with coffee whilst doing your washing at Sunshine Laundromat; attempt to pronounce Tørst whilst drinking Evil Twin brews; eat literally everything at Smorgasburg; and get your cocktail fix at Maison Premiere, Donna or Dram. Phew.

Head South to Fourth Avenue for all the beers at Fourth Avenue Pub (come on, guys), Pickleshack (lots of pickles and Dogfish Head goodies), and our favourite, Mission Dolores, a magical taproom that Street Feast could have created.  Hit them all at happy hour for bonus points.  That's right, pubs have happy hours, and on drinks that you actually want.  God bless America (Chicago not included).

Complete your Brooklyn tour with a couple more beers at Glorietta Baldy, smoked carrots (drool) and pizza at Emily, and classy cocktails at the understated Weather Up.  And squeeze in trips to Cacao Prieto, Other Half, TransmitterFeatherweight and Roberta's somewhere along the way.  Plus a couple hundred other places. Gah.

Am I forgetting something? Oh yeah, Manhattan.  

Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog (that menu) and Attaboy (no menu) came 2nd & 4th respectively on the 2014 World's 50 Best Bars list, and they were our favourites too, with outstanding & memorable service to match the impeccable cocktails. Pouring Ribbons, Mayahuel, Nitecap, Booker & DaxEmployees Only, and Death & Co. aren't far behind though, and there's fun to be had at PDT (Please Don't Tell) which you access through a fake phone booth inside Crif Dogs.

Katz Deli (monster reubens) and Russ & Daughters (smoked fish) are the classic NY food experiences, but you should also make time for Jack's Wife Freda, Tacombi at Fondi NolitaXian's Famous Foods (trust me), and a trip to Gotham West Market.  And all the super expensive restaurants that I can't afford. There's food worth eating up on the High Line too.  Get your bagels from Murray's, Absolute or Black Seed.  Blue Bottle & Intelligentsia (and a million others) are around for caffeine. Doughnut Plant is glorious.  Big Gay Ice Cream is fun - order a Salty Pimp.

And yes, there's more beer.  Pony Bar is super friendly and all drafts are $6; Blind Tiger & Ginger Man have a massive range and great atmosphere; Standard Hotel Biergarten has free table tennis underneath an old railway line; and too-cool-for-school Proletariat has some pretty rare brews.  But our favourite, just, was Upright Brewhouse; coffee house by day, taproom by night.  I would love to own a place like that.

Walk around Central Park.  Go to MoMA. Catch the legendary Johnny O'Neal at Smalls (thank me later).  Solve a crime around Greenwich Village with Accomplice.  Head to the Top of the Rock. Spend all your money. You won't regret it.

Check out all of these suggestions and more on Map The List : New York

Top 10 Chicago

Green Street Smoked Meats

Our week in Chicago came after seven days in New York and a few more in Toronto, so food fatigue did start to creep in towards the end, but we put in a good shift, not least our hosts Emma, James & Miranda who made it to around thirty places themselves whilst holding down jobs, and Tim who ridiculously flew to the UK and back for a wedding for twenty hours midweek. Insane.

You may have missed Hot Doug's (Shannon and I queued in the rain for some reason), but there's plenty of fun to be had elsewhere.  Deep Dish Pizza isn't essential, but I know you are going to eat some anyway - Lou Malnati's, Giordano's and Pizano's have you covered.  The brunch scene isn't half bad - Longman & Eagle, Avec & Trenchermen come highly recommended, and the meaty Publican is excellent - ask to sit in one of their cosy pens to feel like even more of a piggy. Pick up some treats at Glazed & Infused afterwards to seal the deal.

Down the road from Publican you can find two of Chicago's most talked about hotspots: Grant Achatz & Nick Kokonas' exclusive high-concept Next Restaurant (also see Alinea), and their acclaimed cocktail bar The Aviary (with award-winning Charles Joly heavily involved).  If you ask nicely, they might let you in to The Office, an underground speakeasy kept under lock and key. We managed to pay it a visit and had a great time, though the bartenders don't quite pull off the forced whimsy.  The menu is a series of sentences that are intended to inspire discussion and aid them in making a personal drink for each customer.  It's a unique experience at any rate!

You are spoilt for choice around the West Randolph area with the likes of Little Goat, Girl & The Goat, Lone Wolf and Au Cheval (see the map), but if you love meat and fairy lights like me then you must go to Green Street Smoked Meats (pictured above).  Think New York's Fette Sau on a grand scale crossed with Street Feast's Dalston Yard.  Plus there's High Five Ramen hidden in the basement, and a Doughnut Vault van parked up outside (at least when I was there!).  Speaking of doughnuts, be sure to drop in to Firecakes for a box - delicious. Wash down with Bowtruss or Intelligentsia coffee. Oh and if you want more fairy lights and meat, Parson's Chicken & Fish was another highlight (extra points for Negroni slushies) and Big Star is a colourful taco station.  

