It is customary at this time of year to take a small moment to reflect on what has passed during the last year and to think what there is to look forward to in the next year.
2014 has been a wonderful year. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of blogging on here and for the other websites that I collaborate on (Vinspire and Tasting Britain). I have found the experience of blogging to be tremendously satisfying for a number of reasons; firstly, I have had such lovely feedback from friends of mine who read this blog. It is wonderful to think that people I know and don’t get to see as often as I would like, take the time to read what I write on here and indeed “look forward” to my posts. That kind of encouragement really plays a big part in keeping this going. Secondly, I have made so many “virtual” friends through this platform and through Twitter (@timmilford if you didn’t know…). It may seem clichéd to say this, but the ability to connect virtually with people across the world, learn from them, share experiences and provide guidance is to my mind the most exciting thing about living in the 21st century. Indeed, I have been very lucky to have also upgraded some of these “virtual” friends to real friend status during this year; thinking particularly of Ant and Mike from #newwinethisweek, Jack from Tasting Britain and Laura, Lucienne, Hugo and Adam from Vinspire.
People often ask me why I do this. My answer is thus: my life is richer and more interesting from seeking out the experiences for these posts, writing them up and meeting people with similar interests (whether in real life or virtually) – so i think it’s all worth it!
So, what were my highlights from the year?
Restaurant of the Year – Domestic
There were a number of contenders here. Two 2* restaurants ran this category close (Hand and Flowers and Le Gavroche – which my wife felt should have been the number one), but I think I am going to award my best domestic restaurant experience of the year to Carters of Moseley. The meal that I had at Carters was truly lovely, made more memorable for the fact that it is situated in the area of Birmingham that I grew up – you couldn’t get more local. The emphasis of the restaurant is on local produce, cooked exceptionally and the staff were evidently proud of the work that they do and provided excellent service. It is also a restaurant that represents exceptional value, with a stunning three course lunch menu coming in at an unbelievable £25/head. I am not the only person to have raved about Carters, recently Masterchef Critic Tracey Macleod also waxed lyrical about this lovely restaurant. My parents are sadly moving away from Moseley in the new year, but Carters will give me an excuse to come back!
Restaurant of the Year – International
Again there were a number of strong contenders for this title and I suspect that I am going to cause a little controversy here. In a year when you visit the restaurant that is rated the best in the world, you would expect me to award this to Noma; but I am not going to. Noma was exciting, it was stimulating, it was dizzying and gidying, and it is absolutely worth a visit (if you can get a table). However, from a pure, dining experience, my wife and I agree that we enjoyed our dinner the next day at Kødbyens Fiskebar more. The food was stunning, focussed on top quality, responsibly sourced, local produce. Every dish sought to let the ingredients speak for themselves and were all wonderfully crafted. Interestingly my review of Kødbyens Fiskebar is also my most-read post in 2014. An honourable mention in this section should also go to Ristorante Don Alfonso 1824 in Sant’Agata (Amalfi Coast), where we had a truly exceptional dining experience, including a tour of their amazing wine cellars.
Wine of the Year
I tried some fantastic wines this year, but there were a couple that have stuck in the mind. The first was a de-classified Sauternes that rumour had it was a 2010 Chateau Y’quem. I have no frame of reference in terms of whether this was a bone fide Y’quem or not, but in terms of against other Sauternes that I’ve tried it was the most elegant of these and had a wonderfully fresh and bright expression on the palate featuring honeyed, floral, fruity and fragrant notes and a delightful finish. However, in terms of the most memorable wine of this year, it won’t come as any surprise to most of you that I have awarded this accolade to a German wine: the 2009 J.J.Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel Riesling that I tried in an exceptional vertical tasting of Prüms at West London Wine School. My notes on this wine were full of superlatives, including describing it as a “sexy wine”; a category that you won’t find in your WSET guidebook…! It was supercharged and bristling with energy and power. If that lottery win ever comes my way you can guarantee that I would be buying up a few cases of this fantastic wine to see how it ages!
Wine Tasting Experience of the Year
Another difficult category as there were so many awesome tastings to choose from: Wine Car Boot Number 4 was tremendously fun (and proved excellent revision fodder for my WSET Level 2 exam which I took, and passed with Distinction, the next morning). There was also a number of great tastings at Theatre of Wine, including one particularly impressive one featuring the great wines of Dönnhoff. Similarly memorable was a tasting session at Weingut Matthias Müller in Bacharach (Mittelrhein) where we joined a party of twenty enthusiastic German men on a wine tasting holiday. However, I am going to award this category to an experience that was a first for me in 2014, running my own wine tasting session. This was a real challenge, but I absolutely loved doing it. More than anything I think it told me how much more I still have to learn, but therein lies the challenge!
Where will 2015 take me then? I plan on trying to make more time for writing this blog, which I hope will result in better quality outputs and make them more interesting for you. I have in mind a few places that I would dearly like to visit and review, but I’ll keep those under wraps for now. I would ideally like to find a good balance next year between fine dining experiences, street food, supper clubs and pop ups; to understand the gastronomic climate it is important to look for a wide variety of experiences, right across the price spectrum. There will be a couple of trips abroad next year too, which should hopefully allow for some more international reviews.
On the drinks front, this year will be the year that I join the Wine 100 Club. I am on about 70 different varietals currently, with some focussed tastings and a bit of research, I should be able to hit the 100 mark. Furthermore, I plan on attending a few more wine tasting sessions next year, as I find that they are the best way of expanding one’s tasting horizons and learning. I would also like to try to learn more on the gin front. In London there are so many wonderful gin bars and tasting opportunities and I would love to learn more about this exciting scene.
All that is left is for me to thank you all for taking the time to read this post and any other posts that you’ve read during the year. I look forward to seeing you again in 2015 – which is, rather scarily, the year from the “future” in Back to the Future II. I am looking forward to getting hold of my hoverboard…