Retro food and drink
Again, no doubt due to the cost of living crisis, comfort food is making a comeback. From Jammy Dodgers to chicken nuggets (no, they weren’t a thing before the mid eighties) through to beans on toast and boiled eggs, we’re all reaching for the familiar because we know we like it and we know it satisfies our hunger pangs.
Grasping this trend with both hands, in spring 2023 I’m working with the team from Isaac At to create a one-off immersive dining experience – provisionally called Toy Box – hosted at the Brighton Toy and Model Museum underneath Brighton station. The fundraising event will see chef Caspian Armani create five tasting dishes inspired by childhood favourite sweets and snacks, each matched with cocktails from local distilleries themed on toys from the collection. For updates register for the Isaac At e-newsletter (www.isaac-at.com).
The rise of the roast
There’s nothing more British than a traditional Sunday roast dinner and for many of us it’s the only time of the week when we can sit down and enjoy quality time with friends and family. Despite the rising cost of meat, many supermarkets are offering pretty incredible deals on home-grown vegetables – 19p a bag at the likes of Lidl and Tesco – which is a welcome concession in tough economic times.
As we all tighten our belts but still want the communality of a shared eating and drinking social experience, expect the familiar ritual of the Sunday roast to be further engrained into our national psyche.
If you’re choosing to dine out as a treat than hands-down the best Sunday roast I’ve enjoyed in Sussex this year is The Sportsman Pub in Goddards Green (01444 233 460, www.thesportsmanpub.com) – expect to pay £14-19 for a top quality lunch with vegetables galore.
Fusion, fusion, fusion
As a country with so many global influences on our cuisine, it’s become increasingly difficult to define what British food is – in fact I think its fair to say that Generation Z and Millennials would be hard-pressed to name more than a couple of what older demographics regard as typical national dishes. I’m not sure if a Gregg’s vegan sausage roll tickets that box either.
In Brighton alone, we’re spoilt for choice in terms of not just specific ethnic eateries but also chefs who are inspired by flavours and cooking styles from across the world.
Two great examples of restaurants with inspiring fusion menus that I’ve enjoyed this year are Fourth and Church in Hove (01273 724 709, www.fourthandchurch.co.uk) and the always impressive Terre à Terre vegetarian restaurant in Brighton (01273 729 051, www.terreaterre.co.uk).
The chains are back in the game
Although Brighton and Hove has a fiercely independent restaurant scene, the big boys are always on the look out as to how to get a bigger bite of the hospitality apple. During the pandemic we lost a lot of household names that either rationalised their property estate or simple disappeared for good; in my mind, a particularly notable loss to the city was Carluccio’s on Jubilee Street.
But the multiples have most definitely done their homework and stepped up their game with well-priced set menus that offer bang for your buck and equally well-designed and engaging environments that bring a sense of occasion to your meal. You can now get two to three courses at pretty much any big name chain for £15-30.
Personal Brighton favourites from 2022 include Bill’s on North Road (www.bills-website.co.uk) and Ivy Asia on Ship Street (www.theivyasiabrighton.com). If you’ve not visited already then check out their January offers and prepare to be thoroughly wowed.
The tasting menu lives to see yet another year
I’ve been predicting the end of the tasting menu for years and years. About a decade ago, I found the concept rather exciting – particularly when cooked and served by the kitchen team right before my eyes.
Nowadays – whilst I can just about continue to embrace small plate dining as a ‘thing’ – I’ve been feeling increasingly jaded by being told what to eat by a chef. However I’m clearly in the minority as tasting menu-led restaurants with auteur chefs still pulling in the punters.
My colleague chef Simon Mckenzie has a slightly different take on why tasting menus will thrive again, and it’s more to do with finances than anything else.
“By offering only a limited yet premium menu offering, I suspect the industry has leaned this way to head off the staff shortage and reduce their prep in the kitchen”, said Simon.
Chef Dave Mothersill’s exciting new venture, Furna on New Road in Brighton (01273 031 594, www.furnarestaurant.co.uk) offers only one set tasting menu which demonstrates a clear confidence in this dining format and I’m looking forward to reviewing towards the end of January.
