10 London food and restaurant trends that Dubai should eat up – first course
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.
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.
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?
From L to R: Raymond Blanc on the importance of seasonality, 12 micro herbs are grown at Le Manoir, Daylesford’s grocery
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.
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.