Sponsored by Quorn
There are plenty of people who will tell you that fusion food is dead. That it was a passing fad, long gone, and soon to be forgotten. Not so fast. The arrival of one chef to our shores last year left that theory in tatters, and led to one of the biggest and most refreshing treats hungry diners had been given in the capital for ages.
Christine Manfield, an Australian, was lured from her very successful Sydney restaurant Paramount by restaurateur Chris Bodker to head up the kitchen at new venture East@West. That she has won this award - based on the cream of this year's Menuwatch features appearing in Caterer - in only her first year in the UK is testament to her considerable talent, and also to his vision.
Manfield bases her food around the cuisines of Japan, Vietnam and China, but takes inspiration from all over. And she has no problem calling her food fusion.
"That's how all cuisine has evolved, after all," she points out. "But the word does get bastardised - and murdered in the press. You can say my food is embedded in South-east Asia and Japan - but with all the other influences and techniques that come into play."
Whether or not the word has been murdered in the press, it's how it appeals to the customer that counts. On that level the judges were immediately impressed by how the menu not only ‘made you hungry' but also ‘made you think'. Together the judges acknowledged that combinations like green peppercorn duck tea, spiced duck, lychees, pickled shiitake mushrooms had the capacity to engage diners all night.
The judges were also looking for creativity on the menu. With so many speciality ingredients on offer, like ginger blossom, cape gooseberries, sweet tamarind, enoki mushrooms and flying fish roe, you could certainly call her menu a revelation. Manfield gets all these exotic bits and pieces flown in from Bangkok twice a week.
But the results are down to more than just the ingredients. "You've got to have taste and texture in any dish - and contrast," says Manfield. "I like clean, elegant food."
And her inspiration? "I'm always picking up ideas - not necessarily culinary, but all sorts of things - from design and buildings." The dazzling and often architectural visual impression of her dishes accordingly reflects the innovation on the menu.
In the end the judging went right down to the wire, and there was some very thorough debate. But East@West is a worthy winner, and as one judge reminded the group: "This award is also about pushing back the boundaries."
No one could deny that on this criterion, the restaurant and Christine Manfield deliver.
Le Pont de la Tour, London
Agaric, Asburton, Devon
Stoke Park Club, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
The Wells, London
The Wildebeest Arms, Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk
St Andrews, Fife
The Foxhunter, Nantyderry, Monmouthshire
Drake's Restaurant, Ripley, Surrey
Juniper, Altrincham, Cheshire