The Golden Noodle – awarded to the best noodles in the world
Winner: No.1 Special Noodles (特製らー麺) by Kudan Ikaruga (九段 斑鳩)
Well OK, not necessarily the best noodles in the world, but the best I've tasted. I've decided to go global this year to encompass the amazing noodles that I've come across on my travels.
I mean it would be criminal to exclude places like Kuala Lumpur's Soo Kee where I had shan har mein, a dish of giant river prawns atop crispy noodles. And noodle joints like Mak's Noodle and Tsim Chai Kee in Hong Kong, where you can pick up a bowl of wonton noodles for less than the equivalent of £2. But as good as these places are, they fall just outside the medal positions.
Taking the bronze medal is the very posh Steamed Fresh Flower Crab with Aged Shaoxing Wine, Fragrant Chicken Oil & Flat Rice Noodles at The Chairman. This Hong Kong restaurant's signature dish has a rich Shaoxing wine based sauce that is soaked up by some very special rice noodles (chenchun fun 陳村粉). By the way, the flower crab was pretty tasty too!
We stay in Hong Kong for the silver medallist, the prawn roe noodles w/cuttlefish balls and shui jiao dumplings at Lau Sum Kee. These noodles are made the traditional way with a bamboo log and come with a prawn roe topping that is ever so addictive. In any other year, this dish would've been a certain winner.
As much as I enjoyed the noodles from Hong Kong, they're eclipsed by Tokyo's finest: No.1 Special Noodles (特製らー麺) from Kudan Ikaruga (九段 斑鳩). What's not to love about this dish? Springy ramen noodles, chashu pork, menma, nori and a perfectly boiled egg were all superb but what really made these noodles special was the amazing broth – a blend of tonkotsu (pork bone) and gyoku (fish).
The Golden Restaurant – awarded to the best London restaurant new to me
Winner: Launceston Place
I'm not what you call a dedicated follower of fashion, which is why the likes of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Pollen Street Social and Spuntino are absent from the shortlist. Judging by my past track record, I might end up checking these places out sometime in 2013, assuming they're still around then.
What I have been doing is sampling dim sum in unlikely corners of London. It'd be fair to say that Teddington, Earl's Court and Mayfair aren't exactly the kind of places that you'd expect to find dumplings of a higher order. But find them I did at Imperial China, Dragon Palace and Princess Garden of Mayfair respectively. Of this trio, the latter is a cut above and takes the bronze.
The trend for regional Chinese cuisine in London shows no sign of abating. In addition to the increasingly familiar flavours of Sichuan, I've checked out London restaurants specialising in the food of Beijing, Fuzhou, Hunan, and Shanghai. Of these I'm a big fan of New Aroma, whose Fuzhou offerings came close to getting a medal. However, it's the Hunan menu at Soho's Ba Shan, which deservedly picks up the silver medal in this category.
Years after every single other London blogger, I finally got round to visiting Launceston Place. To me, this classy yet understated establishment epitomises the best of British with dishes like duck egg on toast with Somerset truffle (as pictured). Quite how this superior restaurant hasn't got a Michelin star is beyond me. But you know what? Loads of places can get a Michelin star but there's only one winner of The Golden Restaurant. Take a bow, Tristan Welch!
The Golden Dish – awarded to my favourite (non-noodle) dish of the year
Winner: Fish-skin dumplings (魚皮餃) by 花好悦园酒家
To be eligible for this award, the dish has to be one that I've eaten for the first time. So for example, the typhoon shelter crab from Hong Kong's Under Bridge Spicy Crab and the chilli crab from Singapore's No Signboard Seafood are both ineligible, as I first sampled these dishes years ago.
However, one crab dish that does qualify is fried crab with sambal belachan. Now one might think that this is a dish indigenous to Malaysia, but in fact it was created in Hendon at a Malaysian Chinese restaurant by the name of Gourmet Garden. Belachan, a fermented shrimp paste, is an acquired taste but I defy anyone not to be knocked out by the fiery shrimpy flavours that makes this dish a worthy bronze medallist.
I visited Japan for the first time this year and I ate like a king. Rather surprisingly, one of my favourite dishes was kara-age aka Japanese fried chicken served with mayo and a squeeze of lime. Now I've eaten kara-age before, but to all intents and purposes, the fried chicken at Tokyo's Charari Charari might as well have been a different dish. I know I'm bending my rules, but they're my rules to be bent, so it's silver for the kara-age.
Guangzhou's 花好悦园酒家 is, in my humble opinion, one of the best restaurants that I've ever been to. Any number of dishes that I sampled there would've been a worthy winner of this award, but for the fact that I've eaten many of them before. However, there is one dish that I fell in love with: fish-skin dumplings (魚皮餃), made with a fish-skin wrapper and filled with pounded fish meat. Served in a broth with vegetables, this dish encapsulates the soul of Cantonese cuisine.
The Red Card – awarded to who or what I want to send off the field of food
Winner: 'Laksa' by The Providores & Tapa Room
I always try to be positive on my blog, but every now and then I get the hump. In particular, I got angry at Marks & Spencer's third-rate attempt at dim sum. And San Pellegrino's World's Best 50 Restaurants sent me apoplectic with rage - whilst there are some excellent restaurants on there, much of it reads like a list of where Russian oligarchs like to hang out with their arm candy.
However, the winner of The Red Card award, by a country mile, is the 'laksa' served at The Providores & Tapa Room. Or to give it its full name: smoked coconut, tamarind and liquorice laksa with a chicken lime leaf dumpling, green tea noodles, crispy shallots and coriander.
It's this kind of crap that gives fusion a bad name. Notwithstanding the incompatibility of subtle green tea noodles with a flavoursome aromatic broth, it was also poorly executed – the noodles were overcooked and the dumpling virtually had no filling.
Perhaps if I was richer and had the appetite of a quail then I wouldn't have been so pissed off at the high price tag and miniscule portion size. But for me, the laksa from The Providores & Tapa Room should be sent-off now!
Song of the Year – awarded to my favourite song of the last year
Winner: Blackout by Anna Calvi
I'll just let the music do the talking. Suffice to say, if there were any justice in the world then Anna Calvi would be a global superstar.
If you want to check out last year's Golden Noodle Awards then please click here.