10 London food and restaurant trends that Dubai should eat up – first course

Harrods Food Hall - Photo credit to VisitBritain/ Juliet White

Harrods Food Hall – photo credit to VisitBritain/ Juliet White

London, like New York, Paris, Tokyo and perhaps even San Sebastian, is revered for its restaurant scene leading the way in global food trends. Whether it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, pub grub or street food, London has embraced its multi-cultural heritage and made it its own. Every time I visit, and that’s at least once a year, I am overwhelmed by the quality and diverse dining out options. So here are the top food and restaurant trends I picked up on my whirlwind foodie trip last month that I believe Dubai should eat up. After all, on my rough calculation, the emirate has between 2,000 to 2,500 licensed restaurants (with booze) – a staggering amount for a population of only just over two million.

1. Street food goes upmarket – London is a hub for quality street food from food trucks to pop ups, so good is it that many have opened standalone restaurants. Check out Thomasina Meirs’ Mexican joints Wahaca in Covent Garden, Charlotte Street and Soho, pork place Pitt Cue Co in the heart of Soho and for Vietnamese, Pho with a staggering six London locations at Oxford Circus, Shepherds Bush, Soho, Clerkenwell, Stratford and Spitalfields. On the other hand here in Dubai, I’d like to see a reverse of this trend with glam five-star restaurants becoming street-wise and creating the odd pop-up or food truck across town, but clearly municipality licensing is a barrier.

2. Supper clubs – this London trend of dinner parties at unusual and often underground locations is already catching on here thanks to Lime & Tonic’s secret supper clubs, and more recently, newly launched Restronaut. But wouldn’t it be fab for paid dinners at a foodie’s home to become mainstream?

3. The latest cuisine craze – Following on from the Korean trend, all things Peruvian are the new kids on the restaurant block, with more than just ceviche on the menu. The four restaurants to look out for are, Ceviche Peruvian Kitchen and Pisco Bar in Soho, Lima in Fitzrovia, Coya in Piccadilly and Sushisamba atop the City of London’s Heron Tower – the latter with a rather bizarre fusion mix of Japanese, Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine. Given Dubai has just welcomed its first Peruvian at the Las Vegas theatre club concept, The Act Dubai in the Shangri-La and Madinat Jumeirah recently hosted a Peruvian street food festival, I am hoping we will see a dedicated Peruvian F&B concept open up here.

4. Chicken or beef? – Chicken only restaurants are on the rise, like Wishbone in Brixton and Chicken Shop in Kentish Town, together with Mark Hix’s chicken and steak only eatery, Tramshed in East London – a similar rationale to Japan where restaurants specialise in sashimi, yakitori, teppenyaki, in addition to the likes of chicken and beef. The only inkling we have here of these concepts is the imported steak and secret sauce institution – Entrecôte Café de Paris at Dubai Mall and its rival Le Relais de l’Entrecôte at Dubai Festival City.

The Gun - gastropub menu

The Gun – gastropub menu

5. Gastropub revolution – The term gastropub was first cited in 1991 when new management took over The Eagle pub in London’s Clerkenwell district reinventing the menu and elevating standard, boring pub grub to gourmet levels, but still affordable. Since 2000, the ETM Group that owns ten pubs in London has championed gastropub cuisine. Even Michelin has recognised this development dishing out its first Michelin star to a London pub, the Harwood Arms in Fulham (with plenty more pubs across the UK sporting one and even two Michelin stars). Furthermore, Thai gastropub concepts are rumoured to be in the making.

6. Chefs up close and personal – Moving on from the chef’s table which is either tucked away in a secluded corner of the dining room or gazing into the kitchen, the chef comes to you in the restaurant. Swedish concept Aveqia in Farringdon marries a restaurant with a cooking gallery where chefs, many of whom have trained at Michelin restaurants, cook dinner front-of-house, whilst Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social in the West End has the dessert chef working at the bar – the latter similar to Stay’s pastry library at the One & Only Palm Dubai. Whilst we have a handful of cooking galleries here that host masterclasses and dinners, they do not replicate the buzz of a restaurant.

The Worsley breakfast - Eggs Benedict

Brekkie at The Wolseley – Eggs Benedict with ham and chives

7. 24-hour dining – London already has a number of independent restaurants that serve all day from breakfast, brunch and lunch right through to afternoon tea, dinner and supper. And am not talking about hotel restaurants like we have here – but the likes of The Wolseley, Canteen’s four locations and the New York French brasserie import, Balthazar at Covent Garden. But one, the Duck & Waffle in Bishopsgate is now open 24/7 catering to a capital that never sleeps – this is no fast food joint, but a true Brit restaurant. Given Dubai’s round the clock service culture, should we follow suit?

8. Fixed price menus – A French import, prix fixe menus, otherwise known as set menus here in Dubai are all the rage across the Channel these days…and at high end restaurants too making decadent dining affordable for everyone. Oliver Peyton, one of the first food entrepreneurs to take restaurants into cultural institutions glamming up horrendous museum fodder, has introduced ‘Supper Socials’ in the National Gallery’s café with guest chefs like Angela Hartnett creating £35 fixed price menus including a boozy welcome cocktail. Jumeirah returns next month with its much loved Restaurant Week campaign, but I’d love to see more licensed restaurants here develop affordable set menus for dinner every night of the week, rather than for business lunches only.

