The Best & Worst of 2018

While it hardly seems possible, it’s once again time to recount the year’s restaurant tops and flops…

What a year it has been! For me personally, it involved quitting my job of two years, starting a career as a freelance blogger and copywriter, and publishing my first novel. All that while being the editor of two online publications. I think it’s fair to understand why I’m so bloody knackered!

It’s just as well this article is quite simple in terms of the number of mentions I have to give. As usual, all have been scored out of 50 based on the quality of the food, the variety of the menu, the quality of value, the presentation and the quality of service.

Every year, I normally start these articles by stating that no restaurant we visited has managed to top the score of 48/50, held since 2013 by the Poole-based seafood joint Storm. Rather excitingly, I can now reveal that, five years on, a restaurant has matched that score.

I refer to one of the first restaurants we visited in 2018 – the Southampton comic book and geekery-themed pie place Piecaramba; a place so good that Connor Mackay and I had to visit it again at the end of the year to try out its festive menu. It has since been recommended by me to people who don’t even live in or go to Southampton all that often. An immense variety of pies, including vegan and vegetarian, and equally enormous portion sizes (as pictured). For the price you pay, there’s little better quality of value to be found anywhere! Therefore, it goes without saying why we award the top spot for 2018, and joint-top across all our tried-and-tested restaurants, to Piecaramba.

Taking silver for the year, only by a couple of points too, is another one we visited relatively early on. A Saturday night out in Christchurch with Rianna Oak and Kyle Munn took us to a restaurant called Loch & Quay. And there, we sampled some true delights in the world of food. I distinctly remember enjoying my main course – Fillet of Sea Bream (see pictured) – endowed with a beautiful infusion of garlic. Just exquisite.

That wasn’t all, mind you. Their self-named Chocolate Brownie (see pictured) also did a lot for me in the dessert department. Gorgeous and rich; I recall saying at the time that it was just as well Rianna and I shared it, as to have a whole one to myself would have been nothing short of masochistic. Full marks for quality, and high scores across the board otherwise. Loch & Quay takes second place with 46/50.

Chocolate Brownie, Blueberry Panna Cotta, Black Isomalt, Almonds, White Chocolate Crumb and Blackberry Sorbet, as served by Cove, Southampton

Just when you thought we would have three clear winners for once, it never quite happens. There are two bronzes to be awarded this year, both scoring 45/50. First, we venture back to Southampton, albeit to a much grander part of town. With elegant sun-drenched courtyards and yacht-strewn skylines. The home of Cove and their extraordinary ideas for combinations and presentation. The desserts were theatrical spectacles in their own right (pictured right and below left). I was joined by Connor Mackay for this one too.

Deconstructed Lemon Cheesecake with White Chocolate and Thyme Ice Cream, as served by Cove, Southampton

While having impressive presentation and artistry is all very well, I do maintain time and time again that that is not what a diner should be paying for. The money they pay should go towards a wholesome and sustaining meal. Having memorable design, colours and appearance can only go so far – with me, at any rate! Connor had his own disapproval to share about certain elements of the presentation (like the use of glasses on plates), but the peeve that loses this restaurant points with me is the quality of value. I awarded top marks to the presentation and service, personally. And if the prices had been lower or the portions bigger, third place could have been turned into first.

A much more recent visit was awarded the second bronze, i.e. that to the much-recommended and well-reputed Handmade Pie & Ale House in Weymouth. I know – we’re back on pies, but if the restaurants do them well, they deserve to be credited! Given that this was a visit at the beginning of December with frequent guest diners Kelly Kingham and Tom Herbert, the menu choice was fittingly festive. The Festive Pie (see pictured), served with chips and peas, was enough to get anyone’s stomach ready for the gluttony of Christmas.

What didn’t live quite up to reputation at the time, we collectively felt, was the service. While nothing took too long to come out or anything like that, it was our joint opinion that the waitress serving us was trying a bit too hard to be funny, instead coming off as unnecessarily sarcastic. Moreover, she spoke far too quickly for us to hear what menu options were unavailable that day. As with Cove mentioned earlier, this place could be sitting up with Storm and Piecaramba on the first place pedestal if one or two areas had been up to scratch.

Say what I will about the service, this was glowing compared to the place taking last place for 2018. To be giving this to Tiien in Westbourne is something of a shame, since the food, including the Chicken Satay Skewers (see pictured), was not too bad when you weigh it up. But the débâcle involved in trying to make a reservation – ringing the Westbourne restaurant, being redirected to the general reservations line, making the booking seemingly without issue, then discovering they hadn’t told the Westbourne restaurant anything about it when we arrived – plus the unsympathetic and quite abrupt attitude of the service staff on the night, seriously knocked them down the scoreboard. This left them with a mediocre 34/50.

It would be unfair not to mention The Crab at Bournemouth, too. This was a revisited restaurant, so the score doesn’t go on the same board, as it were. But an improvement of four points, including 10/10 for both service and presentation – giving it 47/50 – is still worth a shout-out. Looking forward to trying out their new menu coming in 2019, though their Mackerel and Scallop Duo (see pictured) had better be on it!

And now, for a little news. In the next year, Expensive Tastes is expected to undergo a series of changes. A rebrand, you might say. Until then, however, you can rely on us for more UK South Coast restaurant critique, recipes and suchlike.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

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