I have said this before, but I am by no means a restaurant critic. I genuinely go to places in search of nice food and having a good time. I have been lucky enough to go to some amazing places, so all my opinions are based on what I have already eaten...
Although there are quite diverse entries in this category, I decided to clump them into the 'smart' category as they feel like a treat.
- Frantzén/Lindeberg, Stockholm - For us this restaurant had that 'blow your socks off, gee whizz we were not expecting that' factor. It soared from 57 to 20 in this year's San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants list after being the 'One to Watch' in 2011. Their Satio Tempestas was a magical menagerie of around 35 different components - mainly vegetables. It was pure witchcraft. They even made me a birthday cake...
- The French Laundry, Yountville - It took over 1500 phone calls to get in, but boy was it worth it! The French Laundry was a restaurant we never dared dream of. It was in the middle of nowhere with reservations being about as frequent as rocking horse poo. It was everything I had dreamed of. The only reason it isn't number one is because it lived up to the hype, whereas Frantzén/Lindeberg was a real surprise. My highlight dish was the sensational strawberries and custard.
- Le Gavroche, London - We have been planning a trip here for years, but only got round to it in November. Shame on us. The sumptuous dining room is a sign of things to come. Starting with cheese soufflé in cream and ending with calvedos babas and truffles; this was a feast indeed! My favourite course was the stone bass with arabian spices and red rice. Not bad considering I'm not a fan of fish. We also got to meet Michel Roux Jnr too!
- Coi, San Francisco - San Francisco is still one of the handful of American cities that has a Michelin Guide. Whilst flicking through, my husband found Coi. Just a few nights before we had been to the French Laundry, so expectations were not particularly high. Wrong! The mixture of chic yet cosy surroundings, friendly staff who loved to chat, and amazingly executed food made this a real dark horse. Dish of the Day? Nasturtiums with peaches and their home made marshmallow.
- é by Jose Andres, Las Vegas - This was a really weird yet wonderful experience! We were two of only eight diners in this secret restaurant at the back of Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. After writing an email explaining why we wanted to go, we received a golden ticket for the greatest show in Vegas. All the food was prepared in front of the bench we were sat at. Brilliant. The best spectacle had to be the gold encrusted cotton candy. Cheeky.
- Bourbon Steak, San Francisco - Christ Alive. They poach their steaks slowly in butter, then finish them off of the grill. The best steak I have ever eaten bar none. I've eaten steak since and been angry that it wasn't as good.
- Tyddyn Llan, Llandrillo - The best (and largest) Sunday roast I have ever had. Six different appetisers. Six unique sides with the roast. Six rich petit fours. The number of the beast. I am pretty sure they were trying to kill us, but they did not.
- 25 Lusk, San Francisco - On our last night in San Francisco we headed to 25 Lusk. Padded booths with friendly service and complimentary champagne from our hotel concierge made this pretty special. One of our starters reminded us of Satio Tempestas mixed with the heirloom tomato dish we had at The French Laundry. We were tomato obsessed after this!
- Bouchon, Las Vegas - Although Bouchon is actually quite relaxed, it feels special because Thomas Keller is behind the venture. We went here for breakfast on our first day in Vegas. Our waiter was chatty and informal whilst maintaining outstanding service worthy of a smart restaurant. Our standout dish was the delicious stack of french toast with apple and cinnamon.
- Sanmini's, Ramsbottom - Although this place has no Michelin star to its name, it feels like a special trip out. The dining room holds about six tables and it is run by an Indian family who are passionate about their cuisine. It is by no means a curry house. They serve fresh South Indian food which you will never find on a normal 'Indian' menu. I could eat a bucket full of their mutton chukka varuval. They do a mean mango lassi too...
I love tea rooms. There's something special about a decent brew with some great food then a slab of cake. Perfect.
- T & Cake, Almondbury - A wonderful mix of savoury starters and mains, with delicious home made cakes. It's probably a good job that it's an hour drive from Bolton, otherwise I'd be in some serious dietry trouble!
- Laduree, London - Petit perfection. One of the best cakes I have ever eaten, all served with a touch of elegance.
- Vete-Katten, Stockholm - One of the largest selections of cakes I have ever seen. Big tasselled lamp shades and frangipane topped desserts will mean this stays in my memory for a long time yet...
- Sugar Junction, Manchester - Food served in heart shaped earthenware bowls, chintzy china and a counter full of home made delights. Love it.
- Home Sweet Home, Manchester - The perfect pit stop for a flavoursome brew and a slab of syrup cake.
- Richmond Tea Rooms, Manchester - Step out of the village and into Wonderland. This Alice inspired hidey-hole has some of the best cakes in the city. I raved about their white chocolate and raspberry box for weeks.
- Breda Murphy, Whalley - The smart surroundings and well executed food might allow you to believe you are in a fancy restaurant. However, Breda Murphy's is comfortable, friendly and a haven for ladies who lunch (one WAG spotted...).
- Chokladkoppen, Stockholm - We went here twice in two days. Massive pastries and bowls full of custard means this one will always score well on my list!
- Peggy Porschen, London - This pretty pink shop is an Aladdin's cave of baked goods and amazing brews; notably their gingerbread tea. Wow.
- Blue Bottle Coffee, San Francisco - Secret coffees and strange conical flasks made this place a bit mysterious. People queue down the street for this coffee. It's that good...
Out for a Bite to Eat
- Hooters, Las Vegas - Oh my word. The only things that are small at Hooters are the hotpants. I'm talking food. The best burger I have ever had. If only I could recreate their cheese and chilli sauce. I could eat it every day of my life.
- Roam, San Francisco - We took a bus over to the other side of town to sample their burgers. Laid back perfection with the best chips ever.
- Solita, Manchester - They just keep getting better. Their burgers are constantly reinvented and their menu is never dull. About time Manchester got somewhere like this.
- BB King's, Las Vegas - Live jazz music and BBQ style food. Brilliant.
- BLT Burger, Las Vegas - Super friendly service mixed with some of the best burgers, fries and shakes in Vegas. Sat in the middle of the Mirage Casino, BLT feels like a little oasis from the scorching heat outside.
- Eagle & Child, Ramsbottom - This only opened fairly recently, but we found ourselves there twice in a few weeks. It's better than The Clog and Billycock in its heyday...
- Freemasons, Wiswell - Looks like a pub, acts like a restaurant. Comfortable surroundings yet epic desserts, this is like a laid back Northcote.
- Lucy's of Ambleside, Ambleside - Another where we found ourselves returning within a month. Lured in by the promise of award winning desserts, we returned in June for Lucy's Up the Duff Pudding Club. Twelve desserts in one night. Fact.
- Dottie's, San Francisco - Pancakes bigger than your head and jugs full of syrup, Dottie's is hailed as the best breakfast in the city. They were not wrong!
- Italia, Manchester - Franco and the team welcomed us with open arms to try their authentic Italian cuisine. There is nothing safe about their menu. We left eager to go back...
Other restaurants we enjoyed this year:
- Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom
- Il Toro, Horwich
- Dabbous, London
- Bengal Cottage, Horwich
- The Cheesecake Factory, San Francisco
- Rose Garden, Didsbury
- The Rivington, Blackrod
- St John Chinatown, London
- The Parlour, Chorlton
- The Pub, Las Vegas
- Almost Famous, Manchester
- The Burger Bar, San Francisco
- The Fisherman's Retreat, Shuttleworth
We're always on the hunt for recommendations, so please leave a comment if you have one that you think we might enjoy! Thanks x