As we celebrate our 30th birthday, Tony Naylor looks back over three decades of hot phases, passing fads and pivotal moments in British food. What a 30 years it has been.
Celebrate with our rainbow zebra cake recipe.
The luxury ice cream era is kicked off by the arrival of Häagen-Dazs in the UK – today, this manifests itself in our love of exotic, precise flavours in fresh gelato.
Modern British cooking is born as Gary Rhodes begins reinventing lost classics such as braised oxtail, faggots and bread ‘n’ butter pudding at London’s Mayfair restaurant The Greenhouse; a concept he explored further on the BBC show Rhodes Around Britain. Up north, chefs including Paul Heathcote were also reviving regional working class dishes.
Pesto hits supermarket shelves, sealing Italian as the 90s’ coolest cuisine. The Independent calls it ‘Pestomania.’
A generation becomes obsessed with East Asian food as Wagamama makes its debut in London. Pho, ramen, banh mi, bao: every year, we fall hard for a new dish.
Real Fast Food gathers speed. The Penguin paperback edition of Nigel Slater’s first cookbook was a 90s foodie essential, selling one milllion copies. Its message – that we could cook fresh meals from scratch on a daily basis – felt revolutionary. Now a star, the unfussy rigour of Nigel’s recipes continues to influence how we eat.
The first British Cheese Awards. A casualty of WWII, it took decades for Britain’s culture of artisan cheesemaking to recover. The BCA started by celebrating the 90-ish hardy souls still making speciality British cheeses, but (due to falling milk prices and pressure on farmers to diversify), it coincided with a huge renaissance in regional cheesemaking. Today, we produce over 700 unique cheeses.
Chef Fergus Henderson’s nose-to-tail ethos begins to build a (pig’s) head of steam as London’s St. John restaurant enters its first year. ‘He changed the world,’ Anthony Bourdain told The Guardian in 2014, ‘and now everyone wants to cook like Fergus.’
The idea of the Marine Stewardship Council is floated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Unilever, then owners of Bird’s Eye. The MSC has transformed attitudes to seafood and sustainability.
The first UK farmers’ market is held in Bath. The idea of eating locally and seasonally explodes in the next decade.
Nigella teaches us How To Eat. ‘The most valuable culinary guide this decade,’ was The Sunday Telegraph’s verdict on Nigella’s debut cookbook. In print and on TV, this (ironic) ‘domestic goddess’ approached the stressful business of feeding and entertaining people with a refreshingly relaxed vigour. No polished silver. No pomp. But lots of great food eaten with gusto among good friends. That appetite for life is always appealing.
The celebrity chef era begins as The Naked Chef startles the nation. With perfect timing, as Marco Pierre White handed his Michelin stars back and ‘retired’, ‘wicked’ new TV star Jamie Oliver introduced his ‘pukka tukka’. The image of chefs as tortured, highly technical artistes gave way to The Naked Chef, a shaggy ball of scooter-riding energy whose user-friendly, flavour-packed recipes weren’t too hung up on timings and amounts, because, well, Jamie wanted to have a beer and hang with his mates. From Great British Menu to Saturday Kitchen, chefs began to open up, relax and demystify their skills for mainstream audiences. Jamie made creating cheffy food at home seem achievable.
Salad cream disappears from the national shopping basket*, as the Office for National Statistics decides we are all la-di-dah mayo lovers now. Corned beef was dropped in 2005; a dark day for those who still love a corned beef and salad cream sandwich.
Middle Eastern food takes off as Yotam Ottolenghi opens his first UK deli then, in 2013, a Sharp survey declares Britain ‘hummus capital of Europe’. In those 11 years, we had grown to love labneh, shawarma, za’atar and Levantine flavours. ‘Drama in the mouth,’ as Yotam described it.
The Gastropub Cookbook is published, but it’s also the beginning of the end for gastropubs. Britain’s original, The Eagle in Farringdon, had inspired a necessary uprising against the stiff and starchy world of fine dining, but big pub companies were circling. Almost overnight, they turned the gastropub into a cliché of slouchy sofas, pan-fried sea bass and pork belly.
Molecular gastronomy has its eureka moment as The Fat Duck gains a third star, and Ferran Adrià is profiled in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Like any fashion, molecular’s wacky flavour combinations and foams would get wildly out of hand. But, in 2004, The Fat Duck’s bacon ‘n’ egg ice cream really was Britain’s most exciting dish.
