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Top food trends for 2016

Top food trends for 2016

by Clare Gazzard 30 December 2015

The world of food is constantly on the move, with international influences, star ingredients and novelty fads all playing their part in both the restaurant scene and within the home. Here are our predictions for the trends we think will be rising faster than you can say ‘kohlrabi soufflé’ in the new year...

Clare juggles a love of food and passion for spreadsheets as Content Producer for Great British Chefs.

2015 saw avocado sales rocket (perhaps with bags of rocket on the side), coconut oil slithered in as the slick new fat on the block, and cold brew coffee filtered down to us through baristas and cocktail bars alike. Although it looks like the smashed avocado on toast phenomenon is here to stay, there’s always room in our culinary appetite for the next in vogue vegetable, radical restaurant or tantalising technique to tickle our tastebuds.

Here’s our top pick for 2016...

Ultra-flexitarianism

We’ve all met one: the health-, ethically- and environmentally-conscious vegetarian . . . who occasionally snaffles down a large beef burger or bacon sandwich. That’s standard, run-of-the-mill flexitarianism, but we reckon that 2016 will see the rise of the ultra-flexitarian – an individual whose culinary week spans more diets than there are days. How about Meat-free Mondays, followed by Tee-total Tuesdays and Thursdays, Higher Welfare Wednesdays and perhaps Fish-only Fridays before Sugar-free Saturdays and Sod-the-diet Sundays.

This lifestyle choice has been on the rise recently due to the surge in knowledge and outlets for these specific diets – vegan cafés can be found next to fried chicken shops and gluten-free recipe books sit happily amongst the rest of the baking bibles. If not restricted due to medical reasons, the understanding of the benefits of and the freedom to choose to follow certain diets is primed for more flexibility than ever before, and awareness of the environmental impact of certain foods has driven people to be more conscious about what they are consuming.

Beware the sugar police

Sugar-free Saturdays may only be the start of things to come. A culinary crack-down on the sweet stuff is brewing, with proposed taxes on sugary drinks and goods already knocking on Parliament’s door. Fats have in turn had a reprieve, and health reports now claim that a high-sugar diet is likely to cause far more damage to our bodies in the long run.

So, while we’ve seen the steady rise of the sugar substitute; maple syrup, honey, agave syrup and artificial sweeteners have all their 15 minutes of fame, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before the sugar content in these (natural or not) is also on the warning list. Could 2016 be the year we start taking all forms of sugar seriously, whether natural or artificial, refined or raw?

The new green

Move over kale, there’s a new superfood hitting our plates for 2016 – seaweed, and we don’t just mean the crispy stuff found in a Chinese takeaway, but the whole slimy shebang. High levels of fibre, iron, vitamin C and antioxidants are some of the benefits now associated with the vegetable, and as such dried, pickled, steamed and baked versions are now widely sold in health food shops and supermarkets.

Kombu (a type of giant sea kelp) has been used in Japanese cooking for centuries, and Nori is synonymous with sushi, but until recently we’ve been reluctant to make the most of bounty of seaweed available on our own shores. Dulse, sea lettuce, gutweed, carrageen and laver (used in the traditional Welsh dish of laverbread) are just some of the most popular, and edible, varieties available here, and chefs have been quick to jump on the foraging trend.

From Tokyo…

Of course, Japan has already been ahead of the game when it comes to seaweed, and it seems it’s also at the forefront of a growing gourmet scene in the UK. Last September’s Michelin list included two two-starred Japanese restaurants for the first time, The Araki and Umu, highlighting the move away from our obsession with simple California Rolls towards a wider understanding of Japanese cuisine as a whole.

Both The Araki and Umu have a strong focus on the traditions and history behind their food, with just as much effort taken over the extensive tea, sake and whisky selections. The Araki leads the way when it comes to sushi, blending age-old traditions with modern twists – something that has already been happening in London with the growth of Scott Hallsworth’s Kurobuta restaurant empire, the opening of MasterChef winner Tim Anderson’s Nanban, and the Japanese-Brazilian fusion of Sushisamba. On a less formal scale, ramen restaurants have been popping up all over the country as part of a new wave of gourmet Asian street food, piggy-backing on the success of last year's trend for bao and banh-mi and this seems set to continue.

