Measured in amazing foodie stories, the year 2016 was even better than 2015. This summer, I quit my regular job to focus on my own business: discovering the most exciting places and sharing the best experiences. I’ve traveled more than ever in the Nordics as well as around the world. The pop-up restaurant Noma Australia brought me to parts I had never been before. Furthermore, I had the fortune to dine at restaurants I only dreamed of previously. In Modena in Italy, we ate at the best restaurant in the world: Osteria Francescana by chef Massimo Bottura. In Melbourne in Australia, chef Ben Shewry at restaurant Attica gave the words passion and hospitality a new meaning. I can’t wait to share these and many other stories.
One year ago, I made some bold predictions on my top list of 2015. That’s how New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be, right? Global destinations have been slightly neglected for the benefit of Scandinavia. I still haven’t made my Stavanger and Bergen guides either, but they are coming! In fact, I’ll be visiting the Stavanger and Sandnes region again in February next year to complete the map with the last remaining places. Although the year didn’t go exactly as I planned it, I have made maps of my favorite places in both Oslo and Copenhagen. Guides to Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Odense are out. I’ve also traveled to Malmö, Aarhus, Aalborg, and Trondheim and will write about them in the months ahead. 2017 will bring even more travels in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. In addition to Tulum in Mexico, and Los Angeles, and San Francisco in the USA.
I wish you a happy New Year! These are my top 25 dishes of 2016.
No. 25 – Belles Hot Chicken in Melbourne, Australia
While walking the endless streets of Melbourne, I plotted the nearest Belles Hot Chicken in my GPS. It was a 25 minutes walk just like everything else in this city. Still, I knew it would be worth it. The staff at Noma Australia had introduced me to this awesome restaurant serving nothing but hot chicken and natural wine. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
No. 24 – Lilla Napoli in Falkenberg, Sweden
A Tesla in bad need of a Supercharger and a tip from Andrea at Trattoria La Strega in Gothenburg. That’s what brought us to a worn-down old street kitchen turned authentic Neapolitan pizzeria, in a parking lot outside the small Swedish city of Falkenberg. A 2,3 ton heavy wood-fired stone oven had us convinced. Pure passion can’t be faked – this was one of the best pizzas we ever tasted. Maybe the best.
No. 23 – Milk in London, UK
Take the subway out of central London and arrive at Bedford Hill. There’s not much else to do here, and it was either pouring down or freezing cold when I visited, but that didn’t matter since I was seeking shelter in the hipster coffee shop Milk anyway. Get the sourdough bread with smoked bacon, poached eggs and browned butter hollandaise. Yes, it’s to die for.
No. 22 – Sentralen in Oslo, Norway
Sentralen is the latest restaurant project of chefs Even Ramsvik and Tom Victor Gausdal in Oslo. The menu keeps changing every week, but they’ve kept one item on the menu all along – and with good reason! The smoked beet tartare is a vegetarian dish that will make you forget about meat. Topped with a tarragon emulsion, toasted sunflower seeds, shaved horseradish, and an egg yolk. It’s creamy, rich, sweet, salty, spicy, acidic and full of umami.
No. 21 – Red Star Dim Sum in Singapore
My friends Ronny and Michelle had shown me all around Singapore. I woke up this morning feeling not hungry at all and figured I could easily skip breakfast (it was lunch time). However, I was convinced to come along anyway to the Chinese dim sum restaurant Red Star. We all trusted the local (Michelle) with ordering from the aunties, who were pushing trolleys with the various dim sum from table to table. I’ll never forget the first bite into the light, crispy, fried tempura. Inside was crab meat, mango puree, and mayonnaise. A heavenly combo!
No. 20 – Pjoltergeist in Oslo, Norway
I could probably make a top 25 list of Pjoltergeist’s dishes alone. It’s still my favorite restaurant in Oslo after all these years, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been here in total. Head chef Atli makes simple, yet intensely tasty dishes like this combination of duck liver and red onions to be spread on garlic flatbreads.
No. 19 – Kolonialen in Oslo, Norway
Chef Jay Boyle is rocking the kitchen at the relatively newly opened restaurant Kolonialen at Bislett in Oslo. I also wanted to crown his dish of dehydrated beets and blueberry vinegar, but I had to make a choice and “milk and honey” won. A delicate dessert with few, but precise flavors. I’ve rarely come across something as fluffy as this cream.
