The best and worst restaurants of 2014: From delicious dishes and sensational service to eating in the dark and bullies in the kitchen

Our critics Lisa Markwell and Amol Rajan serve up their restaurant awards of the year
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Dish of the year

Lisa One dish I love so much that I kept gazing at my photograph of it while I was away in India is the pan con tomate from Barrafina. Toast, with smashed-up tomato on top – what's so special about that? Well, dear reader, it's all in the details. The thick, chewy, charred bread, anointed with garlic and with the very best rich, red variety of tom liberally applied, topped with lashings of salt and a liberal slosh of very good olive oil. Drooling yet? You should be. Worth queuing for.

Amol For years I've heard about Alex Rushmer's exploits at the Hole in the Wall in Cambridgeshire: partly as we were contemporaries at university (though never met); partly because of the dish he cooked as a MasterChef finalist four years ago. And sure enough, his two slices of duck with pickled cucumber, spiced caramel and rosti is divine. The duck, a translucent pink, is juicy and tender. The cucumber's acidity cuts through; and the hot, sticky, crunchy caramel couldn't work better alongside.

Simple pleasure

Lisa (Con)fusion may come and go – and Kurobuta's Japanese junk food can definitely stick around IMHO – but there's little finer than a simple crab, chilli and garlic linguine at Café Murano, Angela Hartnett's diffusion-line place in Piccadilly. Like the rich risottos also on the menu, this dish is the full package of elegant, delicious and comforting. This restaurant is probably the place I've recommended most in 2014.

Amol Swede Mikael Jonsson believes that in cooking, simplicity trumps complexity. And at Hedone, his newly Michelin-starred restaurant in Chiswick, west London, his best recipe is testimony to that: a now notorious Cevennes onion – that is, a sweet one from southern France with its own appellation – poached with pear shavings and sage. Stripped right back and free of excess seasoning, it's delicious.

Best room

Lisa I've asked Mr M about this because, as my usual reviewing date, he has to sit in the less well-appointed seat. His vote goes to Spring, the new place in Somerset House from former Petersham Nurseries chef Skye Gyngell. With his back to the room, he might have felt fed up, but a perfectly placed mirror on the wall meant he could watch the room without rubber-necking, and he thought the lighting and décor very pretty. I'd add that Soho's Bob Bob Ricard, though not new, still has the funnest atmosphere, and Wyatt & Jones in Broadstairs made an uneven, long, narrow room buzz with life.

Amol Chris Corbin and Jeremy King struck gold twice in the capital this year. Their Colony Grill Room at the Beaumont Hotel was an instant hit, but I prefer Fischer's on Marylebone Road, a microcosm of Mitteleurop in its pre-Great War heyday. The staff wear khaki-green waistcoats and olive ties; mustard-colour tiling creates a warm, classy vibe; a glass roof allows in great shafts of light; and a vast octagonal clock suggests this could be a railway terminus in Vienna 101 years ago. Every last detail is congruent with the elegant whole.

Best Service

Lisa Jon Spiteri is the man I most want to see on entering a restaurant. As a maître d', he's the master, so I'm sad he's no longer at Holborn Dining Room, the restaurant in the shiny new Rosewood hotel in, well, Holborn (sorry, midtown); I hope he's back in action soon. The staff at the new Barrafina in Adelaide Street, in London's Covent Garden, deserve an award both for wrangling the huge demand for seats, and for upselling their amazing specials so elegantly – the bill might be bigger but the pleasure is greater too.

Amol This year I had two experiences of sitting near open-plan kitchens, which I found utterly engrossing. One was unbearable; the other filled me with reverence and awe. At the first, a central London Italian joint, I saw a team of four young blokes being bullied awfully. As a result, I lost my appetite. But at Menu Gordon Jones in Bath, I saw the man who gives his name to the restaurant command a tiny, young kitchen with panache, huge energy and technical brilliance. It made my wife and I feel as though we were in the presence of a very special talent.

Concept failure

Lisa The pitch-black loos at Old Tom & English get a dishonourable mention for being appallingly dark, and Café Royal seems to believe people like eating in an atrium. But the place I couldn't bring myself even to think about going to was Dinner in the Sky, which hovered over London's Canary Wharf this autumn. Where the smell of fear becomes the taste of it. (And unlike Amol, below, I adored Beast's bonkersness.)

Amol Beast in W1 lays it on thick. Head downstairs and you're confronted with king crabs flailing away inside their water tanks, a glamorous glass prison. Then you are forced, if there are just two of you, to sit side by side at massive tables. Waiters busily explain that you're meant to be in the reincarnation of a medieval banquet. Next you're handed a bib, in anticipation of meaty juices from a giant steak selected by the chef for weight, according to the size of your party. The food is actually quite good, but the fussy concept could hardly be more off-putting.

Big hopes for 2015

Lisa It's all about the roll-outs for me. We can enjoy an amazing chef in a stunning location, but day in, day out, it's what's nearby and reasonable that matters. So I look forward to Pizza Pilgrims expanding its fledgling empire – their arancini are unmissable. And MeatLiquor (home of the Dead Hippie, a very good burger indeed) adding Bristol to its London/Brighton/Leeds mini-chain. Mint and Mustard? Please come east of Wales… And one that is rumoured to expand in 2015 is Pint Shop, the delightful independent pub/dining room in Cambridge – yes please, guys, your Sunday lunch was one of my meals of the year.

Amol Of the most celebrated restaurants that I've never been to, I really want to try The Ledbury, Gymkhana and Simon Rogan's L'Enclume. Above all, though, I'm hoping to try those in the South-West – Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset – that I hear so much about, from Bybrook and Lucknam Park near Bath to Driftwood in Cornwall.

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