MasterChef is rebooted, with John Torode and Gregg Wallace at the helm of what will become a juggernaut. Not least in its ability to turn keen foodies (Thomasina Miers, Matt Follas, Dhruv Baker, Tim Anderson, Simon Wood), into serious chefs and restaurateurs.
Obesity becomes a heavy issue, as Ofcom bans junk food ads during children’s TV shows and the Food Standards Agency launches its (still controversial) traffic light food labelling.
When Sipsmith applied to open London’s first traditional copper pot distillery in 200 years, the idea was so bizarre it took two years to get a licence. But that battle paved the way for many others. In 2013, gin sales topped £1 billion, then £2 billion in 2018, and are still growing fast.
Here comes the brunch bunch. Flat White Soho (est. 2005) was first into London with the flattie, but Aussie-owned Lantana was key in popularising the sunny, laidback Australian brunch culture so influential in Britain since. If you like to linger over Sunday morning shakshuka, sweetcorn fritters or smashed avo – as we do at Good Food – then you have pioneers like Lantana, Caravan and Bill Granger to thank.
The ‘Delia effect’ is still huge. Twenty years after appearing on Good Food’s first cover, Delia Smith proves she’s still got it as BBC Two’s Delia’s Classic Christmas causes a run on soft prunes, sweet chestnuts and La Petite Maison Feuilles de Brick pastry. At one point, the ‘Delia effect’ – whereby her recommendations cause sales of products to soar – was so strong that the BBC reportedly starting warning the food industry which products Delia was using, so it could prepare.
The Great British Bake Off rises beautifully: a phenomenon and one that resonates beyond its baking dramas. At a time when Britain seems so divided, GBBO’s symbolism – culturally diverse contestants united in their battles with buttercream – can’t help but feel positive. ‘Essentially it’s a baking show,’ 2015 winner Nadiya Hussain told The Guardian, ‘but that tent is also a symbol of British society.’
Street food signposts the future as Meatliquor opens its first packed pop-up. We may have grown tired of its trashier fast food excesses, but that world of burgers and beards, tats ‘n’ tater tots changed how we eat and how new ideas in food gestate. This is not LA – British food trucks were never going to become a huge fleet. But in our night markets and new food halls, street food’s energy lives on.
‘What the hell is craft beer?’ asked a debate at Manchester’s first Indy Man Beer Con, now Britain’s most progressive beer event. Seven years on, we all know the (hoppy) answer, right?
The Insta-food age was born with the cronut, that croissant-doughnut hybrid which became an instant global internet sensation way beyond its native New York. Nowadays, food (ramen burgers, freakshakes, bubble waffles), is all about creating cute eye-candy for Instagram.
We officially reach peak avocado as Pinterest reveals that the avo was 2015’s most pinned ingredient.
Prosecco is Britain’s runaway number one fizz, selling 85 million bottles to champagne’s 31 million, reports the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Good Food readers may have mixed opinions. Tip: vote cava! It is far better value.
Good Food contributing editor Tom Kerridge is now THE star chef. Whether enthusing about his love of seriously tasty grub or helping people reset their diets on BBC Two’s Lose Weight For Good, he does so with the easy rapport of a man who for all his accolades (two Michelin stars at The Hand and Flowers; 2017’s Catey Chef Of The Year), still has the common touch. In 2017 he even launched his own festival, Pub in the Park, which now tours around eight UK locations.
Rene Redzepi’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma 2.0 reopens to gobsmacked praise due to its ultra-creative use of strictly regional, seasonal ingredients, which makes profound ecological and gastronomic sense. It also brought ancient baking, butchery and preserving skills back to life, and continues to influence chefs around the world.
Veganism goes mainstream – even Gregg’s is in on the movement as their vegan sausage roll rocks Britain. A media frenzy, and a watershed moment in the rise of marginalising meat.
Read more articles by Tony Naylor
10 tips for stress-free barbecuing
Salted caramel has gone too far
How to use your phone at the table responsibly
The 10 worst things that can happen to a cuppa
10 big foodie don’ts for 2019
10 ways to support your local restaurant
Do you have a favourite food milestone from the past 30 years? Leave a comment below…