No. 18 – Mathias Dahlgren Matbaren in Stockholm, Sweden
Jerusalem artichoke is one of my all-time favorite ingredients. Try deep-frying the skin for an incredibly flavorful experience. I also love when this root vegetable is made into chips, pureed or just cooked for a long time. The flavor is unique and intense and mixes well with a lot of other ingredients. Mathias Dahlgren – Matbaren threw in some salted lemon (highly underrated, should be used way more), yogurt and sprinkled with browned butter just to nail a place on this list, I guess.
No. 17 – Substans in Aarhus, Denmark
I paid my first ever visit to restaurant Substans in Aarhus this October – a restaurant I’ve wanted to experience for a long time. Chefs Renè and Nicolas are good at putting beautiful and tempting looking pictures out on Instagram. Luckily, they’re also amazing chefs. This dish of pork is just one of many great dishes we ate for lunch.
No. 16 – Studio in Copenhagen, Denmark
Chef Torsten Vildgaard at restaurant Studio in Copenhagen combines the beauty and simplicity of Nordic cooking with the pungent flavors of the French cuisine. It’s hard to choose a favorite from his masterpieces, but I do love celeriac. I also adore truffle, so this dish of salt baked celeriac with forest flavors (pine, black truffle, and black garlic) was a winner.
No. 15 – Kadeau in Copenhagen, Denmark
Kadeau is one of my favorite restaurants. Period. Their tasting menu has so many highlights. I wanted to feature the dehydrated beets with shaved beef heart and an emulsion of tarragon, but it felt more like a snack than a dish. Other strong candidates were the vegetable terrine, the squid on a cracker and the matured raw sirloin with “Havgus” cheese. In the end, I chose this fire roasted pork belly with a black garlic glaze.
No. 14 – Daniel Berlin in Tranås, Sweden
“Celeriac, celeriac, celeriac, and celeriac,” is the name of this dish from Daniel Berlin in Tranås, Skåne. Perfect! Celeriac happens to be my favorite ingredient. What more could I wish for? Chef Daniel Berlin himself entered the dining room. Standing in the middle of everyone, he carefully peeled the black-burned celeriacs, after they had been slow-cooked, dehydrated and packed with their own flavor.
No. 13 – Bincho in Singapore
I thought I knew what chicken tasted like, and then I went to restaurant Bincho in Singapore. The chef, Asai-San, has a mean bincho-tan grill where he prepares most of the dishes. This chicken got a good beating on the burning hot charcoal, which added a lot of flavor to it. All it needed in order to be eaten was a dip in the salt. Wasabi (from real wasabi root): optional.
No. 12 – Gastrologik in Stockholm, Sweden
Gastrologik was my favorite restaurant in Stockholm this summer, which made it hard to pick one winner from their wonderful tasting menu. The garlic dish could have won, and so could the dessert of grains ice cream, with a syrup of beer and carrots. However, two of my favorite ingredients drew the longest straw: celeriac (again) and lamb sweetbreads. Made into a taco!
No. 11 – Billy Kwong in Sydney, Australia
I’ll leave it to Kylie Kwong herself to describe this dish: “These steamed mini pork buns with chili are a staple on my Billy Kwong menu. The red-braised pork filling is marinated with The Wayside Chapel Billy Kwong Rooftop honey, biodynamic red wine, organic brown rice vinegar, organic tamari, sesame oil and Sichuan pepper. […] This dish is very special to me because it’s a whole lot more than a Chinese pork bun – it’s filled with all of the energy, talent and spirit of my dear friends and colleagues.” I believe her. It’s amazing. So soft, and full of juiciness and flavors.
No. 10 – Far i Hatten in Malmö, Sweden
Dehydrated vegetables were the shit in 2016! The casual restaurant and natural wine bar “Far i hatten” in Malmö served one of the best versions I tried. Charred carrots with pickled radish, blackberries, and a burnt cream. The last time I had burnt cream was at Fäviken Magasinet in Järpen, Sweden, but this dish as a whole was even better than Magnus Nilsson’s classic with king crab.
