The GQ Food & Drink Awards returns for its sixth year to crown the very best in British hospitality. A record number of you voted for your favourite places to sip, sup and sleep, but how to whittle the impressive shortlist down to the worthy winners? Enter, our panel of esteemed judges – forerunners in their fields – who were set the task of selecting the cream of the culinary crop. With the support of our partners, Veuve Clicquot and Belvedere Vodka, we’ve crowned this year’s best in class, with each receiving the coveted engraved Waterford Crystal ice bucket (not to mention full gloating rights, naturally). So here, without further ado, are the champions of the GQ Food & Drink Awards 2020.

Meet the judges

Introducing our panel of industry experts, leaders in the world of hospitality, interiors and food and drink, and tasked with choosing the very best from this year’s impressive shortlist

Dylan Jones
Now in his 22nd year as Editor-In-Chief of GQ, Dylan Jones is also chairman of London Fashion Week Men’s and the Hay Festival Foundation and a board member of the British Fashion Council.

Alexei Rosin
Moët Hennessy’s new managing director for the UK and Ireland, Alexei Rosin, has more than 25 years’ experience in hospitality. Having been appointed in May, he now looks after the company’s most prestigious brands, including Dom Pérignon, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.

Sunaina Sethi
Sunaina Sethi is one of three siblings behind ahead-of-the-curve restaurant group JKS. Sethi is to thank for much-loved London restaurants Trishna, Hoppers, Brigadiers and Bao, to name but a few.

Ben Elliot
Not only is Ben Elliot a V&A trustee and cofounder of luxury lifestyle group Quintessentially, but most recently he was appointed the British government’s first food surplus and waste champion.

Mia Johansson
Mia Johansson is managing partner of London’s hottest watering hole – and recipient of 2018’s Belvedere Best Bar award – Swift, where she continues to shake (and stir) up the cocktail scene.

Tom Kitchin
Tom Kitchin rose to culinary fame after becoming the youngest chef to earn a Michelin star, for his eponymous Edinburgh restaurant. Since then, he has opened four more restaurants across Scotland.

Melissa Hemsley
Chef, author and one half of a double act with her sister, Jasmine, Melissa Hemsley is an advocate for sustainable living. Her latest recipe book, Eat Green, is out now and set to become a new kitchen classic.

Oliver Peyton
Revered restaurateur Oliver Peyton opened his first restaurant, Atlantic Bar & Grill, in 1994. In addition to judging the BBC’s Great British Menu, Peyton is cofounder of hospitality group Peyton And Byrne.

Tara Bernerd
Interior designer Tara Bernerd’s practice is at the top of its game, with a portfolio that includes a striking restoration of The Principal London and the hotly anticipated Equinox Hotel LA.

1. Best Restaurant

The Lecture Room & Library at Sketch
On gaining its third Michelin star last year, The Lecture Room & Library at Sketch cemented its status as one of Britain’s finest dining destinations. But then, you already knew that. Since bursting onto the scene 17 years ago, Sketch – under the daring direction of Algerian emigré Mourad Mazouz – has broken the mould of starched and stale fine dining, creating an unapologetically OTT restaurant without ever underplaying the pedigree of the kitchen. According to judge Dylan Jones, it is this “bold approach that – several striking redesigns later – has kept Sketch feeling fresh,” and at the top of London’s must-not-miss restaurants.

9 Conduit Street, London W1. 020 7659 4500.

Runner-up: Ynyshir
Also nominated: Mana; Midsummer House; The Wilderness

2. Best Chef

Tom Brown at Cornerstone
Cornwall has a habit of producing high-calibre seafood chefs and Tom Brown is no exception. After working alongside the likes of Nathan Outlaw and Rick Stein, and with a Great British Menu win under his belt, Brown decided to go solo, opening his debut restaurant, Cornerstone, in 2018. Today, Cornerstone continues to stretch the limits of traditional seafood cookery, with innovative dishes such as monkfish pastrami and a crab-topped crumpet. It was high praise all round from our judges, including Melissa Hemsley, who congratulated Brown’s “innovative talent” and ability to create “consistently exceptional dishes”. For now, it seems, Brown is a big fish – and London is his pond.

