Will 2018 be the year the prosecco bubble bursts? Is liver due a revival? Could this be the year plant-based dining comes of age? As 2017 ends, we are all attempting to predict how 2018 will pan out. But beyond such forecasting, how would I personally like to see British food improve?
Here’s my wish list...
1. The no-shows can’t go on
If you book at a cool local indie (the sort of restaurant that wouldn’t dream of demanding your credit card details) and, suddenly, you can’t make it: phone to cancel. Let them fill that table. It’s good manners, but, more than that, seats left empty by no-shows are killing dedicated chef/owners. The no-show should become a strict no-no.
2. Leaf it out!
No dish needs prettifying with pea shoots, ornamental chives, or decorative fruits. As someone who, in 2017, was served treacle tart titivated with basil leaves (!), I am begging for a full garnish moratorium.
3. Wine whine
A wine revolution is sweeping Britain as we discover a new world of (affordable) natural, small-producer wines, often from overlooked regions. But service is patchy. ‘The expensive ones are, err… better,’ was how a novel list of white wines was recently explained to me. I had a beer instead and thought about how hip wine could wither on the vine, without some old-fashioned product knowledge to sell it.
4. I Can’t Believe It’s Not (Salted) Butter
Secretly, no one likes bland unsalted butter. Not even chefs. Let’s free ourselves of this pretentious affectation!
5. Not bowled over
While @WeWantPlates clutches its pearls over food served on shovels and in shoes, a far greater nuisance has gone unchecked. That is, serving mains in wide sloping bowls that it’s impossible to rest your cutlery against without it slipping in and getting covered in food. Bin them.
6. Tourist traps
Despite heroic work by innovative restaurateurs, those areas of Britain that attract lots of tourists are, often, terrible for dining. Dominated by chains and venues pushing pricy, mediocre food to a captive audience, they’re doing nada for Britain’s global rep. It requires urgent intervention.
7. Singular talents
In everything from staff uniforms (aprons) or lighting (filament bulbs), to food and drink (bao, tacos, craft beer), the British restaurant scene has rarely felt as herd-like. Jumping on hot trends feels kind of... samey. In 2018, therefore, let’s celebrate those maverick chef/owners (James Cross from Lake Road Kitchen in Cumbria; Sam Buckley at Where The Light Gets In in Stockport; Josh Overington at York’s Le Cochon Aveugle) running restaurants brimming with personality.
‘Is there anything you don’t eat?’ asks the head waiter, solicitously. Restaurant code for: the chef will now serve you an amuse involving oysters because he is an unimaginative sadist. Why is this divisive delicacy, this briny bivalve the texture of bronchial phlegm, still ubiquitous?
9. A casual affair
I love the informality of modern British dining, but I’m sick of small plates arriving in chaotic salvos; matey incompetent service; ‘sharing food’ that isn’t (how do I split a plate of peas, curds and charred cabbage?). Casual should not mean sloppy. Restaurants need to tighten up.
10. Pie in the sky
As a nation, we’ve almost accepted that, in pubs, a ‘pie’ now means casserole topped with a puff pastry lid. Not me. I demand a proper pie. With a full pastry casing. Is that too much to ask, chef?
Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.