The Top ‘Ten’ tacles 2018

The Octopus Diaries 2018

Where to start…

As I sit here with a day remaining of 2018, awkwardly attempting to forge its highlights into some kind of discernible blog post – one word stands out.

Thankful.

While perhaps too many to list, I’m thankful for the wonderful opportunities these past twelve months have brought.  It’s been a year of firsts from finally experiencing dining at a 2 and a 3 Michelin star restaurant, to visiting the Abergavenny Food Festival and listening to the insightful restaurant critic, Grace Dent.

I have had the pleasure of meeting some inspiring Chefs this year, who truly are pushing boundaries in the kitchen.  From Chef’s James Close and Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, to being invited to James Sommerin’s Welsh Stars Dinner in May, which saw five of Wales’ Michelin Star Chefs join together to celebrate the restaurant’s fourth birthday.

But it’s not all been about the stars; some of the more memorable dining experiences this year, have been from independents on my doorstep.  As with restaurants throughout the UK, the industry in Cardiff has and continues to face challenges; and while we have seen closures this year, thankfully there have also been some highly anticipated openings.  It would also be a travesty if I didn’t mention the inaugural Bite, Cardiff in July, which celebrated the true culinary talent this city has to offer.

After spending twelve months writing in the shadows, I am thankful for the friendships I have made within the wider industry, Cardiff blogging community and online – and eternally grateful for the ongoing support, encouragement, persuasiveness, banter and opportunities to gatecrash!

And while a new job has inevitably restricted the hours spent blogging; my passion for food has certainly not diminished.  Therefore if nothing else, I am thankful that the words haven’t completely escaped me.  Yet.

Based on some of the restaurants I have had the sheer damn luck to dine in, to place my Top 10 list of dining experiences in any order, would be nigh on impossible this year.  I can’t compare them.   And while I will divulge my overall favourite – from Cardiff to NYC (and a few locations in between), it’s been an educational and exciting past 12 months – which looks set to continue in 2019.

The Octopus Diaries Food BlogThe Top ‘Ten’ tacles 2018

In alphabetical order (I hope)…

Eleven Madison Park, New York City

Eleven Madison Park

An exceptionally beautiful, perfect piece of culinary escapism; Eleven Madison Park in New York was quite simply a once in a lifetime dining experience this summer.

Hangfire Southern Kitchen, Barry

Hangfire Southern Kitchen

Since my initial visit in 2017, Hangfire has now become one of my local ‘go to’s’.  I may have been a little late jumping on the bandwagon, but with a great choice of low and slow BBQ dishes, I couldn’t not include Sam and Shauna back in my list for 2018.

Heaney’s, Cardiff

Lamb Heaneys Cardiff

The addition of Heaney’s to the restaurant scene in Cardiff has been one of the most anticipated and exciting prospects this year.  Offering a wonderful dining experience in welcoming and relaxed surroundings, that truly reflects some of the best in Welsh cooking.

Hills, Brecon

The Hills Brecon

While I have had my eye on the Hills in Brecon for sometime, it wasn’t until December that I finally experienced what could be considered as some of the ‘best burgers in Wales’.  Don’t let the two hour round trip from Cardiff put you off.  Great restaurant, great food, great service.  I’ll be back in 2019.

Milkwood, Cardiff

Milkwood Cardiff Starter

Having opened in 2017, I’m thrilled that I finally visited Milkwood this year.  Offering a continually changing menu informed by top notch local Welsh produce, the dishes demonstrate a genuine love of food, by a team who have an excellent knowledge of local ingredients and flavours.

Raby Hunt, Darlington

Raby Hunt Caviar

Set in the heart of the hamlet of Summerhouse, near Darlington, The Raby Hunt is NE England’s only two Michelin star restaurant.  Offering an exciting tasting menu of 13-15 innovative, theatrical and delicious courses – not only is James Close one hell of self-taught Chef. but he is also lovely to speak to.

Sketch, London

Sketch London

The word ‘surreal’ does not even come close to describing Sketch. It’s an intriguing, luxurious and comfortable space, where the level of detail is beyond imagination.  The ideal setting for sophisticated French cooking.  And if I was giving out awards for service this year, hands down this restaurant would be the winner.

Tavern on the Green, New York City

Tavern on the Green

My fixation with dining at Tavern on the Green in New York, has rather randomly been there for the past 25 years.  After reading a book, in my formative years, I’ve always wanted to visit.  This year, the teenage dream came true, and it didn’t disappoint.  A truly beautiful establishment; a trip to ‘The Big Apple’ wouldn’t be complete without experiencing this restaurant at least once.

The Beach House, Oxwich Bay

The Beach House Oxwich Bay

A return visit in 2018 reinforced the position of The Beach House, as being one of my favourite restaurants in Wales.  The epitome of a destination restaurant; from its beautiful location to its decor, to the stunning dishes that Chef Hywel Griffiths and the team deliver, a third trip is certainly on the cards next year.

The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds

Man Behind the Curtain Prawns

‘As you take your seat, a single, simple branded box awaits you’ – this is as basic as it gets in Michael O’Hare’s Michelin star establishment in Leeds.  With unique and innovative dishes that are beautifully creative both in presentation, and more importantly with ingredients that combine spectacularly in front of you, it is quite simply a restaurant that should be experienced to be believed.  And for this reason has been my overall favourite dining ‘experience’ of 2018.

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