Bonnie May looks back at her 2016 dining highlights
PUBLISHED: 15:56 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 15:56 05 December 2016
Globe-trotting Bonnie May indulges her love of fine food and drink with a look back at her 2016 dining highlights, with some recommendations
I know that the obvious topic to write about now would be about Christmas… but with all the culinary tools in our counties I’m pretty sure you have the know-how to conjure up that traditional turkey dinner and all the trimmings. So I thought that for this month rather than write about the perfect roast of all roasts, I would round up this fabulous foodie year with all my own tasty highlights!
Eating and drinking, I am very lucky to say, have been the fast track to forging my way forward in a wonderful career. Whilst catering is what I actually do for a living, my education has been firmly built around the dining table. On the whole, when you talk to people about an experience, the thing that they most refer to is food and drink. It is such an important part of our daily lives. Hosting friends, clients, colleagues and guests – in whatever environment – the conversation at some stage will always turn to the food and service – and I don’t think you could ever put enough emphasis on the importance of this.
So, when the tables are turned, and it is time for me to review the highs and lows of eating out over the year, it is pretty interesting to see what makes my foodie heart tick!
I am in the fortunate position of being able to keep track of new innovations, all the up-and-coming fads that make food such fun. And I don’t ever take this for granted. It might sound a little twee but I genuinely feel honoured to often be surrounded by exuberant chefs who are convinced they have created the next best thing… and very often they have, or a derivative of something we have seen before. If we are lucky, we see a gem that takes the hunger in food fashion to the next height.
We have seen this in various guises over the years, the nursery nation took off not so long ago with the resurrection of Shepherd’s Pie. Closely followed by fancy Mac and Cheese! Nouvelle cuisine had taken a full frontal kick in the teeth… and finally true food was back in the market place, with many finally embracing great British grub.
I feel this is thanks to a new crew in the kitchen. Jamie, Gordon, Nigella, and the likes of the ‘Bake Off’ team have injected a vigour into the nation to get excited about not only what is on our plate but where it comes from. The next step is ‘how can I make this myself?’ Being part of the kitchen brigade is now something to be really proud off – it’s a career that can often be your meal ticket around the world.
So, looking back on the year, I seem to have perfect recollection of great eating experiences with a total recall of when, where and what I have devoured.
Starting the year was pretty spectacular – a 7-course tasting menu at La Grenouillère at La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, France was like no other. The setting is amazing… a little lane that twists and turns well off the beaten track, you’re not quite sure if you are even close to where you need to be, and then you see the smallest of signs reassuring you that you have found the spot! This old but new, traditional but super-styled restaurant is in a tranquil setting alongside a stream. For a weekend away of food heaven in idyllic surroundings, this really does hit the spot, lagrenouillere.fr.
My year was off to a flying foodie start, and with a road trip to the Alps in the diary I knew we had a few treats in store… albeit with a 12-hour drive, but even then the service stations on the continent know how to deliver! As we arrived ‘in resort’ the snow-capped mountains shouted out loud ‘Fondue!’ We never would contemplate preparing this at home, but suddenly this all seems like the best idea ever…bread and melted cheese! I am not quite sure our bodies are designed for this, particularly when washed down with the likes of génépi – a liqueur normally taken neat which certainly has an acquired taste.
Thankfully the over-indulgent start of the year ended and the need to turn my attention towards eating a little healthier was a real focus – so much so that I decided to join our local Slimming World class. People assume if you are in the food industry that you automatically have a complete knowledge of all things food and drinks. Well that may be the case, but managing temptation, which seems to be around every corner, is pretty tricky. If you are on a mission to shape up, then I can thoroughly recommend the wonderful team who are there to keep you on the straight and narrow at slimmingworld.co.uk. In my case I am sure that it is the ‘name and shame’ each week that keeps me on track.
As the year seems to speed ahead we suddenly find ourselves in May, and for my family and friends it is a month full of birthdays – a never ending excuse to book a table. The fabulous Artichoke in Amersham always features high on the list, artichokerestaurant.co.uk. Yes, a meal for a treat but absolutely worth saving a special occasion to go here. The tasting menu with the wine pairing is divine… just make sure not to eat beforehand!
Birthdays out the way and overseas travel kicks off again. Business in Shanghai is well worth the 12 hour flight with all the amazing food in store. When it comes to flying, especially on a long haul, I have taken to ordering a vegan meal – a little drastic this might sound to some, but the quality always seems so much better, and I don’t arrive feeling totally bloated.
So, safely in Shanghai, and over the jet lag, a room with a view to absorb the skyline has to be threeonthebund.com. Wonderful views, great food and amazing cocktails! And when it comes to checking out a more local flavour, be sure to try one of literally hundreds of ‘Hot Pot’ restaurants.
From Shanghai my next stop was Rio, and with wall to wall food coming at you from every angle it is difficult to choose what was the very best. Street food and sea front restaurants all produce mouth-watering dishes, the crashing sea and the weather certainly helps to set the scene for even a humble dish of calamari and chips.
At marius.com.br/en we found the meal that topped it for me; great food, all buffet style with waiters constantly coming around to offer perfectly cooked meats and fish, and the décor is quite simply something that I have never seen before… every wall, floor, ceiling and surface was an eclectic collection. Where to start to describe this is almost impossible, I cannot urge you enough to have a peek at their website.
Homeward bound, and a little closer to home, The Crazy Bear never disappoints, crazybeargroup.co.uk. It is always super busy at the weekend and you’ll need to book. If you find the time, do look on Groupon as they always have really great offers, which if you aren’t in the mood to treat yourselves, make fab pressies.
Back at the airport again, with my trusty lounge pass from prioritypass.co.uk (if like me you travel more than two or three times a year it’s a must, and a saving on what you would spend at the airport anyway). My next stop was Berlin, not a city I have been to very often, but I really enjoyed it. Here I experienced my eating highlight of the year. Only open on a Thursday (so all future trips here are planned to cover this eventuality) is the most delicious food market. I was in complete food heaven, stalls of every type of food you can imagine, all serving 5/6 euro portions so you can try lots of little bits, a couple of great bars, and an really informal atmospheric seating area, see markthalleneun.de. Please put this on your foodie bucket list!
October took me to a pretty special occasion at Windsor Racecourse to be part of the judging panel for the Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Food and Drink Awards. After a really well executed meal, a showcase, I was lucky enough to present my award. ‘High Street Hero’ was my category, and a pretty difficult one to judge at that. After visiting the three nominees (all voted by readers) I was very proud to present this to ‘The Cook and Butcher’ in Thatcham, a brilliant butcher with all the traditional values but a modern day attitude. www.cookandbutcher.co.uk. It is with these guys that my culinary year will probably end on a high… with my Christmas order very firmly already placed, as far as I am concerned, nothing really beats our Christmas meal at home! Get your orders in now.