New year, new start? Not this year, my friend. Treating January as an annual reset button is a neat framing device but it would be farcical to suggest 2020 heralds a fresh start for the hospitality industry.
With B****t unresolved – a sentence I may repeat in January 2021 – and operators enduring not unrelated pressures (unsustainable rent, business rate and ingredient costs, weak consumer spending), 2020 looks like a rerun of 2019: closures, CVAs, owners struggling to stay afloat. This will be a year of cautious consolidation and cost-cutting rather than creative revolution.
And yet interesting trends continue to emerge, even as the pace of change slows. Here is a selection which I hope will enliven food and drink in 2020. Stay safe out there, folks.
■ Old cows. Following 2016’s ‘Basque beef’ mini-boom, UK-reared retired ex-dairy cattle beef (try Somerset’s Coombe Farm or Lake District Farmers), is beginning to appear on more menus. From a sustainability and flavour point of view, it would be great to see it take off.
■ Well-proportioned pasta. I was sat in Sarto in Leeds recently eating a £7 plate of (very good) fresh pasta – not a huge portion but it didn’t need to be – thinking about how that post-Padella wave of similar pasta joints (short menus, sensible portions, keen prices) feels very now. A rejoinder, if you like, to the idiocy of the bottomless brunch.
■ Antique pieces. Props to those outliers reviving vintage mismatched tableware, not as a fashion statement but as a sustainable option. Re-use and recycle. Buying new cutlery and crockery is unnecessary.
■ Low abv beers. Forget the rise of no-alcohol beer. Pubs and restaurants are missing a trick not stocking more 2.8% ‘micro IPAs’ or table beers, such as Northern Monk’s Striding Edge and Gipsy Hill’s Carver. These are serious beers: big on flavour, light in alcohol.
■ Broths. From a lamb stiffener at Ambleside’s Old Stamp House (the end product of its whole animal butchery), to a bangin’ celeriac and brown butter number at Sheffield’s Jöro, the welcome broth is here to stay, and why not? It is a terrific way to greet guests.
■ Cash bars. The pace of coffee shops and bars going card-only seems to have slowed, a little; perhaps as businesses consider the wider social ramifications rather than short-term financial benefit. Not accepting cash is exclusionary
at worst and irritating at best. Seeking to dictate how your customers pay is a weird stance in ‘hospitality’.
■ Tap wine and batch cocktails. Key keg-dispensed wines and high-quality pre-made cocktails are here to stay as a core of pioneering venues (1000 Trades, The Owl, Ambulo, Nine Lives etc.), look to shrink their carbon footprint. We can all drink to that.
■ Snacks. First, starters were deemed to offer greater creative freedom than mains. Now several chefs view snacks and canapes – traditionally, inconsequential openers on a tasting menu – as a sphere of under-exploited possibility and impact; one due a new prominence. “Like tapas?” one wag asked on Twitter. No. Not at all.
■ Something fishy. Josh Niland’s sea-cuterie will be huge this year. But as anyone who has eaten the excellent mackerel kiev at York’s Fish & Forest can tell you, in the UK the broader imaginative potential of fish remains largely unexplored. Hopefully, that is set to change.
■ Kiosk-café life. Outside restaurants, there are numerous satisfying ways chefs can feed people while, potentially, achieving a better work-life balance. I look at cool new daytime outlets offering crowd-pleasing quality food (Owt, Leeds; Wild Loaf, Liverpool; Salcooks, Birmingham) and think: everyone benefits from that model. You don’t need Michelin’s approval to validate your work.
This column first appeared in the January 2020 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.
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