Meals of the year 2023

Ferran and Nick at Mantua, Jerez

A mouth-watering retrospective. Above, a quizzical Ferran Centelles and a thoughtful Nick at Mantúa in Jerez, the one restaurant in the selection below not yet reviewed in detail, although a return visit is planned.

This annual round-up of where I have been fortunate enough to eat and drink so well over the past year is never an easy article to write.

It begins with me scrolling through my work on and making a preliminary list. That is always far too long. Then the editing begins. And it continues until the final selection appears.

There are always caveats and this year there seem to have been more than ever. Let me make one point clear: in my opinion the standard of cooking throughout the world has never been higher.

I have travelled extensively this year, although New York, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China were major exceptions, but where I did eat, I saw evidence of my bold assertion above. Chefs’ imaginations, it would appear, are in keeping with their teams’ technical skills.

This article gives me the opportunity to thank all those whose hard work has made this selection possible: to the cooks and chefs, the waiting staff, the kitchen porters and the restaurateurs. And especially to those at Bouchon Racine in London, Osteria di Brolio in Chianti country, Wild Flor in Hove, The Ritz in London and those at LESS in Bruges – all of which just failed to make it from my penultimate list to this one.

‘Hors concours’ was my dinner at Troisgros, yet again. This restaurant/hotel, now run by the fourth generation of the Troisgros family, has everything going for it quite apart from what they serve on the plate and in the glass. But it is its arcadian location which makes it magical and why I urge every reader to go there at least once.

It is almost 6,000 miles from Ouches, the small village that is home to Troisgros, to Mexico City where I spent four sunny days last spring and discovered numerous excellent restaurants, of which two, each founded by a woman, stood out for very different reasons.

I will long remember our meal at Rosetta for its topsy turvy layout, its elegant murals and its food, a mix of savoury Italian dishes with Mexican ingredients and purely Mexican desserts such as hoja santa y cacao criollo blanco, a dish that gave me a temporary high and long lasting memories.

Contramar, which means ‘against the sea’, is the second Mexico City restaurant that I would return to immediately. It unashamedly pays tribute to the bounty of the seas that surround the country via the precise simplicity of its cooking, and the memorable artwork on the walls. I will long remember their tostados, the first topped with tuna, the next with diced shrimps. And I long to return when Mexican mangoes are back in season.

More recently, two restaurants in Jerez in Andalucía also captivated me. We spent four days there enjoying a glass of sherry at every opportunity. The first was La Carboná to which I was returning for a second visit, although it felt that I had never left. There was the same warm welcome, the same smiling faces. Only the kitchen seemed to have changed in that it has grown more confident. The confidence was exemplified in an excellent dish of cod topped with cod tripe and small clams.

Confidence was also exhibited by chef Israel Ramos at Mantúa, a short distance away, a restaurant that takes its name from an old grape variety once widely planted locally. His menu opens with the words ’we believe in a cuisine based on tradition and love for the product’, attributes which Ramos and his team deliver through an excellent set menu whose price of €105 as not cheap but seemed extremely good value. I haven’t written about it before but I remember inter alia its dishes of sea urchin and monkfish, a cod omelette, and a stunning ajoblanco, Andalucía’s chilled almond soup.

From the far south of Spain to San Sebastián in the northwest and to Rekondo, long a magnet for wine lovers. This is a restaurant I would recommend to any wine lover. Txomin Rekondo has for the past 50 years bought widely, sensibly and early and has constructed a fabulous wine list, the care and attention of which is now in the very safe hands of his daughter Lourdes. There are many reasons to visit this lovely part of the world so famous for its bars and restaurants, but Rekondo remains one of the most appealing, not least for their version of hake cheeks.

I am writing this just after receiving an email from a New York friend after his visit to Paris which includes an amazing list of the restaurants he visited. I have not been to any for some time but I did find two other extraordinary restaurants on separate visits to this city.

Table is the restaurant in the 12th arrondissement founded and still patrolled by its 63-year-old chef Bruno Verjus. It is expensive – the menu is €400 per person – but my lunch here was fabulous. Lobster, a red prawn from the Spanish port of Palamos, sea bass and a piece of tuna belly were four delightful fish courses – the warm-up, as it were, to the most appetising dessert: half a round of chocolate tart infused with capers and topped with a small spoonful of Oscietra caviar.

There are certain similarities between Table and Maison Sota, my other Parisian discovery: an entirely open kitchen, Asian influences and smiling staff. Both are run by inspiring individuals, this one by Japanese-born Sota Atsumi. The thick slice of cep in the middle of the mushroom dish was a highlight, as was the dessert. But the most overriding impression Maison Sota left was one of space, a rare commodity in this city.

It had been more than 40 years since my first trip to Norway and our visit to Oslo and Bergen was very different. The train ride between the two is unmissable but so too when you get to Bergen is dinner at BARE by Chef PAK.

In a modern setting in what used to be the city’s stock exchange we ate quite a lot of what the sea, so close by, has to offer: oysters, shrimp, salmon, tuna and even whale. But the most memorable aspect of dinner here was being offered the wines by Tresor Jawari, their young sommelier from Burundi.

In Bristol, Little French beckoned as a safe haven from a tremendous winter downpour but the cooking of Freddy Bird, and the service from his wife Nessie, soon warmed us up. Especially memorable were excellent bread and delicious queen scallops topped with a Sauternes butter sauce. I will also return for their crème brûlée which, Bird explained, contains ‘no secret ingredients, just the best Cacklebean eggs, top-quality vanilla and the best cream.’

I’m sure my final two chef-colleagues, Bruce Poole and Matt Christmas, would entirely agree with these sentiments. Chez Bruce marches on after 28 years, still immaculate: still cooking great food; still offering a great wine list; and still doing all this, and a little bit more, with a smile. What more, as my late mother used to say, can one ask for?


Maison Sota 3 rue St-Hubert, 75011 Paris; tel: +33 (0)1 43 38 61 95

Table 3, rue de Prague, 75012 Paris; 

Troisgros 728 route de Villerest, 42155 Ouches; tel +33 (0)4 77 71 66 97


Contramar Durango 200, Colonia Romas, Cuauhtémoc, 06700 Ciudad de México; tel: +52 (55) 5514 9217 

Rosetta Colima 166, Colonia Roma Norte, 06700 Ciudad de México; tel: +52 (55) 5533 7804


BARE by Chef PAK Bergen Bors Hotel, Torgallmenningen 2, 5014 Bergen; tel: +47 40 00 24 55


La Carboná Calle San Francisco de Paula 2, 11401 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz; tel: +34 956 347 475

Mantúa Plaza Aladro 7, 11402 Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz; tel: +34 856 652 739

Rekondo Paseo de Igeldo, 57, 20008 Donostia - San Sebastián; tel: +34 943 212 907 


Chez Bruce 2 Bellevue Road, London SW17 7EG; tel: +44 (0)20 8672 0114

Little French 2B North View, Westbury Park, Bristol, BS6 7QB; tel: +33 (0)11 7970 6276