3 Prince Edward Road, London E9. 020 8986 3922.

Runner-up: Aktar Islam at Opheem
Also nominated: Johannes Nuding at The Lecture Room & Library at Sketch; Anne-Sophie Pic at La Dame De Pic; Clare Smyth at Core

3. Best Interior

Heckfield Place
As the old adage goes, “Good things come to those who wait,” and that couldn’t be truer of Heckfield Place, which – following a dramatic near decade-long restoration – finally reopened its doors in September 2018. The long-awaited grand reveal was nothing short of remarkable: a sprawling Georgian estate given new life by the design visionaries at Spratley & Partners and BWT. The reimagined space now boasts 45 individually designed bedrooms alongside a small-yet-serene Little Bothy Spa, private cinema and a biodynamic farm serving the hotel’s two dining destinations. The pièce de résistance? Undoubtedly the Long Room suite, complete with familial antiques, fireplaces and a private terrace overlooking the lake and landscaped gardens beyond.

Design guru Tara Bernerd praised the redesign as “an adventurous yet sensitive update”, while Melissa Hemsley said, “From start to finish, you feel truly looked after.” Isn’t that what it’s all about, after all?

Heckfield Place, Hampshire RG27 0LD. 0118 932 6868.

Runner-up: Circolo Popolare
Also nominated: Bob Bob Cité; Decimo; The Man Behind The Curtain

4. Best Breakthrough

The Standard
A former town hall isn’t the likeliest location for a luxury London hotel, but step inside The Standard and you’ll soon see beyond the brutalist façade. The eagerly anticipated launch marks The Standard’s first foray into the UK hotel market, after a string of successful stateside ventures in Manhattan, Miami and Hollywood. The all-American export brings with it 266 distinctive bedrooms (the best enjoying sweeping city views and risqué terrace tubs), a lively library lounge, street-facing drinking den and Decimo, a live fire rooftop restaurant headed by Michelin-starred chef Peter Sanchez-Iglesias. When asked what makes The Standard so unique, Oliver Peyton said, “It’s rock’n’roll. Anything could happen.” Standard by name, but never standard by nature.

10 Argyle Street, London WC1. 020 3981 8888.

Runner-up: Forza Wine
Also nominated: Aimsir; Da Terra; The Little Chartroom

5. Belvedere Best Bar

Connaught Bar
A timeless classic that refuses to rest on its laurels, is it any wonder that Connaught Bar remains the destination of choice for the capital’s discerning drinkers? The attention to detail here is undeniable; from the daily ten-hour prep sessions to produce their in-house distils and garnishes to the slick service delivered by their expert mixologists.

According to judge Mia Johansson, a visit from the famous made-to-order Martini trolley is a must: “The combination of on-point mixology and old-school elegance is all part of the quintessential Connaught Bar experience.” Well, if Mia said so…

Carlos Place, London W1. 020 7314 3419.

Runner-up: Tayer + Elementary
Also nominated: Murder Inc; Pennyroyal; Vice & Virtue

6. Best Front Of House

Juanito Asencio at Chiltern Firehouse
If ever there is a blueprint for first-class service, Chiltern Firehouse is it. And vital to maintaining that reputation was Juanito Asencio, who preempted diners’ every need for six years (since the restaurant first opened) before his departure earlier this year. It was this unwavering care and attention that kept regulars returning and newcomers knocking at the door.

The secret to Asencio’s award-winning approach? “Nothing was too much trouble. He provided the ultimate level of hospitality and is synonymous with the Chiltern Firehouse experience,” said Tom Kitchin.