 
 

... to Istanbul and beyond

As with Japanese cuisine, our knowledge and yearning for quality Middle Eastern food has gone beyond buying a pot of harissa-spiked hummus in the supermarket. Greek food has long been popular in the UK, but a recent growth in more specialised Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian and Levantine restaurants and cookbooks has seen demand soar. Yotam Ottolenghi perhaps led the original charge with his chain of restaurants and acclaimed cookbooks, but Israeli venue Honey & Co. have recently sparked a passion for Middle Eastern baking with their plentiful cafés and recent book, and the Levant-inspired The Palomar restaurant just won a Michelin Bib Gourmand and sought-after Observer Food Monthly award.

You know this is bang on trend when Alan Yau – founder of the Hakkasan and Wagamama groups – has got his sticky mitts around it, having just opened Babaji, a speciality pide restaurant in London. Having spotted the Japanese trend years ago, it’s a sure sign that it’s on the up. Our love affair with kebabs has also had a makeover from greasy takeaways to dining destinations, with Berber & Q, Black Axe Mangal and Chifafa leading the way.

 
 

The new takeaway

Speaking of takeaways, dining in really is the new dining out. Laziness seems to be on the up in the foodie community, with companies falling over themselves to help us eat gourmet creations without having to leave the comfort of our homes. Start-up company Deliveroo is set to continue its rapid expansion into further cities across the UK, allowing customers to order dishes straight off the menu of top notch restaurants such as Dishoom, Franco Manca and Andina. Similarly, US models Seamless, Grubhub and UberEats (yes, taxis do takeaway) look set to roll out over here throughout next year.

Cooking at home has also never been easier – frequent online grocery shopping through supermarkets is still growing with the decline of large weekly trips to out of town stores, and artisan and speciality deli products can be ordered with ease through delivery networks such as Hubbub. Retail giant Amazon is even jumping on the bandwagon, with the popularity of their Grocery and Pantry categories on the up in the UK and a full-on grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh, already rolling out across America.

If cooking is the actual problem, ready-made meal kits straight to your door through the likes of HelloFresh and Gousto provide everything you need in one box, while craft beer subscriptions and monthly wine memberships mean the drink is sorted, too.

Order please!

The tech-revolution is affecting both booking and ordering in restaurants as well, with ticketing systems, automated ordering and prepaid menus all currently on the brew. Ticketing system Tosh has meant making a restaurant reservation is more akin to booking a theatre seat or perhaps a holiday, with everything booked online and paid for in advance. The aim is to cut down on no-shows and allow diners the peace of mind that there are no unexpected costs looming on the day. Spearheaded by Alinea restaurant in Chicago back in 2012, acclaimed London restaurant The Clove Club rolled this out during 2015, but many diners and restaurateurs are still split over the idea of paying for your food before you’ve actually tasted a single bite.

Menus themselves are also having the streamline treatment, with pared back menus featuring in many restaurants and fixed set menus coming back into fashion, offering a refined choice rather than an all-encompassing list.

The role of the waiter looks set to change as well; on the one hand, electronic ordering systems and apps are potentially taking over from human interaction, while on the other, American restaurants are starting to make a stand on fair wages for waiting staff, coming in line with us here with an optional tipping policy.

Alternatively, the craze for ‘hacking’ the menu may be one to try in 2016. It was recently revealed that many fast food chains have ‘secret’ menus consisting of mismatched dish combinations that create new hybrid items – one craze that definitely still requires human interaction when trying to describe a Nando’s Hawaiian Chicken Chilli Melt...

Best seat in the house

If you do manage to venture outside during 2016, you may want to plan ahead when booking at many of London’s new hotspots. The best seat in the house is no longer tucked away in an exclusive corner with a private sign overhead, but rather centre-stage, and preferably at the bar or chef’s table. The revamp of The Ivy dining room during 2015 highlighted this new focus on restaurant design; the bar is the focal point of the room, and that is exactly where you want to be seen.

