Once upon a time, the UK’s food and drink ‘culture’ largely consisted of meat-and-two-veg, fish and chips, and warm bitter. Fortunately, these stereotypes are now wildly outdated, with only foul Leicester Square chain pubs still out to peddle such hackneyed cliches. Today, Blighty boasts some of the world’s best restaurants, London is recognised as one of the best cities for growling bellies, and a new wave of hungry entrepreneurs have introduced us to the wonders of street food, craft beer, sharing plates, and so much more.
Most importantly, UK diners are no longer simply content playing catch up – we want access to the cutting edge and are increasingly confident in our ability to help shape it. Looking ahead to 2014, there are a number of key developments on the horizon, so I’ve rounded up the top 5 food trends I think will make an impact on London in 2014. Feel free to tell me how ridiculous you think my predictions are by leaving a comment or trolling me on Twitter.
The UK’s American fetish gets fishy
London has been the epicentre of the Great British burger boom, smoked its way on to the BBQ map, and more recently clucked out its fair share of chicken joints. In 2014, our obsession with American-style eats will continue to move in new directions and there’s one particular gap in the market begging to be filled: seafood. Next year, expect lobster rolls – like those dished out by B.O.B.’s Lobster – to become the height of street food fashion, while crab cakes will mercifully leave the prison of the gastropub starter section and get fried proper Boardwalk-style on our pavements. Creole favourites jambalaya and gumbo will also make a spicy splash, and those wanting to get an early taste of this trend could do worse than check out Colonel Tom. We could even get a legitimate clam shack if we’re really lucky, and outside of aquatic territory, London is begging for its first decent sub shop.
Korean food spices up eating in the capital
When I penned my 2013 food trends column for the Hackney Citizen, one of my main predictions was that Korean fried chicken would sizzle its way to the heart of the London food scene this year. I was at best half right: an infatuation with poultry was definitely on the cards, but interest in Korean cuisine remained a moot point. That all looks set to change in 2014, and 12 months down the line, most of the capital’s diners will know their bibimbap from their bulgogi and be keeping a keen eye out for the latest pop-up soju bar. Indeed, 2013 was bookended by a trio of new arrivals that point to London’s growing interest in Korean food: street food-style eatery On The Bab, soju bar and canteen Jubo, and fusion burrito hawkers Korrito BBQ. Expect others to look to make their mark when the calendar turns and our palates to grow accustomed to the fiery flavours of the Peninsula sooner rather than later.
Tooting poised to be London’s latest foodie hot spot
Able to draw a map of Soho in your sleep? Grubbed your way around all the night markets in Hackney? Whiled away too many weekends in Northcote Road and Brixton Village? London has its fare share of foodie outposts, but what makes the capital such an enthralling place to eat and live is that the latest hotspot is always waiting to be discover. In 2014, my money is on Tooting. With a longstanding reputation for its curry houses, Tooting enjoys enviable access to the Northern Line, still reasonable rents and, increasingly, restaurants serving up more than just the spicy stuff. Relative old boys like Graveney & Meadow have been joined recently by the likes of Chicken Shop and Meat and Shake, and more on-trend openings will no doubt follow in 2014. On the curry front, the flag has finally passed from the inimitable Kastoori (RIP) to new standout Apollo Banana Leaf, which serves super cheap authentic Sri Lankan food – other locals swear by the likes of Spice Village. Factor in a vibrant market culture and plethora of ethnic food stores and you’ve got a fail-safe recipe for hipster migration. If Tooting somehow stays under the radar this year, another top candidate for gentrification-by-chewing is Victoria Line beneficiary Finsbury Park, while the reinvention of King’s Cross will see more and more interesting restaurants open up there as well.
Drinkers turn over a new leaf
Tea is at once the UK’s favourite beverage and it’s least understood tipple. Despite a religious relationship with the morning, afternoon and evening cuppa, true appreciation of tea is often associated with hippies, health freaks, and poshos. Fortunately, 2014 will see the nation’s relationship with the leaf start to come of age. Next year, look for tea-based drinks to appear on more and more trendy cocktail menus, whilst weird-but-wonderful bubble tea will start to rise in popularity and could soon be popping up at an East London car park near you. Perhaps most importantly from a gastronomic perspective, forward-thinking restaurants will start to offer tea pairings as an alternative to wine with tasting menus – a trend that’s already much in evidence in Paris and elsewhere on the continent. Those wanting to get a bit of education ahead of London’s nascent tea boom should check out Postcard Teas’ excellent tutored tea tastings, or pay a visit to the wonderfully homely Teanamu Chaya tea house in Notting Hill.
Vegetables are the new meat – sort of
This is a controversial one for some, and a trend that the hardened carnivore in me hopes doesn’t catch on too fervently. At the same time, there’s no doubt that iconic chef Bruno Loubet knocked it for six with his most recent opening, the Grain Store in King’s Cross. Whilst not a vegetarian restaurant by any stretch, vegetables do assume pride of place on the menu and on the plate at the Grain Store. Crucially, they also seem to have genuinely captured the chef’s imagination – think buttermilk and caraway braised cauliflower with black trompette mushrooms and fresh grapes, as opposed to another odious mushroom risotto or Mediterranean vegetable tart. In 2014, other chefs are likely to follow suit and re-imagine their relationship with fleshless eating. Meat won’t disappear from the menu, nor should it. But by this time next year, us meat-eaters hopefully won’t feel horrible pangs of guilt when eating out with vegetarian friends. Hell, we may even be tempted to enjoy the odd meat-free plate ourselves. It’ll only be a starter, of course, but still…