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1. Anima e Cuore

Ossa Buco at Anima e Cuore. Photo: Andre Ainsworth

Ossa Buco at Anima e Cuore. Photo: Andre Ainsworth

Few would disagree that our favourite opening of 2014 deserves its place in the top spot. Initial impressions of an ice cream parlour were blasted into the stratosphere one day after a first, casual visit for lunch.

What did we have that memorable afternoon? Oh, only a humble carrot soup. But, wait: the vegetable appeared in no less than three guises (velvety broth, carrot gnocchi and crispy carrot strips); a rosemary baba (pictured) arrived with taleggio mousse and walnuts; and, best of all, a nest of linguine with ceps, all nutty earthiness.

Our subsequent rave review attracted attention from other London titles, who also enthused about their find. We have returned regularly: on a recent lunchtime visit, for example, a packed room was filled with diners cracking open midweek bottles of wine and chowing down on sardines with caramelised onions, or ravioli with veal ragu.

But to witness the Anima phenomenon in all its glory you need to book dinner (and book you must, as there’s currently a three week wait for one of their twenty covers). A palpable sense of excitement leaks from the candlelit, windowless dining room, as chef-owner Mustapha Mouflih carefully explains to each table what his team are cooking (there’s no menu, or chalked-up blackboard in the evenings).

Highlights? Seabass tartare with cucumber sorbet, squid ink, avocado, fennel and radish, and a beautifully presented osso buco with tortelloni (this issue’s cover shot). Even better, you’ll be hard pressed to spend more than £25 a head (without booze).

Don’t get us wrong, the space has its limitations, and service is very personal, and therefore a little slow, but go with what they’re trying to do. It’s all part of the charm.

In short, a “hidden” hotspot is what this place has become. And it’s our fave opening of the year. Read our interview with chef-owner Mustapha here. 129 Kentish Town Road NW1

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2. Knowhere Special

Sausage roll and the Park Bench cocktail. Photos: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

Sausage roll and the Park Bench cocktail. Photo: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

Slip through a purposefully low-key 1960s-style door and descend downstairs into the candle-lit interior: there are restored flagstone floors, a shiny green-tiled bar, and a lively assortment of furniture from Victoriana to retro 1950s.

Owners Helen and Ash readily describe in detail the complicated flavour reductions and processes involved in their libations – which range from old-fashioned “grandma techniques” to modern-day Heston-style molecular experiments in taste, texture and colour. Ingredients are bought or sourced locally: meat from Meat NW5, coffee from Bean About Town, for example.

One of our favourites? The house martini, served in a charity shop chic vessel and fusing pink peppercorn vodka, cucumber and vermouth, with a dash of “house syrup” (they create this themselves too, of course). Crisp and not too sweet, it’s served with a teaspoon of beetroot “yolk” which explodes on the tongue.

In the autumn, they took over the greasy spoon upstairs and christened it Somewhere Over Knowhere, a contemporary bakery and deli that’s become an instant hit too, packed at weekends. 298 Kentish Town Road NW5

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3. Lure Fish Kitchen

Plump with a moreish sauce: mussels at Lure. Photo: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

Plump with a moreish sauce: mussels at Lure. Photo: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

It only opened in November, but this new Dartmouth Park all-day diner is wonderful. A simple interior – distressed wood, exposed brickwork and salvaged furniture – belies the quality of cooking on offer. The motto? ‘Fresh, seasonal, sustainable’ and the short but considered menu reflects this. Starters include a wintry Jerusalem artichoke soup or oysters; mains list a couple of hot fishy sandwiches and simple grilled dishes. All are well-priced (under a tenner) with sides extra.

Steamed mussels drip in umami-rich sauce (ginger paste, white wine and chilli but more than the sum of its parts), a delight to mop up with bouncy sourdough. A pneumatic “fish finger butty” is anything but: recalling the famous soft shell crab burger at Shrimpy’s, its fingers of cod lie criss-crossed in a shiny brioche bun smothered with crunchy fennel slaw and aioli.

But even the butty pales next to a superior fillet of gilt head bream, marinaded in lemongrass, sweet chilli and coriander, and blackened on the grill: a delicious plate, it recalls Asian classics like miso cod. And a side of carrots – also chargrilled and crunchy – instantly rehabilitate the vegetable to the most ardent haters. It may still be early days, but Lure Fish is here to stay. 56 Chetwynd Road NW5

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4. Pit Stop Cafe

Bento Box. Photo: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

Bento Box. Photo: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

This low-key pan-Asian restaurant on Kentish Town Road is world class. Owner Sing Wong’s father is the founder of the Four Seasons in Queensway, home to what many critics have praised as “the best roast duck in the world”. And Sing and wife Carol are streetfood innovators in their own right, with their wildly popular Berwick Street Market trailer, which first appeared back in 2008.