9. A return to reservations – The last few years has seen London restaurants embrace the non-booking, walk-in trend, but that is being reversed with customers venting their frustration and many of those restaurants returning to a reservations policy, with some requesting a credit card guarantee. In Dubai, reservations are encouraged, yet diners often don’t turn up without even cancelling. I know of one restaurant that in the past has asked for a credit card guarantee – will we see more?

Raymond Blanc - seasonalityLe Manoir - herb gardenDaylesford - grocery

From L to R: Raymond Blanc on the importance of seasonality, 12 micro herbs are grown at Le Manoir, Daylesford’s grocery

Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons - producers and suppliers

Transparency of producers and suppliers on the menu at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

10. Organic v. seasonal – The organic produce trend seems to have tapered off due to its expense, with seasonality now taking centre stage. Many chefs including the likes of Raymond Blanc are championing the use of produce that is seasonal. I quote from when we met him at two Michelin Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons “seasonality is so important for a better, cleaner food chain.” Daylesford Organics, two groceries-cum-cafés in Pimlico and Notting Hill, whose food is all sourced from its very own farm in Gloucestershire, is rebranding dropping the ‘organics’ from its name. Not that their produce will no longer abide by organic and sustainable practices, but the name I expect is synonymous with expense. Surprisingly, even Harrods Food Hall has removed all organic fruit and veg as it wasn’t selling.

It’s harder for restaurants to consistently adopt seasonality here whilst maintaining freshness, given that most produce has to be imported, but perhaps special menus with an ingredient of the month may help create more awareness. If you happen to be in London next week, check out the British Food Producers Festival in honour of St George’s Day with a series of masterclasses and dinners showcasing locally sourced quality ingredients including Denham’s venison, Sharpham Park’s spelt, Exeter Black Beef and Somerset cheddar (April 22 – 27th at the Park Terrace restaurant, Royal Garden Hotel).

Gosh I could continue writing forever. There are so many more food trends emerging, but these I feel are the most significant for Dubai. Would you agree? Any more to add to the mix?

For more information on all things British, check out the Visit Britain website which has a wealth of seriously good material to make your planning easy peasy. Special thanks to tourism consultant and guide, Adrian Bevan, whose finger on the pulse of the UK food scene taught me plenty. You can follow him on Twitter @adrian_bevan

Stay tuned for a second course on London and a little further afield.

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

Disclosure; FooDiva was a guest of Visit Britain on a ‘Food is Great’ press trip. I may have been plied with copious amounts of food and drink, but rest assured the views expressed here are, as always, mine alone.

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36 Responses to “10 London food and restaurant trends that Dubai should eat up – first course”

  1. Johan Z April 15, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Gosh!!!, this makes me want me to go back to London ASAP so that I can taste all the different foods. Very informative and covering virtually every part of London.

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      Thanks Johan. London’s restaurant scene is exploding. I so want to return too!

  2. GA April 15, 2013 at 10:16 am

    I am watching Masterchef again this year, the hi-light being when the contestants work a service in a top London Restaurant, the food is always amazing. Dubai is lacking the finesse London has when it comes to fine food, though it is many years since I visited London I have fond memories of a little Italian Restaurant in Covent Garden that serves a set menu 🙂

    • FooDiva April 23, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Somehow this comment ended up in my spam GA, just resurrected it 😉 We also have to remember that Dubai is a new city with a restaurant scene only developing over the last twenty years. Quite incredible what they have achieved! But yes they can certainly pick up a few pointers from London.

  3. Swati Bansal Rao April 15, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Amazing how you captured the latest trends and best of London dining in a nutshell. I have to go to London again to visit all these fab places..chuck the lonely planet this time and I will take a print of your post..very informative!!

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Ha ha Swati! Ditch Lonely Planet for sure! Infact the best travel guides in general with good restaurant recommendations by locals are the Luxe and Wallpaper city guides. Should produce my own :)) Thanks for dropping by as always.

  4. dave reeder April 15, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Great and interesting piece, as always. I would add a few other trends.

    Female chefs. You can fill in the blanks here, but the high visibility of Angela and others in Ramsay’s current or ex-stable is very noticeable. A few years back you would have pointed to the River Cafe and groped for other names. Now, helped in part, by the success of chefs like Skye Gyngell at Petersham Nurseries Café, this one will run and run.

    Food journalism. Leaving aside bloggers, there’s currently an explosion of high quality, small print run food magazines, more culture and history based than recipe driven.

    Gin. This is the big thing on the London F&B scene at present with micro distilleries, gin clubs and a reboot of the whole cocktail culture that is taking it back from the post-1980’s bling club culture to a more leisured time redolent of gentlemen’s clubs and oak-panelled restaurant. Marco I think drove the restaurant side of this movement, but this is London’s take on slow food maybe – dawdling over lunch or dinner, French bistro type service, classic dishes brought up to date, quality ingredients and so on. From The Ivy to Wheeler’s, this can only grow.