Being in the thick of it, mingling with the bartenders and chefs like you’re a local is a sign you’ve made it. Restaurants are set to pander to our foodie egos with designs focusing more on open kitchens, feature bars and communal tables. Dining out is no longer just about gourmet food (you can get that at home now anyway), but it’s an event and an experience rolled into one.

 
 
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An intimate chef's table experience at Claude Bosi's Hibiscus restaurant
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The open bar and kitchen play a key role at José Pizarro's new Broadgate Circle venue

Meat and two veg

Our meatiest prediction for the new year is actually pretty lean … we’re talking goat. To the majority of British consumers, this meat may seem like the new kid on the proverbial chopping block, but we’re actually massively behind the times. Across the world, goat is probably the most widely eaten meat, forming a staple protein in many cultures and cuisines. Being relatively cheap and easy to produce, it’s a wonder we haven’t yet gotten our hoof in the door, but this looks hopefully about to change. Michelin-starred chef Matt Gillan championed the goat with his winning main course dish during the 2015 Great British Menu competition, giving the meat some culinary clout. From a commercial point of view, goat meat is now stocked through online grocer Ocado, and looks set to grace the shelves of the other major supermarkets soon.

In the vegetable world, ‘root to stem’ cooking is the new ‘nose to tail’. We’ve gotten used to the idea of using every part of the animal is dishes, and the idea is now rolling out to fruits and vegetables, too. Following a crackdown on culinary waste, using every part of the plant and making it the hero of the dish seems to be the way forward, utilising roots, leaves, flowers, stems, stalks, seeds and skins to add flavour, texture and depth to dishes.

 
 

Popping the pop-up bubble?

And finally, a trend that we think is on the wane … pop-ups. Pop-ups are fairly run-of-the-mill now, becoming frequent events that if successful, lead to permanent fixtures – which rather takes the ‘pop’ out of them. Street food markets such as Dinerama now have fixed abodes, and many key stalls, such as Pizza Pilgrims and Meat Liquor, now own restaurant chains in their own rights. Chefs have muscled their way in as well, with Pascal Aussignac’s Duck ‘n’ Roll a perfect example – a successful extension of his restaurant offering as a charity pop-up, it’s now a fixed residency.

The shift away from this pop culture is twofold – firstly, that chefs and restaurants are favouring a more collaborative approach, favouring guest appearances and takeovers rather than brand new ventures. This allows chefs to share their creativity and knowledge, but within like-minded establishments – i.e. the restaurants of their peers. Newly crowned with a Michelin star, Lyle’s restaurant is a perfect example, bringing in acclaimed chefs from across the world, (Bertrand Grébaut, Pam Yung José Ramírez-Ruiz, Tatiana Levha and Mitch Orr) for a programme of dinners throughout 2016.

Secondly, the fact that anyone and everyone can now host a supper club or set up a restaurant takes away many of the pop-up’s USPs. Without many of the normal costs and constraints of a fixed restaurant, supper clubs and restaurants-at-home allow wannabe chefs the opportunity to try hosting on their terms, offering diners an endless choice of locations, themes, and culinary surprises that pop-ups just can’t do. And it’s not just homebods muscling in on this market; every possible consumer activity is being primed as an opportunity for dining. Retail and travel are the key areas for gourmet growth in 2016, with chef takeover events at Harvey Nichols, and the launch of Bruno Loubet’s Gatwick Grain Store being the perfect examples.

Phew … from what we can see, 2016 is shaping up to be a pretty tasty year, and these predictions barely skim the surface of all the exciting innovations bubbling away in the proverbial cooking pot. We can’t not mention the continued penchant for gourmet fried chicken, or the domination of Bake Off fever with the Professional version soon to hit our TV screens, but hopefully there’ll be some surprises along the way for us all as well. Bring on 2016 and bon appétit!

 
 
 

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