For food journalists this is silly season; that time of year when – in between the Christmas and New Year hangovers – we predict what the next 12 months in food will bring. Generally, we fail.
As anyone who spent 2016 searching for shaved ice, gruit or plangoes can tell you, even apparently hot trends can cool quickly, leaving those of us paid to play Mystic Munch looking as foolish as a man (okay, it was me) who suggested seaweed snacks were going to be everywhere last year.
For 2017, therefore, rather than offering wild predictions, here are 10 readily achievable things I would like to change. This is my wish-list for a far tastier Britain.
Ending the tyranny of choice I loathe big menus. They make me nervous. Confronted with 20 mains (how can any kitchen master so many?), Invariably I opt for a reassuringly dull dish in the (misplaced) hope that, between the beef rendang and the bunny chow, the kitchen might remember how to cook sausage ‘n’ mash. By contrast, show me a short, coolly self-confident 6: 6: 4 menu and I’ll try anything. Less is more.
Right-on restaurants When the National Living Wage came in last year, 33% of hospitality workers were earning below that rate (£7.20-an-hour for over 25s). Research by The Change Group found that, on average, female head waiters earn 20% less than their male peers.
Like the reluctance to adopt the Tipping Point Campaign’s transparency policies, this compounds the idea that restaurants often treat staff poorly. Lest eating out leave a bad taste, more venues need to follow Brewdog’s lead and pay Living Wage Foundation salaries (£8.45 or, in London, £9.75-an-hour).
Ill communication restaurants! Be it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, your essential info (menu, opening hours, phone number) should be clearly visible. Locating a restaurant’s address should not entail a cryptic Tumblr odyssey.
Travel sickness Yes, there are rare exceptions (the Sheffield Tap, Heston’s Perfectionist Café at Heathrow, the Companio Bakery stall on Manchester’s Victoria station), but our train stations, airports and ferry terminals are generally dismal places to eat, where a sorry collection of ubiquitous chains force-feed a captive audience overpriced tosh.
Last year, when British Airways announced it was replacing certain in-flight meals with M&S sandwiches, it caused some online kerfuffle. But for many travellers even the opportunity to buy an M&S sandwich would be a huge improvement. Our travel hubs desperately need to up their food game.
Man-up, Manchester Each September, a new Michelin guide is published and, each September, Manchester fails to get a star. This annual snub prompts an outrage locally which is demeaning for a city of Manchester’s cultural heft and bizarre when you consider how inimical (stiff, elitist, pompous) Michelin dining is to the city. Like most northern cities, Manchester is a democratic party town.
One blessed with many restaurants, such as El Gato Negro, Siam Smiles or the Refuge, that manifest that spirit far better than any luxe Michelin mausoleum would. Manchester, and this is true of all regional cities, needs to stop sweating on stars. It does not need Michelin’s approval.
Fake dives Do you remember when chipboard fixtures, scrap furniture and graffiti were a cost-saving necessity and not a design cliché? I do. I miss that honesty, just as I miss original restaurant design. This is not a Berlin dive bar. Your cocktails are £11. Don’t insult our intelligence.
Translating New Nordic 20 years ago, modern British cooking was in the vanguard and, while fundamentally conservative (must we really eat Lancashire hopot in Lancashire?), it was a movement that produced some good restaurants. Today, in many of Britain’s best kitchens, it’s the philosophy (yes, there was even a manifesto) of New Nordic Cuisine that holds sway.
But chefs are reluctant to explain why, for fear of being seen as Noma copyists. It leaves foraging, fermenting and cooking with fire looking like fashionable fads, when, in fact, at its best, New Nordic – with its focus on locality, seasonality and traditional techniques – is a radical methodology for creating exceptional flavours in a sustainable way. Chefs need to get that message across.
The £3.50 Pint Project I like an experimental barrel-aged Brett-ed coriander stout as much as the next beardy craft-beer geek. But if craft beer is going to help save the British pub (21 are closing each week), it has to address an unfortunate side-effect of its rise: the normalisation of the £6 pint. Britain needs far more ingeniously tasty, affordable everyday beers.
Passion ration Nowadays, everyone is passionate about food: daft chefs serving mystifying dishes; deluded contestants on TV cookery shows; inept street food traders. All of which proves that passion is no replacement for hard work and patiently honed craft skills. Let 2017 be the year we celebrate competence.
Clarity begins at home I love bao. I inhale dahl. I am approx. 63% bánh mì. The diversity of UK food is precious to me. But so are meat pies, fish ‘n’ chips and sandwiches, foods which, due to their familiarity, are widely neglected in Britain.
I want to embrace the world but treasure our classics. I want to see a street food stall selling faggots.
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