Best Restaurant: Noma, Copenhagen
We have eaten at Noma three times and two of the meals are the two best meals of our lives. Everything was flawless: the food amazing, the service perfect, the setting exquisite. On one occasion we had just received some devastating news about the health of a family member before travelling to Copenhagen. We considered not going at all. But in the end we went and for the four hours we were in Noma, our troubles drifted away as we were adsorbed into the magical world that only food and can take us to. Noma is the most influential restaurant of the last decade and their ethos has had reverberations at nearly all levels of cooking. Noma's stature in the industry was considerably helped by coming first in the Worlds Best 50 restaurant awards several times. A silly awards of course for something as subjective as food and tastes, but to us Noma was the best and on two occasions we were blown away. We haven't been to Noma 2,0 yet, but can't wait.
Best Service: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London
This was a close call between Noma and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, both of which we ate in three times during the decade. But Ramsay's has one thing that Noma doesn't have and that is the amazing Maitre d', Jean-Claude Breton. Jean-Claude is a class-act, a gentleman who greets each guest like an old friend and commands the dining room with grace and aplomb. He is the Maitre d' by which all others should be judged.
Best Wine: Arzak, San Sebastian
We have eaten in Arzak on each of our annual visits to San Sebastian. The food is magnificent, the service excellent and the wine list inspiring. On our first visit, we asked the sommelier about a wine that was around, if memory serves us right, €80 and he suggested an alternative wine, which he insisted was a similar style, but better, for around €45. This tells you everything you need to know about the wine service in Arzak. Another fantastic wine list was in El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona which has great value wines served by a sommelier (who happens to be Josep Roca) whose life passion is wine. The best wine flight we had in the decade was probably in Le Chateaubriand in Paris.
Best Dish: Shrimp Wrapped In Nasturtium Leaves, Noma
We have had so many great dishes over the last ten years, but a few them stand out in our memory. Every so often we get a dish that is so good that we don't even speak to each other when we eat. We just look at each other and we both know that we are eating one of those special dishes that doesn't come around very often. Abstract of Asparagus, Prosciutto and Peas Tagliolini in Osteria Francescana in Modena was on of those dishes, complex but balanced. Foie Gras with Green Sauce in Arzak was another perfect dish and one we won't quickly forget. Noma provided a few candidates for this award: Vegetable Flower; Green Shoots of the Season with Scallop Marinade; Gameldansk. But the dish that we will always think of is Sweet Shrimp Wrapped in Nasturtium Leaves, which was so beautiful, served in a clear and delicate sauce of beetroot root, that it just blew us away. We still think about that dish, a lot.
Best Chef: Albert Adria
We could have gone with a few different great chefs here. The brilliant Rene Redzepi, the most influential chef of the decade, would have been an obvious choice. Clare Smyth who cooks with an angelic touch and steely precision. But, we pick Albert Adria, whose brilliance sometimes doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Each one of his restaurants in Barcelona that we have eaten has been amazing. From Bodega 1900, a restaurant which we would never go to Barcelona without visiting, even with the kids. To Tickets, which is outrageous fun and the food sublime. We were even lucky enough to get an early reservation in Enigma - a fantastic restaurant which serves over 40 courses to diners as they move between 5 different rooms. It is also a common sight to see Albert Adria cooking in his restaurants or checking in on each of them during service. There are a lot of reasons to visit Barcelona, but Albert Adria should be your main one. Everything this man touches is just magic.
Best Value: Dinner by Heston, London
There were a lot of good value restaurants. The number of courses and the affordability of the wine list would put El Cellar de Can Roca inline for this one, but the lunch we had in Dinner by Heston in Knightsbridge in London was amazing value at the time at only £25 per person. The quality of the food was exceptional.
Best Meal: Noma, Copenhagen
This is an easy one. The best meal we ever had was Noma in November 2014. Everything was perfect: the service, the dining room, the ambience, and above all the food. On our flight home from our jaunts abroad, we sometimes go through the menu and rate each dish out of 10. On the way we back from Noma on this occasion we gave around 12 dishes out of the 18, 10 our of 10. These are dishes that we will never forget and it was four hours that we will never forget from a groundbreaking restaurant.
