Early mornings and late, late nights
From September, London Underground will run all night (well, maybe), and Londoners, it’s predicted, will want to eat into the wee small hours. In preparation, restaurants as diverse as Pizza East (last orders 1am, open until 2am) and Scarfes Bar (bar snacks until 1am closing), have already started serving until midnight and beyond. These join late-night legends VQ (open 24/7 for the last 18 years, with new branches opening soon) and Duck & Waffle (O’s go-to for a spicy ox cheek doughnut at 5am), which were already catering for night owls.
The trend isn’t confined to London, either: MEATliquor has initiated the late finish at its new and forthcoming Leeds and Bristol sites (1am closing), as has Slice, Manchester (1am closing); The Joint, Leeds; and Salt Dog Slims, Liverpool, all of which now offer a tempting alternative to that late-night kebab.
Take advantage – Make the most of the new extended service hours by having dinner after a trip to the theatre or late showing of a film, rather than stuffing yourself in a hurry beforehand. Or, if you have small children, embrace the 5am start by treating yourself – and them, of course – to a lovely breakfast made by someone else.
Street food and no-booking restaurants have changed British dining forever: we have less interest in planning-ahead these days. However, we’ve also had our fill of eating burgers in freezing warehouses. Now, from Manchester’s neighbourhood bolthole Volta to exciting new London opening The Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden (above), smart-informal dining is about keeping things free-and-easy without forgoing creature comforts. You can drop in, and eat and drink as much or as little as you like. There’s no pressure to buy a three-course meal: light bites are the new lunch for food fashionistas: try warm truffled chicken on toasted brioche with a green herb salad at the Ivy Market Grill.
It’s a trend that’s set to continue, with many new restaurants opening with some form of barstool or kitchen-pass dining, usually only available to walk-ins. At Liverpool’s Salt House Bacaro or Glasgow’s Ox and Finch, an element of bar dining is giving even the most upmarket of restaurants a new casual dimension.
Embrace queueing or dine early – Making sure you bag a place at the bar usually involves waiting in line, but there’s no shame in waiting outside for the doors to open so you are first in.
Forget meat three ways with two veg, a sauce and fancy foams – in fact, forget dinner plates altogether – ultra-focussed food is the way forward. The trend this year is for small plates of militant simplicity and minimal intervention, which let one or two top-notch ingredients shine. Olive is particularly smitten with the Moroccan-spiced pork belly ribs at Levanter near Bury; classic pimientos de Padrón or quail escabeche at Covent Garden’s Barrafina and the crispy pig’s cheek with piccalilli at Glasgow’s Meat Bar.
Do it yourself – Serve a simply roasted chicken with salsa verde, a spiced cauliflower with caper raita, or a pile of seafood with nothing more than a bowl of aïoli for dipping (recipes on olivemagazine.com). Non-cooks should choose ready-roasted chickens, ready-to-cook racks of ribs, or smoked fish, served with an assortment of high-quality condiments.
Historically, chefs were loath to leave their own kitchens. Today, cooking outside their safety zone, with new staff on unfamiliar stoves in someone else’s restaurant, is how chefs test their mettle. By swapping ideas, techniques and war stories, they keep their creative juices flowing. This wanderlust has given rise to a packed calendar of pop-ups and chef swaps, from Northcote’s Obsession (23 Jan-6 Feb) – the grande dâme of guest chef events and one that glitters with Michelin stars – to Grub Club, a pop-up dining club that hooks up young chefs with food enthusiasts in unique urban spaces, which will host a new series in Loughborough Junction, southeast London, from April. Wahaca is joining in: this year: big-name Mexican chefs Alexjandro Ruiz, Roberto Solis and Enrique Olvera will visit the Covent Garden venue for a programme of one-off dinners. Hardcore food lovers, look out for the two-day takeovers at London’s Zoilo due to take place this spring, when international chefs will illustrate how ex-pats from countries such as Sweden and Wales helped shape Argentinian cuisine; or Dan Doherty’s Chefs of Tomorrow project, where rising young talent will be showcased in different restaurants.
Experience it for yourself – Remember to book well in advance if you can, as these events regularly sell out ahead of time. You’ll find news of events on olivemagazine.com.
Sharing cocktails and teeny-tiny tasters
The prevailing trend among connoisseurs is to savour smaller measures of exceptional drinks. Craft beer geeks are now used to sipping thirds of a pint in Brewdog bars or at Manchester’s Indy Man festival (Oct 2015), while London wine lovers enjoy 75ml glasses of rare wines at restaurant/wine bar 28°-50°.