Vegetarian is the main event
There’s no denying that the trend for vegetarian and vegan food continues to be on the rise. Whether for ethical, health or financial reasons, eating more fruit and vegetables is good for our bodies, our planet and our pockets.
Chefs are really embracing vegetables and the more they do so then the more creative and exciting dishes become. Sam Pryor – head chef and co-owner of Fourth and Church – says just because a dish is vegetable-led doesn’t mean there needs to be a loss of rich flavours.
“Using meaty flavours to accent vegetables bringing a depth and umami is something familiar to thrifty cuisines around the world”, said Sam.
“At Fourth and Church, we’ve used techniques successfully in dishes such as roasted artichokes topped with Morcilla infused migas or purple sprouting broccoli and roasted charlotte potatoes with nduja and brown shrimp XO sauce”.
On the flip side of the vegetable-led dining revolution, interestingly the trend for fake meats and highly processed vegan fast food seems to have reached its peak. US stockmarket darling Beyond Meat has recently reported a $15m loss which I suspect is down to consumers going back to basics rather than splashing the cash on premium priced products.
Households and business feel the squeeze
After the dramas of the pandemic, we were all hoping for some respite and light at the end of the tunnel but the energy crisis driven by Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine has generated even more pressure on families and businesses.
Yet from my almost daily conversation with industry colleagues, the elephant in the room continues to be Brexit with most if not all hospitality and wider food and drink employers struggling with staff retention and recruitment due the a lack of skilled and committed European labour.
Last month the Office of Budget Responsibility predicted a long term 15% drop in UK trade as a result of our exit from the EU Single Market, which equally doesn’t make good reading for small independent food and drink producers who now face red-tape and restrictions when exporting that simply weren’t there before. Brexit is likely to be the gift that keeps on giving for years to come.
Perhaps closer to home, scarcely a day goes by when we don’t hear on the national and local news how food banks are struggling to meet demand. Children are going to school with empty tummies. The national Trussell Trust food bank organisation distributed over a quarter of a million of emergency food parcels in south east England alone between April 2021 and April 2022. These aren’t statistics to be proud of as a nation as we enter 2023.
Without doubt we’ll be seeing an increasing number of consumers turning to discount supermarkets and picking through the yellow stickered items at the end of the day.
Vinegar & ferments
Over the past couple of years, chefs and diners have really embraced the exciting tastes of fermenting meaning that Korean-style kimchi has become a staple on many restaurant menus and also available to buy pre-made from big name supermarkets. However, in our rush for the always-new, we’ve perhaps passed over Europe’s longstanding fermented culinary ingredient and preservative: vinegar.
“Acidity is a key part of the seasoning triangle”, said Sam Pryor of Fourth and Church. “It adds brightness and brings out other flavours and in balance greatly adds to the attraction of the dish. It’s a great way to add acidity, either at the beginning of cooking which brings more depth to the dish or a few drops at the end to lift it”.
Fourth and Church aren’t just including vinegar in some of their dishes. Ever at the top of Brighton’s creative food and drink scene, they’ve also been playing with it in some of their house cocktails – and mighty fine they are too!
Wine & spirits continue to create waves
The world of wine and spirits tends to move at a faster pace than food categories but the key trends for 2023 are sparkling wine, non-Russian vodka and clean drinking.
“I think sparkling wines from around the world will continue to flourish”, said Cassie Gould of Butlers Wine Cellar. “We’re seeing growth in English sparkling, Champagne, Cava and Prosecco, and I think Franciacorte from northern Italy will have a moment”.
With the Putin’s war against the Ukraine destroying the Russian vodka market overnight, there’s suddenly a greater impetus for micro brands to embrace quality vodka production.
“At last vodka might be a 'thing' and I'm all for it”, said Cassie.
“It seems consumers have finally realised that vodka can be made from potatoes so I think we'll see a trend in vodkas made from spuds, flavoured and infused vodkas and this could combine with ethically sourced local products and food waste upscaling using discarded fruits and potatoes etc to infuse and flavour – it's a win win”.
Kathy Caton of Brighton Gin sees consumers becoming more selective with their drinks choices.
“Drinking less but drinking better looks like it's the trend for the first half of 2023”, notes Kathy. “Although industry research out in December shows it’s probably to do with budget rather than health concerns”.