1 Chiltern Street, London W1. 020 7073 7676.

Runner-up: Alessandro Palazzi at Dukes Bar
Also nominated: David Boyd at Aqua Shard; Jean-Claude Breton at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay; Joe Jacobs at The Box

7. Veuve Clicquot Innovator

Mollie’s Motel & Diner
Never one to stick to the status quo, Nick Jones – the hotelier behind Babington House and the ever-expanding Soho House – has broken the mould once more with his latest launch, Mollie’s Motel & Diner. Jones has given the classic 1950s drive-thru a luxurious update, proving that “motel” needn’t mean sad stacks of pancakes and wornout sheets. Lovable, affordable and arguably long-overdue, Mollie’s was hailed as “radically redefining the British roadside experience” by judge Tom Kitchin. And, with another two sites in the pipeline, it looks like yet another smash hit for Jones. That road trip never seemed so tempting.

Shrivenham Road, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 8PY. 01367 707777.

Runner-up: Mercato Metropolitano
Also nominated: Bompas & Parr; Cake & Bubbles; Inception Group

8. Best Restaurateur

Adam Handling
Having opened two Frog restaurants in London, two bars, two zero-waste places and even an eponymous restaurant with Belmond, our restaurateur of the year was on an incomparable winning streak until the coronavirus struck. However, despite having to close The Frog Hoxton and Ugly Butterfly, Handling definitely deserves his award.

Alexei Rosin claimed Handling’s “diverse portfolio shows his enthusiasm for the industry”, while Ben Elliot praised his efforts to “change the perception of sustainability with luxurious dining experiences”. What will 2021 hold for Handling? Only time will tell.

Runner-up: Jason Atherton
Also nominated: Robin Gill for The Dairy; Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux for Big Mamma Group; Gary Usher for Elite Bistros

9. Best Hotel

The Newt In Somerset
What does it take to be crowned GQ’s Best Hotel? Well, elegant bedrooms? Tick. State-of-the-art spa with sauna, salt steam room and outdoor pool? Tick. Acres of woodland to explore? Eight-hundred to be exact. Cider press? Not exactly non-negotiable, but welcome nonetheless. That’s right, The Newt In Somerset might bear all the hallmarks of a classic country hotel, but it exceeds expectations at every turn. According to Oliver Peyton it “already feels very much part of the Somerset environment”. Gurt lush, that.

Bruton, Somerset BA7 7NG. 01963 577777.

Runner-up: Coworth Park
Also nominated: Belmond Cadogan Hotel; Fingal; Grantley Hall

10. Best Pub

The Mariners
Taking the reins from a long-loved landlord is no mean feat, not least when said landlord is none other than Nathan Outlaw. Big boots to fill, then, but award-winning chef Paul Ainsworth – alongside his wife, Emma – has steered The Mariners into smoother waters still, with a menu that champions Cornish produce at every turn, from freshly shucked Porthilly oysters to prime Dexter beef. According to judge Sunaina Sethi, “The Mariners is everything a great British pub should be. The food, drinks, service and atmosphere are all second to none.”

Slipway, Rock, Cornwall PL27 6LD. 01841 532093.

Runner-up: Marksman
Also nominated: The Angel At Hetton; Canton Arms; The Swan

11. Best Overall Experience

The Hut
The scent of freshly grilled seafood, sailboats bobbing on the horizon… it may sound like a scene straight from the Côte d’Azur, but this is Colwell Bay on the Isle Of Wight (even if the rosé is strictly Provençal). Headed up by bon vivant brothers Matt and George Adams, The Hut specialises in the simple things in life, including langoustines laden with garlic butter, rock oysters on ice and stellar sea views. For this reason, The Hut is an “always cheerful go-to” for judge Tara Bernerd. Quite frankly, we can’t disagree; as the music fires up once more and the sun sets over the bay beyond, The Hut reminds us – perhaps when we need it most – just how sweet a British summer’s day can be.

Colwell Bay, Isle Of Wight PO40 9NP. 01983 898637.

