I won’t bore you with the secrets of how certain dishes become hip. Mainly, because I don’t know. No-one does. The process by which an old dish is revived or an imported dish becomes popular is a complex algorithm of commerce, utility, PR and pure chance. It’s a lottery. But a lottery that, in an Insta-food era when chefs all want to cook #trending dishes, feels increasingly stifling. Fashionable foods now proliferate across menus instantly (ramen, cacio e pepe, raclette, larb) and are then discarded as the next social media hype emerges.
There is a certain cheap excitement in this perpetual novelty. But it also creates narrow menus. Where are the chefs with the confidence to ignore this group-think and cook with independent brio? Who will refresh beef stroganoff rather than serving more mediocre bao buns? Either dishes are happening now, in their Twitter timelines, or chefs deem them untouchably naff. That is ludicrous. As inspiration, as a rallying cry, here are 10 unfashionable dishes that I think are begging to be updated and rehabilitated.
1) Yorkshire curd tart
Imagine if cheesecake wasn’t brash and revolting. These fresh, lemon-kissed curds are a sharp, grown-up alternative.
2) Deep-fried mozzarella
We have been frying breaded cheese since at least the 14th century, yet the 70s Italian-American version is now as laughable as John Travolta’s white suit in Saturday Night Fever. Why? Imagine how you could gussy this up: marinated buffalo mozzarella; (seasoned) panko crumbs; fresh romesco sauce for dredging. I would totally eat that.
The (pig’s offal) meatball of your wildest dreams. Possessor of a cute northern nickname – ‘savoury ducks’ – and, served with mash and onion gravy, food of the gods.
4) Goat’s cheese salad
A staple, then a cliché. Now, chefs would rather cook naked on Saturday Kitchen than serve one. Forget the generic chèvre logs, chef. Break out the classy soft, citrussy cheeses (Tor, Valençay, Driftwood) and get creative with a neglected classic.
I miss them, okay? Deep down, you do, too.
6) Suet dumplings
Bobbing atop a stew, crisply bronzed and softly steaming within, few foods are more comforting. Chefs disdain them as lumpen thugs from an age of impoverished British cookery (‘How can you take a sexy picture of that?’), but that aesthetic imperative is moronic. Dumplings are, literally, ugly delicious.
7) Tuna melt
We had the grilled cheese sandwich renaissance. Yet no-one thought to revisit a sandwich (with sweet onion; fresh celery; salty capers; fishy, vinegary tuna; richly savoury cheese) that could rival the multi-layered flavour intensity of the best Thai cooking. Tragic.
8) Coquilles Saint-Jacques
According to François-Régis Gaudry’s book, Let’s Eat France!, the French love Atlantic coast king scallops so much they eat 2.5kg of them each, annually. Many of them, no doubt, delicately cooked in wine, garlic, onions and cream under golden breadcrumbs. Yet in our generational rebellion against the dominance of French cuisine, we have thrown the scallops out with the seawater, and coquilles Saint-Jacques has been dismissed as terribly passé. We are idiots.
Your typical Antipodean-inspired brunch joint is so open-minded it will serve you Kiwi-style mince on toast with smashed avo, dukkah, pickled red onion and eggs, but kippers? No chance. I will fight this smoking ban until my last breath.
10) Pie barm
From Teesside’s parmo to Quebec’s poutine, endless, filthy, gut-busting regional classics have undergone a street-food makeover. Yet Bolton’s pie barm or the Wigan kebab (a meat and potato pie in a buttered bread roll) is, seemingly, too controversial a carb-fest to touch. Chefs, be bold! The gourmet pie barm would be internet gold.
Read more articles by Tony Naylor
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
Why I’ll be ignoring Valentine’s Day
10 big foodie don’ts for 2019
10 ways to support your local restaurant
Which retro food do you miss? Leave a comment below…
Tony Naylor writes for Restaurant magazine and The Guardian.