The menu is short, divided into rice dishes, noodles and bento. Starters of prawn and chive dumplings and signature “duck rolls” are impressive, but mains even better. Char Keuh Teow heaves with juicily spicy prawns, egg and chives tumbled through the kind of pleasingly charred flat rice noodles that only a red hot wok can deliver. An attractive bento box contains generous slabs of signature roast duck: pillowy soft, it’s cooked in the oven for 45 mins, the crispy skin nestling alongside crunchy pak choi, edamame beans and light-as-air rice. Quite the dish to hotfoot it back for. 157 Kentish Town Road NW1

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5. Rose and Crown

Perfectly reworked boozer. Photo: Ben Caudell

Perfectly reworked boozer. Photo: Ben Caudell

The much-loved, if overlooked Torriano was reborn this year, reverting to the pub’s historic name in the process. Its rough luxe interior now boasts industrial pendant lighting, cosy nooks and artfully distressed walls. Most exciting is a slew of good quality beers, lagers, ciders and ales on tap including Anchorstream, Beavertown, Weird Beard Kentish Town, Titanic Stout and Brew By Numbers. For the less adventurous, old faves Brooklyn Lager and our very own Camden Town (Hell’s and Pale Ale) are also on draft. Food is served on wooden boards by Somers Town’s Green Café, things like tender rotisserie chicken and aubergine, zingy potato and olive salad. Downstairs sees weekly comedy and live nights, including TNT, Freedom Fridge and Panda Riot. 71 Torriano Avenue NW5
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6. Shoe Shop

Classic cooking in a minimal environment. Photo: Stephen Emms

Classic cooking in a minimal environment. Photo: Stephen Emms

A small bare room with erratic opening hours and plastic sleeved menu with one-word dish descriptions? Okaaaay. But nonetheless this all-day cafe and bistro from Paul Merrony, who ran Soho’s Giaconda Dining Rooms, is a welcome and successful addition to K-Town’s food scene. Minimalist items like “globe artichoke”, “steak tartare” and “HB eggs” pepper the menu. Chicken liver pâté is silky as a parfait, and a main of “leg of lamb steak” arrives capped with honey-sweet roast tomatoes and swimming in parsley butter. A rib-eye steak dazzles most, juicily medium-rare and smothered with a luxuriously creamy shallot and green peppercorn sauce. No bookings. 122 Fortess Road NW5
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7. Bear and Wolf

Airy interior. Photo: B+ W

Airy interior. Photo: B+ W

Readers either celebrated or groaned at the prospect of a child-focussed café, yet when it opened they were united in their appreciation of a beautiful, airy space with a cool design atheistic. The large kids’ area is cleverly tucked away in a primary colour-festooned room at the back, so perching at the shared tables out front it’s all very adult, and sociable too. The menu is simple posh café grub, served with flair and imagination from an open kitchen. A smoked salmon sandwich is elevated by red onion and caper cream cheese. Coffee, from Shoreditch grinders Ozone, is unashamedly strong, and complements the daily range of sticky pastries and cakes perfectly. 153 Fortess Rd, London NW5
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8. Two Doors Down

Smiley owners Rich and Klara. Photo: Stephen Emms

Smiley owners Rich and Klara. Photo: Stephen Emms/ LBTM

This two-floor café concept makes clever use of ostensibly tiny space: upstairs there’s a bare wood counter, white tiling and blackboard listing daily specials; piled high are tray bakes, cookies, custard filled brioche buns, gluten-free cakes and savoury tarts. Downstairs, a snug lounge is cutely furnished. Coffee is Redchurch Street-based Allpress, smooth and balanced, and there are three types of filter, too: drip, V60 & Aeropress. Toasts feature classic beetroot and goat’s cheese, or smoked mackerel and horseradish. Five varieties of homemade sausage roll, including quails’ egg, is hand-crafted daily. 73 Kentish Town Road NW1
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9. Q Grill

Quick to become a Chalk Farm Road staple. Photo: PR

Quick to become a Chalk Farm Road staple. Photo: PR

The third restaurant from the hip Des McDonald group, this BBQ-meets-raw bar is built around a huge open kitchen. The simple menu outlines everything from scallop ceviche to pulled pork sandwiches, ribs and hotdogs. Octopus, charred on the grill, is meltingly tender, pimped up by on-trend kimchi, blood orange and capers. Juicy southern fried chicken is served with a wild garlic green sauce; aged rib eye steak slices as smooth as butter. The only glitch has been occasional service issues. 29-33 Chalk Farm Road NW1
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10. Carrots & Daikon

Perfect lunch spot. Photo: Tom Kihl

Perfect lunch spot. Photo: Tom Kihl

Just open opposite the Forum is this cute Vietnamese streetfood joint run by college friends. Lemongrass chicken banh mi (the classic Vietnamese baguette, pictured above) matches melting chunks of meat against a rich pâté and crisp pickled veg (that lend the place its name) and the kick of mum’s special recipe sriracha hot sauce. An alternative? A crispy honey caramelised pork lunchbox or zingy fresh summer rolls, hand-made every morning, with pork, prawns or tofu. Warm up with the classic beef or chicken pho noodle soup. 10 Highgate Road NW5

For readers’ Top 5 picks of 2014 see here.

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