Runner-up: Northcote
Also nominated: Carbis Bay Estate; Dinner By Heston Blumenthal; Kwant

12. Best Sommelier

Sara Rossi at Trinity
Building a wine list for a neighbourhood restaurant is certainly no mean feat, but sommelier Sara Rossi (previously of Fera At Claridges and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay) has done just that, amassing an accomplished yet accessible offering at Michelin-starred Trinity in London’s Clapham. Oliver Peyton praised Rossi’s ability to “strike a balance between intrigue and value”, while Tom Kitchin simply said, “Her knowledge of wine is truly next level.” We’ll have what Rossi’s drinking.

4 The Polygon, London SW4. 020 7622 1199.

Runner-up: James Lloyd at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
Also nominated: Melania Bellesini at The Fat Duck; Sébastien Morice at Claridge’s London; David Vareille at The Arts Club

13. Sustainability Award 

New for 2020, the Sustainability Award celebrates the inspiring individuals that place environmental responsibility at the heart of all they do. It seems only right, therefore, that chef Skye Gyngell – who has championed sustainable practices long before it became de rigueur to do so – is awarded the accolade in its inaugural year. Gyngell’s ingenious “Scratch” menu – served daily at her flagship restaurant, Spring – takes unloved kitchen scraps and transforms them into delightful dishes in their own right, proving that eating sustainably needn’t mean scrimping on flavour or fun.

This environmentally minded ethos is “crucial to inspiring future generations”, said Melissa Hemsley, while Gyngell’s recent move to a plastic-free kitchen shows “true commitment to the cause”. Sustainability in high-end environs is hard to achieve (let alone maintain), but Gyngell, as ever, is taking it in her stride.

Somerset House, London WC2. 020 3011 0115.

Runner-up: Douglas McMaster for Silo
Also nominated: Tommy Banks for The Black Swan; Henry Dimbleby for National Food Strategy; Simon Rogan

14. Lifetime Achievement

Raymond Blanc
Raymond Blanc OBE has celebrated many milestones in the past year, not least turning 70 and celebrating 35 years of his much-lauded two-Michelin star restaurant, Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons. A long-deserving recipient of GQ’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Blanc – in his modest manner – is quick to celebrate the work of his team and support of his family as instrumental to his success. But Blanc is indefatigable, intensely passionate and his joie de vivre shines through every element of his operation – it’s no surprise he has helped inspire generations of culinary greats (including Michael Caines and Ollie Dabbous to name but a few). We caught up with Blanc at Le Manoir to find out how a Frenchman from provincial Besançon captured the hearts – and palates – of the British hospitality industry…

Let’s start at the beginning. What first ignited your passion for cooking? 
I was lucky. I was strolling through the streets of my hometown, Besançon, and passed this beautiful restaurant. Inside, there was the maître d’hôtel flambéing, a waiter wheeling the cheese trolley, a sommelier decanting the wine. The sight of it. Oh, it was balletic. And I knew then I wanted to be part of the dance.

Then what happened?
I walked inside and declared: “I’m going to be the world’s best chef. Please let me work for you.” To which the owner replied, “We’re looking for a cleaner.” So I said, “Thank you, sir” and got to work right away. The mirrors had never been so clean. It was like Versailles!

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Tell us about what happened when you eventually made it into the kitchen… 
After service, I would spend hours reading up on gastronomy, wine… I was enraptured by it. One day, I suggested to the chef we might lighten the sauce a touch. His moustache bristled, his eyes darkened and with his full force he hit me with a copper pan. Ambulance, broken jaw, two broken teeth. I was exiled to England, but before I left, the owner told me, “Whatever you do you will succeed. I’ve never met another young man quite like you.”

A French chef exiled to England in 1972, how did that turn out?
It took me three days to drive to Oxford; my English was so poor I kept pronouncing it “Hoxfor”. Soon after, I met my ex-wife, Jenny, and we opened our little place. I had no money. It was red and white tablecloths, cheap prints of Paris on the walls, then a cockerel I painted bleu, blanc, rouge so you knew it was a French restaurant. We opened and became so full so quickly. I remember I had 1952 ovens with no bottoms, because I couldn’t afford expensive ones, and a 1962 Kenwood mixer. But then we won our first Michelin star, then another.