Best Casual Dining: Bodega 1900, Barcelona
Every time we visit Barcelona our first stop is always to Bodega 1900. Part of the Albert Adria restaurant group, its is a stripped back bodega style dining room serving the best tapas dishes you will find anywhere. Don't ask for a menu, instead the chef can choose the best selection on that day and you will get nearly 20 dishes, some from the menu and some specials, showcasing amazing Catalan produce. There are the classic staples like tomato bread, but also expect to eat oysters, sea urchin and the desserts are also amazing. Bodega 1900 is a very happy place for us.
Most Childish Fun: The Fat Duck, Bray
This could have easily been a three way tie between Tickets and Enigma, both in Barcelona, and The Fat Duck. Tickets is superb fun, from the service to the decor to the dessert room. Enigma is something even more special. After putting in your secret code, that is emailed to you beforehand, to an unmarked door, you will be served over 40 dishes across five different rooms, each dish is pure Adria magic. However, the prize for most fun must go to The Fat Duck again. From the video you are sent after you make a reservation that will fill you childhood wonder, to the elaborate 'Alice in Wonderland' dish to the 'Kid in a sweatshop' finale, The Fat Duck will capture your imagination as you giddily wait for each dish to come out. It is hard to get a reservation, is expensive, but it is worth going.
Best Irish Restaurant: Aimsir, Celbridge
Coming in right at the end of the decade is Aimsir in Celbridge, the best restaurant we have eaten in Ireland. Irish food has progressed immeasurably over the last 10 years but was still crying out for an innovative restaurant that could compete on a world stage with the best. Liath in Blackrock has been making strides towards this, but our meal in Aimsir was the first time we thought that we were eating in a restaurant that we would make a special trip abroad to. The service led by Majken was flawless, managing to be formal, but still engaging and really good fun. The wine pairings were excellent and each introduced engagingly. And, of course, the food, from a kitchen led by Jordan Bailey, formally of Maaemo, was exciting, interesting, clever and most of all delicious. It is truly a world-class restaurant and we are proud that it is in Ireland.
Unfortunately, not all our meals out in the last decade lived up to expectation and some were a downright waste of money and left us feeling bereft, so we may as well mention them too.
Biggest Disappointment: Restaurant Paul Bocuse, Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or
A few years ago we travelled down the length of France, actually starting in Cologne and finishing in Barcelona. One of the stops was 4 nights in Lyon. We fell in love with the city and ate some amazing food, but our visit to the legendary Restaurant Paul Bocuse was not a highlight of this trip. The service was awful, with the front of house team giving the impression of being bored and uninterested, possibly because they have been serving the same dishes every day for the last 30 years. From the unfriendly welcome at the door, to forgetting wine pairings, to shoulders being shrugged when we asked any questions. The food was good, but not spectacular, with the desserts being a major let down; served off a trolley each one was no better than you can buy in a patisserie in the city centre. And it cost over €600 too!!
Another disappointment was Daniel in New York, who served us under-cooked fish in a stuffy environment. In Ireland, Chapter One was always a let down on each occasion that we ate there, leathery overcooked venison, plastic in our food and hoovering around our feet while we were still eating are just a few of our great memories from different meals there.
Worst Dish: Green Slime in Mugaritz, San Sebastian
There is only one dish we could give this to and it is one we will never forget. We don't remember what it was called or what was actually in it but think of licking Slimer out of Ghostbusters and you might get some idea of what we are talking about. Mugaritz, while providing us with some great dishes, also served us some that were just bizarre or downright wrong. On arrival we were brought into the kitchen where the head chef told us that he hadn't tried some of the dishes on the menu because they were too new - this set up alarm bells straight away. It seemed to us a restaurant that was led by technique and innovation and not on taste or flavour. A restaurant that was led by kitchen advances more than the wants of the diner. And the "Slimer" dish served as a perfect example of this. They told us it was a new technique of some sorts to generate this slime. Who cares what the technology is when the dish is truly repulsive.