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks Dave. Yes I wish I had a never ending word count to add in more. Very valid additions though. We’re seeing more female chefs here too in addition to Madinat’s Chef Gabi – Sanjeev Kapoor’s chef at Options for one. Am sure there must be more! I am including some London food bloggers in my next post, but would love your recommendations on food magazines.

      • dave reeder April 15, 2013 at 10:28 pm

        New female Exec Chef at Fairmont SZR, though it’s always going to be bad that we have to list the small but growing number of female chefs. Shouldn’t be a curiosity.

        Food mags. Sadly the cost of shipping them here makes them horrendously expensive, but this is a good place to start:

        Imagine a cool, casual dining place with a library of mags like this to drool over…

  5. sarah walton April 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Nice post, you’re totally correct – Dubai is definitely ready to go forward with some if these concepts. In particular, popups will find favour everywhere – I’m surprised there are not a couple at each of the farmers markets. And Supper clubs – yes please. How would liquor licencing be adressed?
    Ahh London – need to get back, its been years.It keeps on being passed over by me for some reason or other.

    and Dave, spot on with Gin.Its the spirit in vogue in Oz too

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks Sarah. Yes the alcohol license is the big issue here for supper clubs, pop ups and food trucks, but despite that would still be great to see these concepts develop…just sans booze for now.

  6. Chrystallo April 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Wonderful post as always, but as one who reads the blog from the UK capital, these occasional London-based gems are always eagerly awaited! Thank you FooDiva 🙂

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      Thank you Chrystallo. I have to say I fell in love with London again on this trip. Almost tempted to move back if it wasn’t for the weather!!

  7. Natasha Button April 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Great post and made me feel only a little homesick.

    Although it’s been a while since I’ve eaten at Daylesfood Organics Notting Hill and The Wolesley its amazing how I can still reminisce about the wonderful food and atmosphere in both places.

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Thanks Natasha. I’ve only visited Daylesford’s Pimlico branch, but guess what they are opening a farmhouse for weekend breaks soon. I never get sick of The Wolseley – have you tried their pure hot dark chocolate fondant drink – served in an espresso cup? Heavenly!

  8. Marta's Kitchen April 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Loved this article! Easy to read and very informative! that ceviche and pisco place…mmmm! think i might go to london just for that!

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks Marta! The San Sebastian link to the CNN travel article is just for you 🙂 Now that’s somewhere I need to get to pronto. Can we persuade you to organise a Fooderati trip?!

  9. Francine Spiering April 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Excellent suggestions, now follow-up Dubai!!! LOVED reading this article!

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Indeed Dubai had better take action after all this research 🙂 Thanks for dropping by as always.

  10. Sally - My Custard Pie April 15, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Great summing up. Had to laugh though – plenty of chicken and beef only menus here already….bizarre that many restaurants will serve alcohol but not pork!

    • FooDiva April 15, 2013 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks Sally. Restaurants need to have a separate kitchen with non-Muslim chefs to cook and serve pork. Hence why we only really see pork on menus in the larger hotels rather than independent restaurants (even if they have an alcohol license).

  11. IshitaUnblogged April 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

    My, my, my… what a brilliant summing up of the London food scene. Would love to see some of them here for sure. I’ve a blogger friend who organises supper clubs in London and she was telling me that another trend that was really ‘in’ was – pop up restaurants or ‘surprise’ pop up food themes in a particular restaurant where some celebrity Chef would be creating a particular menu for say a week or so. I won’t be able to substantiate more than this though.

    Superb reading:)

    • FooDiva April 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Ishita. That’s good to know. I guess we’re seeing a little bit of that here with the likes of Jones The Grocer flying in celeb chefs like Ed Baines next week. I am including some London food blogs in my next post – perhaps I can check out your friend’s?

      • IshitaUnblogged April 20, 2013 at 1:51 am

        Thank you FooDiva. It’s very kind of you. She doesn’t do any reviews though. Asma Khan:) http://darjeeling-express.com/

        I met Niamh (eatlikeagirl.com) in Thailand. She’s a well known London blogger.

        • FooDiva April 20, 2013 at 8:58 am

          Agh OK Ishita. Niamh’s on my list to include 🙂

          • IshitaUnblogged April 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm

            You obviously have your own list but thought I’ll mention Mallika too. Okay, I just remembered that there’s another blogger friend – Miss Masala. She’s very popular, has her own book, cooked up with Madhur Jaffrey and more. http://www.quickindiancooking.com/miss-masala/

        • FooDiva April 21, 2013 at 8:26 am

          Thanks. For this post I am focusing on food bloggers that cover London restaurant reviews 🙂

  12. ishasoni April 19, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Thanks to share a great article. It was great going through the article good description supported by details the information. Keep it up.


  13. Selina March 30, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Coya is actually due to open in Dubai later this year.

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