‘Maman Blanc passed this year. She was the boss until the end. My sons called her “Mother Teresa on speed”’

Did that come as a surprise?
Yes, because all I wanted – all I ever wanted – was just a simple bistro. The stars in themselves, yes, they’re important, but it was a by-product. I’m not a mercenary. I don’t work for Michelin stars.

You’ve famously never received formal culinary training. Did that help you forge a unique style of cooking?
It’s a blessing because I have been able to indulge my every curiosity without being influenced by others. Of course, it’s a curse, too… There are a lot of insecurities that come with being self-taught.

What encapsulates the Le Manoir experience today?
The modern guest is knowledgeable, well-travelled and informed, which poses its own challenges. They are also exhausted and need to relax. I abhor snobbery, elitism and stuffiness. What we do at Le Manoir is provide a sanctuary where they can reconnect with their partner, family or friends. I believe very strongly that luxury must be inclusive.

Your protégés include Michael Caines, Marco Pierre White and Sat Bains. What qualities do you possess to have trained so many giants?
This place is a nursery for talent. I teach my chefs to respect the nobility of the seasons, as my parents once taught me. They learn to “get inside the food” by spending time in the gardens, growing and learning. Only then do they understand gastronomy as a complete alchemy, an art form, and only then can they achieve excellence.

And if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring chef?
Be curious, ask questions. Passion is key, as is a great work ethic. Talent alone will not carry you to success. Oh, and if you can’t work within a team, you’re out. If everyone shares in our success, then we can maintain an environment that is rich, collaborative, forever inquisitive.

Who are the up-and-coming chefs we should be keeping our eye on?
I think Ollie Dabbous [of Hide] will grow and grow. Robin Gill [of The Dairy, Sorella and Darby’s] is a fascinating young chef; he’s not focused on Michelin stars, but he’ll get there because he’s a product of his own genius.

You’ve said how curiosity is a key driver in any kitchen. What inspires your curiosity after all these years? 
It’s always in the tiny details. At the moment I’m researching rare seaweeds on the south coast of England and it’s incredible what you find if you focus on the minute details.

‘Passion is key, as is a great work ethic – talent alone will not carry you to success’

There’s a lot of buzz about seasonality and sustainability in the UK food scene. What could other Michelin-starred establishments learn from Le Manoir? 
It’s important we know what we mean by seasonality. If it’s seasonal, it’s close to home: better taste, better texture, better colours, flavours, nutrients. Not only that, you help your local farmer to keep his land. Also, you help your village to keep its pub, its post office. Then you don’t import food from billions of miles away, which means you stop creating pollution.

How has the British food scene changed? What do you hope for the future?
British chefs have changed. Before, the kitchen was run by fear, by squirrelling away recipes. Today, it’s a culture of collaboration, creativity, excitement for each other’s success. It’s a fertile time to be a young British chef with ideas. It’s not so London-centric, either. Look at Sat Bains, Mark Birchall, Michael Caines. Incredible.

You’ve been awarded an honorary OBE and the insignia of Chevalier in the Ordre National De La Légion d’Honneur, but what achievement are you most proud of? 
Cooking for the Queen is always a joy. She’s an incredible lady. I was also awarded Honorary Freeman Of Great Milton this year, which is a huge honour – the terroir here has gifted me so much.

Do you plan on slowing down any time soon?
Never. I want to give our guests the most memorable gastronomic experience of their life for as long as I can. Once we stop striving for excellence, we might as well be dead.

Finally, what is your death row meal?
I would want something wholesome, something nostalgic. It would have to be Maman Blanc’s recipe for tarte aux pommes, because it would be cooked with love. She passed this year at 97 but was the boss until the end – my sons used to call her “Mother Teresa on speed”.

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