Get an Uber over to Pilsen so that you can tick off knowingly cool Dusek's Board & Beer and Punch House ($8 cocktails on tap), before dropping in to nutty Simone's (possibly run by a cult?) and dive bar Skylark.  Grab dinner at highly-rated Nightwood if you have time.  And once you've come that far, you might as well head to Bridgeport for Maria's Packaged Goods & Community Bar - a lively bar attached to the eponymous Maria's liquor store with in-house brewed beers, cocktails & more.

What else? Oh yes, BEER.  Half Acre was our favourite taproom, with Revolution & Piece close behind, though popular Local Option eluded us.  Our favourite beer bars were the travel-centric Map Room, motorcycle-themed Twisted Spoke, gamer's paradise Emporium (the enormous one near Logan's Square specifically), and the Fountainhead rooftop garden.  We sadly missed out on Hop Leaf, Beermiscuous and Headquarters Beercade - next time! 

My favourite cocktail bar was neighbourhood hangout Billy Sunday on account of the welcoming vibe, funky menu and knockout drinks.  Elsewhere, Three Dots & A Dash is Tiki done well; The Violet Hour is a speakeasy with top libations but questionable décor; and Scofflaw is all about the gin.  I've already mentioned a couple of dive bars, but be sure to pop in to Happy Village for table tennis and a pond (!), and to the ultra thin Matchbox.  If Chicago has another insane Winter, these are the places you need to know about.

Find all of these suggestions and more on Map The List : Chicago

Top 5 Minneapolis

Shuffleboard at Indeed Brewery

Our short stay in Minneapolis came after three extravagant weeks in New York, Toronto & Chicago, and our bodies (and wallets) had seen better days, but we still managed to check out some superb places.  A running joke question of the trip from conversations with Americans & Canadians was "Why Minneapolis?".  The answer: Taprooms.

Until May 2011, breweries weren't allowed to operate on-sale taprooms.  Then a bill was passed and they've been making the most of it ever since.  We didn't make it to Surly, Dangerous Man or Steel Toe which are meant to be fantastic, but we can vouch for a few others.  

Fulton Brewery is a great place to catch a baseball game whilst working your way through a range of beers.  Indeed Brewing Co. is a really cosy stop with street food trucks parking up outside, and a shuffleboard table in the corner.  612 Brew also has our favourite American bar game, but you will want to be outside on their wonderful zen patio surrounded by water - an impressive use of space next to a highway.  My favourite though was Bauhaus Brew Labs, an eye-catching warehouse space in the middle of nowhere, with magical outdoor lighting and a cornhole court.

If you have time, visit the Stone Arch Bridge, walk out on to the Endless Bridge at The Guthrie Theatre, grab an Izzy's Ice Cream, and pop in to Grumpy's, Town Hall Brewery & Republic all in one afternoon for more great beers.  

Even since our visit, five more central taprooms have opened - Fair State, Insight, LynlakeNorthgate, Eastlake.  Stay up to date with this excellent taproom directory.  

We didn't get anywhere on the cocktail bar front really, but Marvel Bar is the place to start.  Make sure you have your passport with you though as our British driving licenses weren't accepted as ID at several stops.  Eat Street Social and Icehouse are two more recommend "craft cocktail" hangouts, CC Club and Lyle's Liquor will fulfil your dive bar desires, and Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge and Donnie Dirk's Zombie Den are just plain weird.

Food! Join the Juicy / Jucy Lucy debate at 5-8 Club & Matt's Bar; dine at Minneapolis's narrowest eatery, Al's Breakfast (crammed in to an old alleyway); head down The Rabbit Hole (a crowdfunded Korean gastropub in Midtown Global Market); get the Peanut & Sriracha at Glam Doll Donuts; and hang out on Union Restaurant's attractive retractable rooftop.

And if you get homesick, head over to Brit's Pub for rooftop lawn bowling. Why, Minneapolis?

Find all of these suggestions and more on Map The List : Minneapolis

Top 5 Toronto

We hopped over to Toronto for a few days in between our weeks in New York and Chicago, squeezing in a worthwhile daytrip to Niagara Falls too.  Three or four days is plenty of time for exploring the city.  

We stayed in Kensington Market, possibly the most hipster neighbourhood on the planet.  Everyone is vegan, and cars are turned in to plant pots, but it has a great buzz to it especially at the weekend, and it's a top area for food and drink.  Drop in to the likes of Nu Bugel, Supermarket, Cold Tea, Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos, Thirsty & Miserable, The Burgernator and Wanda's Pie In The Sky to soak up some of the atmosphere.  