No. 9 – Sabi Omakase in Stavanger, Norway
Sabi Omakase was represented on the list last year, and they are back again! Luckily for me, because that means I can select at least one more of chef Roger Asakil Joya’s masterpieces. Should I pick the tuna or salmon toro, or the mountain trout or scallop per chance? When I closed my eyes the first thing that popped up in my mind, however, was the squid. Carefully scarred by Joya’s knife and sprinkled with Himalaya salt and lime. Tender to the bite, but with a firm texture. Perfection.
No. 8 – 108 in Copenhagen, Denmark
Noma’a little sister, restaurant 108, opened with a boom this summer. Instantly, I had a new favorite in Copenhagen. The meals I’ve had here are among the best of 2016, and I wish I could nominate all of their dishes. My selection, though, was neither the braised oxtails with pine, nor the caramelized milk skins with grilled pork belly. Even the braised lamb shoulder and glazed monkfish had to make way for the stunning blueberry dessert. Proper, wild, Swedish blueberries and a ridiculously good ice cream seasoned with toasted seaweed and ale.
No. 7 – Bao in London, UK
Anders dreams of bao. It could be a movie. At least, I had dreamt about visiting restaurant Bao in London ever since the first time I saw photos of their gua baos. What a shame it would have been if the food didn’t live up to the hype, right? Well, thank goodness it did! From the bus sign outside where you queue up, to the authentic Taiwanese interior, but most importantly the buns. The classic was my favorite. A velvety-soft bun with juicy, braised pork and fermented greens packed with flavor that explode on impact (that’s when you bite it).
No. 6 – Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark
Chef Rasmus Kofoed of restaurant Geranium in Copenhagen is like an artist in his atelier, creating one eye pleasing masterpiece after the other. He’s the most decorated chef in the world, and he proves that with the food he makes. The new version of the classic “a walk in the forest” is improved even further and will make you crave for more with every bite.
No. 5 – Maaemo in Oslo, Norway
The best bites in fine dining restaurants are often the smallest of snacks. The fact that they last so short make them even more unique. I had the pleasure of eating this particular dish twice, though. First, at Maaemo, of course. Second, at the Studio & Friends event in October. A buttery potato pancake, topped with the freshest of Norwegian king crabs glazed with elderberry and seaweed, puts Maaemo on a 5th place this year.
No. 4 – Marchal in Copenhagen, Denmark
The new Marchal at Hotel d’Angleterre in Copenhagen is impressive. To be precise, it’s the new head chef Andreas Bagh who has done a remarkable job with the menu. He made me fall in love with the French cuisine all over again. From start to finish I was scooping up every drop on my plate. Thus, it was a tough choice, but in the end, the squid and cucumber pasta with a Champagne and oyster sauce topped with Marchal Gold Selection caviar was one of the best dishes of 2016 and a solid 4th place.
No. 3 – Amass in Copenhagen, Denmark
Chef Matt Orlando’s dish of dehydrated carrots has been a reference course for me the entire year and deserves the 3rd place and then some. We visited restaurant Amass back in January and were shooked halfway through the meal with this flavor bomb. The carrots were dehydrated and then rehydrated in their own concentrated juice mixed with browned butter. Such a powerful technique! We saw a lot of it in 2016, but there was no better example than this dish.
No. 2 – Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark
Noma won in 2015, with their lobster taco in a burnt milk skin, but ends on a 2nd place this year. I still remember when I bit into their radish pie this summer. I told Katerine Bont, our table host, that this was a definite candidate for best dish of the year. She immediately went and told Redzepi! Talk about raising the stakes. Well, I meant what I said, though, it truly was one of the most memorable bites. In between the acidic, marinated radishes and the roasted seaweed crust was a vegetable fudge. The cream was so rich in umami flavor that I have no doubt René will succeed with his goal to serve a near-vegetarian menu half of the year – once they reopened in a new location.
No. 1 – Hertog Jan in Bruges, Belgium
The year was coming to a close by the time I made it to Hertog Jan in Bruges this December, and yet they went and snagged the 1st place! It was my first visit to the restaurant, but not my initial encounter with the food of head chef Gert de Mangeleer (he was the original chef to partake in Studio & Friends). Not only was this dish beautiful to look at, shaped like a rose, but the flavor combination was exquisite. Something about the delicate, soft seabass, wrapped carefully in wafer-thin slices of radish, mixed with the acidic tomato water and finished with a beurre blanc sauce to bind it all together. La vie en rose!
What were your favorite dishes in 2016? Please share in a comment below.