Now cocktails are shrinking, too. Mission is serving ‘three sip’ cocktails in cute decanters, so that guests can sample a greater variety of its classics. Meanwhile, Two Ruba has matched four miniature champagne cocktails with four bite-size dishes, and Bar Termini offers four ready-mixed negronis. Like the sharing cocktails at Punch Room, the idea is to get people talking about the drinks – in this case, often fascinating historical creations, such as a clarified milk punch, made with three rums, Somerset cider and spices – rather than simply getting them drunk. How very grown-up.
Mix it up – Buy a mini decanter and glasses to use at home (try preloved.co.uk or search second-hand shops). Check you have all the ingredients for your favourite cocktails (or you can find recipes on olivemagazine. com). Then, when you’re expecting guests, mix up a few classics and wow your friends with mini tasters. Encourage everyone to sip slowly!
21st century fusion
Fusion food got a bad press in the 1990s, and rightly so: that collision of southern Mediterranean and Pacific Rim cooking caused many culinary disasters. Clearly that hard lesson was learned, though, because modern British chefs are now using ingredients from the global larder or redesigning foreign dishes with a clear, fierce intelligence. On any given night, for instance, the menu at Michael Bremner’s 64 Degrees (Brighton and London), might feature a Peruvian-inspired ceviche or a dish of German knödel potato dumplings next to Francophile lamb with Puy lentils. Until now, ‘authentic’ has been the watchword of food aficionados; now Duck & Waffle has created the ‘scotch bhadji’ – a scotch egg swaddled in an onion bhaji. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Babu Bombay Street Kitchen is serving spicy scrambled eggs bhurji pau-style (with ginger, red onion, tomatoes, green chilli and fresh coriander) on traditional Scottish morning rolls. In short, nothing is sacred – and everything tastes delicious. Look out particularly this year for the influence of East Asian and Korean flavours in hybrid dishes such as Social Eating House’s confit Kentish lamb with miso caramel; Jinjuu’s Korean tacos; or in Neil Rankin’s use of the hot sauces gochujang and sambal at London’s Smokehouse and Bad Egg.
Cook it yourself – Pre-order a copy of Olive regular Rosie Birkett’s A Lot on her Plate for a brilliant collection of recipes to help ease the home cook into this new world.
Generation Y isn’t interested in the menu (so 2014!); instead, 20-somethings want to design each dish to their own personal specifications. In the US, where you can demand fries with Big Mac sauce at McDonald’s and build your own, off-menu bowls at KFC, customised or ‘hacked’ fast food is huge. In the UK, that demand for pick ‘n’ choose food helps explains the rise of assembly-line burrito joints, such as Chipotle and Mission Burrito. M&S sells a growing range of mix-and-match vegetable and pasta packs for home cooking, and casual restaurants are becoming more flexible, too. With over 100 cereals, 12 milks and 20 toppings, Brick Lane’s Cereal Killer is the quirkiest ‘you choose’ newcomer. Meanwhile, gourmet French burger chain, Big Fernand, which has just opened in London, offers a staggering 3,840 potential combinations of patty, bun, unpasteurised cheeses, herbs and homemade sauces. It looks like 2015 will be all about personal preference.
Make your own – Design your own sausages at high-end butcher, HG Walter (hgwalter.com); clients include Heston Blumenthal, who came up with chilli, chocolate, orange and pork. Or brew your own beer at Glasgow’s Drygate Brewing Co.
Arts and crafts: the new individuality
We did minimalist chic; then came the Brooklyn dive bars; now restaurant design is entering a new phase of craftsmanship and eccentricity. Detail and colour is suddenly hip again: check out Cardiff’s Bunkhouse bar – part Victorian villa, part Japanese design studio – and the Sketch Gallery, where Turner Prize-nominated guest artist David Shrigley has even redesigned the tableware.
In the smallest ways (as in the1960s retro glamour of Palomar’s drinks’ coasters) and in the biggest (theatrical liquid nitrogen ice-cream machines at Heston Blumenthal’s recent bold venture The Perfectionists’ Café at Heathrow’s Terminal 2), venues are asserting their individual style, and not least in staff uniforms. The smocks and stripy tops at Skye Gyngell’s Spring, have caused quite a stir (one Olive confidante described them as O Brother Where Art Thou? meets Humpty Dumpty), but whether it’s a mini comeback for bowties at Rivea, the bespoke tweeds at Edinburgh’s G&V Hotel (formerly Hotel Missoni) or the spangly creations at Quaglino’s, you have to love this break with the usual boring black-and-white uniforms.
