For those who think that British food consists of fried eggs, sausages and bacon, there’s a huge surprise on the streets of London (and beyond). Indian, Italian, Korean, sushi, designer sandwiches…there’s something for everyone. Chefs have become heroes of our times (think Heston Blumenthal, Marco Pierre White, Jamie Oliver…) and ‘foodies’ reign supreme (Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson…). Food has evolved over the past twenty years at a breaking pace, and here’s a quick whistlestop tour of the most important trends of the last decades:
Oh Heston, what have you done? Snails porridge is now the reference point for molecular foodies the world over. In the early days, it was possible to lunch at The Fat Duck without (just) breaking the bank. Today, the menu runs to hundreds of Pounds Sterling but the magic is still there, or so I’m told. Be prepared for a ‘journey’ into your own memories of food.
Chef Fergus Henderson causes a stir by serving often-neglected cuts of meat: from trotters to tripe to testicles. The ‘Nose to Tail’ approach, with its big meaty plates, signalled a return to thrifty rural traditions where nothing was wasted.
On the other hand, foraging starts to become fashionable (following Claus Meyer’s opening of Noma in Copenhagen in 2003) and Nordic cuisine becomes the height of sophistication, a trend which has not abated. Even my local gastropub, the Dysart in Petersham, boasts of ingredients foraged in nearby Richmond Park.
Vegetables star as the central part of a meal, as in Bruno Loubet’s Zetter Grain Store. Korean street food offers much-needed cheap but delicious delights (counteracting the fact that Michelin-starred restaurant eating has become unaffordable for many). Chains try to recreate Paris-style brasseries (think Côte, where the good value for money menu is much loved by ‘ladies who lunch’); ‘real burger’ restaurants compete with sushi joints, the two even joining forces in ‘Sticks’n’ Sushi’ – not a new concept as it was created 22 years ago in Denmark but has recently taken residence in London – combining Japanese and Danish cooking traditions. Chefs are still stars. Cookery TV programmes are still watched by millions. Hundreds of cookery books are published each year. I’ve got more pictures of food on my iPhone than of my husband’s. And yet, ten percent of British people admit that they can’t cook (). Even bacon and eggs!