With restaurants treating quinoa as the new king of carbohydrates, you might think chips have had their chips. But the country’s passion for deep fried spuds remains unshakeable. The number of out-of-home servings of potatoes increased by 0.6% in the year to March 2017, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, driven by sales of chips and fries in quick service restaurants.
From toppings and sauces to new varieties and serving styles, restaurants are championing chips in ingenious new ways. Here’s our guide to the top tuber trends.
South London restaurant group Ben’s Canteen is taking the idea of pimped-up chips to new levels with an entire section of the menu dedicated to ‘loaded fries’. At the top of the pile are Korean Chicharrones – fries topped with deep-fried pork belly, kimchi, seaweed, and Korean hot sauce. It’s a much Instagrammed dish, but more importantly, at £8.50 per portion, one that gives the bottom line a decent boost.
Loaded fries is a trend that is now firmly entrenched across the country, according to Jo Holborn, McCain Foods marketing and category controller. “Topped and seasoned fries are on-trend, easy to prepare and enable you to charge a premium price for very little additional outlay,” she says. “They are also a simple way to add variety and excitement to the menu, and can be ordered as a side to customise meals, or as a sharing option.
"Seasoned chips can work well on premium menus too, with simple options like smoked salt or truffle oil adding a unique twist to chips. For casual dining, operators are finding success with indulgent American barbecue style options, with everything from pulled pork to chilli cheese proving popular.”
It’s not just chips that are getting loaded either. The new City branch of Temper serves beef-fat potatoes covered in blow-torched raclette-style Ogleshield cheese, while Burger & Beyond is serving tater tots (grated, fried potato nuggets) blanketed in mac ’n’ cheese at the Camden’s Daughter pub.
On the sauce
Tomato ketchup rules the condiment cupboard, but there’s more than one way to dip a chip. With a bit of imagination, an accompanying sauce is an easy way to elevate a portion of chips. The Blind Pig bar at the Social Eating House serves duck-fat chips with curry aioli at £5.50 a go, while Patty & Bun’s fries can be ordered with roast chicken mayo (and chicken skin salt) for £3.95.
Brighton-based BeFries has built an entire business around the idea of chips and sauce. The restaurant and takeaway specialises in Belgian-style, doubled cooked fries with 20 different sauces to choose from, including green peppercorn and sambal Indonesian chilli paste. Each little paper pot of sauce costs 40p.
Hasselbacks are back
A Swedish classic that was big in the 1970s, hasselbacks are a kind of roasted potato that are repeatedly cut almost to the middle to create fan-like slices that go crispy as they cook. They’ve seen a revival, partly because they can be easily loaded up with other flavours. Wholesaler KFF recommends toppings, such as Gorgonzola, pancetta and honey, while Soho-based restaurant Balls & Company serves its version with shallot butter and crispy capers.
“With hasselbacks, we see the example of something that may appear niche gathering popularity and gaining profile from television shows and social media,” says Nic Townsend, marketing manager, UK & Ireland, at supplier Farm Frites. “As these items become more mainstream, they become more interesting to us and other innovators in the industry.”
While pre-prepared hasslebacks are not yet widely available, McCain does offer preblanched roast potatoes that can be cooked in just 30 minutes. “The quality and cost of fresh potatoes can change depending on the season, making budgets and wastage difficult to control, but by using the very best of the potato crop McCain can provide high-quality frozen potato products all year round at a consistent cost, without waste,” says Jo Holborn.
Hitting the sweet spot
The future is orange, according to consumer research commissioned by Aviko, which shows that sweet potato fries are now mainstream. In trials with a small sample of the public, 85% of people said they would order a sweet potato side dish over a conventional potato option with almost half willing to pay up to 50p more. Burgers and wraps are where sweet potato fries have made the biggest impact, but Aviko commercial director Mohammed Essa says that other sweet potato products also have potential in salads and stews.
“Sweet potato fries may be the common ‘go to’, but there is a demand to offer different types of sweet potato such as gratin and diced to add something exciting and different to menus,” he says.
The growing popularity of sweet potato is also highlighted by Nic Townsend at Farm Frites, which has recently launched a new range of longer-than-standard, quick-to-cook sweet potato fries.
“The trend to upgrade to a premium side order continues to be strong,” he says. “Our sweet potato fry cooks in just one-and-a-half to two minutes but this speed is not at the expense of taste. We’ve designed this fry to be longer than standard to continue the premium theme and give the consumer ‘wow’ factor. A longer-length fry not only looks great but also allows for maximum plate coverage.”
Move over potatoes; the newest tubers in town hail from Latin America. Cassava chips, also known as yuca fries, have become more well known thanks to the rise of Peruvian restaurants, such as Ceviche, which serves them topped with cheesy amarillo chilli Huancaina sauce.
Lima restaurant also serves yuca chips with Huancaina and ricotta sauce, as well as plantain chips. These are also sometimes called tostones and can be served as thin crisps or thicker chips. Wholesaler Funnybones Foodservice supplies frozen cassava and plantain chips, launching the latter last year.
“The trend for foods from across the Americas has grown to such an extent that customers are becoming increasingly adventurous,” explains Tom Styman-Heighto, Funnybones’ development chef.
This is a web version of an article that rst appeared in the January issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.