If any of this sounds twee, in the same spirit, Wahaca commissioned Berlin graffiti artists, 44flavours, to style its new Cardiff restaurant. All of this proves that, like the self-styled ‘Stupid Little Biscuit’ packets in Puccino’s coffee shops, Anya Hindmarch’s limited edition Frosties box for Kellogg’s, and craft beer labels (thank you, Pressure Drop Brewing), there are a million and one ways to stand out from the crowd.
Customise your kitchen – A Cricut personal electronic cutting machine will die cut vinyl, card and paper to allow you to create your own jar labels, cupcake wrappers and furniture stickers very easily.
At Grillshack, one of London’s most tricked-out, tech-forward restaurants, use of its touch-screen ordering points peaks on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This is the time when diners are most likely to be hungover and least inclined to deal with human staff. In a stark way, that illustrates the impetus behind most new restaurant technology: whether you are pre-ordering drinks at your favourite bar with Orderella, finding a last-minute table at a top restaurant using City Hawk, or splitting and paying the bill on your phone at Wahaca or Busaba Eathai, restaurant apps are all about smoothing out any niggles or minor delays in the so-called ‘restaurant journey’.
The really exciting innovations, however, will occur as restaurants begin to expand in imaginative ways on the dining-out experience that starts on your tablet. On the website for new Leeds burger restaurant The Joint (@GetBakedUK), you will be able to walk through a 360° version of the venue, browsing menus and booking specific tables as you explore. More radically, Mugaritz, the cutting-edge Spanish restaurant, is developing an app that will release smells via a device called Scentee, which attaches to your phone, so you can experience its dishes remotely – in an olfactory sense, at least.
At a more fundamental level, diners also want a meaningful, online, two-way dialogue with our favourite restaurants: we want to be able to browse a kitchen’s development dishes on Instagram or chat to chefs and restaurateurs on Twitter. Restaurants that foster such human interaction are thriving. Late last year, Chester’s Sticky Walnut (@StickyWalnut) raised £100K on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to launch a second outlet, Burnt Truffle (@BuRntTruffle). This was due in no small part to the passionate following its chef-owner, Gary Usher, has cultivated on Twitter. People who have never even eaten at Sticky Walnut were pledging money because they love Gary’s off-the-wall tweets. Clearly, this is the beginning of a new era in restaurant culture.
Get app-savvy – Now there’s no longer any need to haggle about who had that extra side dish or glass of wine when eating out with friends. Download apps, switch on your Bluetooth and make technology work for you, especially when it comes to dividing and paying that bill. Tip and bill splitting apps, such as Gratuity, will work out the service instantly, while Billr will divvy up the bill fairly by who has eaten and drunk what.
Quirks and innovations
Every clued-up, modern venue or brand needs its hot talking and Instagram focus point: think Bob Bob Ricard’s famous ‘press for champagne’ table buzzers, Beef & Pudding’s skyscraping ‘beef ham tower’ burger, Chiltern Firehouse’s crab doughnuts, and the craft beer vending machine at The Fox, Haggerston. Restaurant and bar owners love outlandish dishes, quirky design features or cool innovations that will make people gasp, giggle and, crucially, snap and share on social media. (Olive readers ‘like’ burgers, doughnuts and anything with salmon.) This year, you can expect City restaurant M’s high-tech Japanese toilets and its kobe steaks to be trending hard, as may the designer coasters and napkin rings at the newly redesigned Quaglino’s. In the past, Quaglino’s iconic ashtrays were regularly stolen by guests – they were literally a collector’s item. In a knowing homage, tempting tableware has been factored into the restaurant’s new look. But be warned: staff are watching. Of course, nothing gets more social media likes and shares than beautiful food we want to eat – so restaurants with great-looking dishes and camera-friendly lighting will doubtless be trending, too. The Isle of Wight’s big-windowed restaurant and bar The Little Gloster looks set to be a social media winner.
Get in the loop – Follow Olive on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and send us your top spots using the hashtag #olivemagtrending.
This feature was published in January 2015
Photographs: Randy Duchaine/Alamy; Gary Yeowell/Getty Images; Paul Winch-Furness; Philip Webb; D Hurst/Alamy; Addie Chinn; Justin Lambert/Getty Images; Alastair Hendy; Amber Rowlands; Studiomode/Alamy.
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