Our favourite brunch spot, Aunties & Uncles, isn't far away either.  Grab a nearby Manic Coffee for the A&U queue (which was full of friendly Canadians, even on a weekday).  Then head over to Snakes & Lagers where you might just spend the rest of the day; a brilliant board game bar with great beers (see also Snakes & Lattés) which has inspired similar concepts all over the world including Draughts which has just opened in Haggerston.  Ask for Hanabi.

I'd also recommend People's Eatery, 416 Snack Bar, Bar Volo, Bar Hop, Canoe, Momofuku, Thoroughbred and more (see map for locations & links), though these are fairly spread out and the atmosphere wasn't exactly alive around many parts of the centre of town. 

Much more fun are the hip hangouts around Ossington Ave & Dundas St. West.  Queue at the woefully inefficient Bang Bang Ice Cream & Bakery for superb ice cream sandwiches; sit at the bar in the charming Bellwood's Brewery; cram in to Communist's Daughter for live music; have a tarot reading at The Libertine speakeasy; and hit up the arcade machines at  Get Well.  The best cocktails (and amusing bartender chat) came at the simply named Cocktail Bar, connected to Black Hoof and related to nearby Rhum Corner that are also very popular.  Bar Isabel, Electric Mud BBQ, Chantecler, Wallflower, Glory Hole Doughnuts, Toronto Temperance Society remain on my wishlist - maybe four days wasn't enough.

Last but not least, a special mention must go to Big Crow, our top meal in Toronto which was (get this) more satisfying than anything we had over 24 days in New York, Chicago & Minneapolis. Perhaps we were just deliriously hungry after a day of eating only bagels around Niagara Falls, but there's definitely something special going on in this fairytale backyard BBQ joint "inspired by Algonquin Park, canoe trips, cooking over an open fire, swimming in the big lakes of Ontario and Winter camping", tucked behind Rose & Sons (both run by Anthony Rose & co.).  The menu changes regularly (I still dream of our smoked mozarella & roast garlic bread, sweet spicy bacon with peppers and a 2lb hamsteak with honey butter hot sauce and pineapple) and it always looks incredible.  Put Big Crow at the top of your to-do list, and then scribble Rose & Sons, Fat Pasha and their recently opened Schmaltz Appetizing right underneath too.

Check out all of these suggestions and more on Map The List : Toronto

Top 5 Edinburgh

I've been up to the Edinburgh Fringe every year since 2002 so I'm starting to know my way around. The Hanging Bat is the best spot for a beer (including their own brews), closely followed by Brewdog and the quirky Potting Shed.  Check out The Bow Bar for fine ales and whiskies.  

There are Michelin starred restaurants aplenty but you are better off at the likes of Timberyard (Scandi-Scottish small plates) and Scran & Scallie (affordable gastropub from Tom Kitchin & Dominic Jack) - book ahead.  I also keep hearing good things about the food at Blackfriars. For all your café/coffee tips, head to the Edinburgh Coffee Lovers blog.

The cocktail scene is rapidly improving, with Bon Vivant and Bramble (an old Ryan Cheti haunt) leading the way.  Panda & Sons and Devil's Advocate have hit the ground running, and I still need to check out Lucky Liquor Co..

Find all of these and more on Map The List : Edinburgh

Top 5 Paris

Candelaria - Photo Credit : Diane, A Broad - I love this blog.

Technically I went to Paris in 2013, but here we are.  Candelaria is an essential stop; recently voted 17th best bar in the world, hidden through a taqueria, beloved by bartenders & barflies, unmissable. Experimental Cocktail Club (easier to access than the London branch) and Ballroom Du Beef (an underground maze of bars beneath The Beef Club restaurant) are two of my other favourites, but you've also got the likes of Glass, Sherry Butt, BespokeA La Française & Little Red Door to keep you busy. Call on Barchick's Paris Bar Guide for more ideas.

On the beer front, be sure to visit La Fine Mousse, the Euston Tap of La Ville Lumière.  Or if you are Monmartre way, grab one of the chess tables at People's Drugstore where all small beers (to drink in or takeaway) are €3 regardless of their strength.  For coffee, check out Ten Belles, KB Caféshop, Lockwood, Folks & SparrowsTélescope and Coutume Café for starters.  

I'm not so hot on the food scene, but I hear that you could do worse than Verjus, Frenchie and Les Cocottes.  Also check out The Office for warehouse supperclubs, La Recyclerie for eco-focused food in a converted station, Les Niçois for basement board games and pétanque, and Blind Pig for street food, craft beers and a swing in an unmarked garage.

Spend ten minutes on Diane, A Broad's wonderful blog and you'll have booked your Eurostar before you can say "à bientôt".


To finish off this indulgent 2014 round-up, here are some of my favourite holiday snaps from boozy trips to Inveraray, Islay, Speyside, The Highlands & Venice:

Happy New Year!


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