Entries in food (13)


A bite into the unknown

Navigating menus abroad can be something of a challenge for a flexitarian, particularly throughout Europe where waiters tend to fix you with a look somewhere between bemusement and outright suspicion when you ask for a meat-free option, before pointing you towards the veal.

A recent trip to Japan took this confusion onto a whole new level. Not only was the language baffling, but the products themselves were so unrecognisable that you would often be left looking at a market stall or supermarket shelf with no idea if something was animal, vegetable, or mineral:

On our first night in Kyoto, more than a little jet-lagged and disorientated, we unwittingly found ourselves in a kasieki ryori restaurant. These very traditional restaurants complete with kimono-clad waitresses and tatami mats to sit on, have no menu. After much sign language, we established that instead of ordering, we would just be brought a selection of speciality dishes, and after much shaking of my head and pointing to the Japanese for fish in my guidebook, we agreed that mine would be served “no fishu”. What followed was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. A tray of tiny plates each containing a different exquisitely prepared but unidentifiable dish, while tofu bubbled away on a stove.

We didn’t have the slightest inkling what many of the dishes were, and this element of surprise was one of the great things about it. Of course it can also be risky – halfway through the meal I opened up a bamboo-leaf wrapped green gelatinous lump, only to take a bite out of it and discover it was pudding – fortunately I’d chosen to avoid committing the even bigger faux pas of dipping it in soy sauce. It got me thinking that in this age of 250,000 ways to order a burger with not a single element of the meal left to chance, how rare that we have the opportunity to be truly surprised by a meal – apart from Dans Le Noir, there is virtually nowhere in London where you can genuinely have no idea what you’re eating – perhaps kasieki should be the next step in the ubiquitous small plates trend.

Oh, and if you are in Japan and really struggling with a menu, you can always refer to the somewhat unappetising display of plastic representations of the dishes – from small noodle shops to white tablecloth restaurants, these are everywhere – one trend that I’m not sure would catch on over here!

Posted by Lottie


Why chow now?

Whilst I’m sure there are very few of us who actually celebrated Chinese New Year on Monday with some crispy duck, a few spring rolls and a bottle of Tsingtao, it has got me thinking about the future for Asian cuisine in the UK. Our high streets seem to indicate we’re a nation obsessed with Italian…Strada, Prezzo, Carluccios, Zizzi to name a few. And yet according to a recent survey by Food Network UK, Chinese stir-fry has just taken over as the nation’s favourite dish. Should we therefore be weeping that our high streets are bereft of any major players in Chinese cuisine? Or should we be celebrating the little sticky boxes of rice and tubs of gloopy gelatinous sauces peppered with a few pieces of unidentifiable meat that are churned out of the kitchens of our local Chinese restaurants?

It’s safe to say we should probably stick to a little bit of home cooking if we want some fresh and tasty wonton soup or a bok choy stir-fry. So, to Amazon for the perfect Chinese cookery book and what do you find? Ken Hom (there’s no denying he’s the king of Chinese cooking but surely he’s not alone?), Ching-He Huang (no doubt a woman with passion). And then? Then, we get no more than two pages in to the search results and I’m bored already from looking at the kind of books that are in the back row of my doubled-parked cookery books, the ones covered in that dusty grease from years of sitting untouched above the cooker. 

So, what is the future for Chinese food? Two decent cookery writers and maybe the odd M&S Chinese ready meal? Let’s do something about this. Watch this space for a few Chinese experiments from the Phipps team.

Posted by Liz Lock


Why food trends are hard to digest

The first week of January wouldn’t be complete without considering the predictions of what we’ll be eating and where we’ll be dining over the next 12 months.

Passions for food, and an appetite for new experiences, reached new levels in 2011 with the arrival of dozens of pop-up ventures, new restaurants and destinations, so how can trends keep emerging in a market where now almost anything goes as long as it tastes good? Ironically, it could be argued that the predictions drive the trends rather than the other way round. Take for instance the predicted trend for pickling. Would we really be rushing out to buy herring and vinegar, or vats of pickled walnuts at the farmers market, if we hadn’t been told that we would? It will inevitably become a trend, big or small, if the media says it will. 

Had Noma not been named World’s Best Restaurant – originally a successful marketing initiative from Restaurant Magazine - two years running, it is unlikely the media would have paid any attention to Scandinavian cuisine. However, a 12-page feature on Nordic cuisine in this month’s Delicious magazine shows there’s no doubt the media believe in this trend. 

Take sustainability in 2011 as the prime example. Hugh brought us the second instalment of Fish Fight on Channel 4 and we showed concern about the fish we were eating. But are consumers still concerned now or was it simply a trend that came and went alongside the media coverage? 

We may well see a rise in demand in 2012 for salt beef, English veal meatballs and salted caramel but who’s to say it’ll consumer demand rather than the presence in the media?

Posted by Liz Lock


Spotlight on Grape Choice

Here at Phipps, it’s pretty obvious to state that we’re all interested in food and drink. However, this extends far beyond the four walls of our pink and white office, with many resident bloggers in our midst. Today we kick-off by chatting to Junior Account Executive and blogger Jen Gevaux (over a glass of wine, of course).

Hi Jen, tell us about yourself and the blog in 40 words

Fresh out of university, I joined Phipps as an intern in June, and then joined the team permanently in October. I’ve been an ardent blogger since February 2010 and posts can range from product reviews and food and wine matches, to travel anecdotes and informative pieces.

So why blog?

Grape Choice is all about making wine (and other drinks) accessible to those with a limited knowledge of wine. At university, I was quite new to wine, but when I came across a wine I liked or an offer that couldn’t be missed I wanted to let others know about it. Since then, my knowledge has extended (thanks to working in the industry and completing the Wine and Spirits Education Trust intermediate course) and I’ve started to be more adventurous with my choices.

Do you think blogs like yours can help the wine industry to become more accessible to consumers?

The wine aisle can be rather daunting for many people, especially when it comes to choosing a wine for someone else or when trying to impress at a dinner party. Grape Choice is my way of making it a little easier. I’m not an expert (yet) and I believe that taste is subjective – just as some people like olives and anchovies whilst others can’t stand them, the exact same can be said for different wines.

To what extent is your blog influenced by current food and drink trends?

Quite often trends dictate what we should and should not choose to eat or drink (How many of you have tried your hand at baking cupcakes over the last few years?). So many such trends can be really alienating, so although I like to keep up-to-date with what’s hot right now, Grape Choice tends to put aside those trends – my philosophy is if you like it, drink it.

By Sara Evans


Supermarket price wars and the big picture

We Brits have always had a schizophrenic relationship with food and today is a prime example of that dichotomy. On the same day the FT, the Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the Daily Mail report on the UK’s frankly shameful £12bn food waste, the BBC (video) reports on the ‘austerity sandwich’ - two slices of bread with another slice of bread in-between. Surely £12bn could buy a slightly more exciting filling. Meanwhile the supermarket price war is being cited as a reason for falling inflation figures, which in this economic climate must be a good thing.

What the headlines don’t tell you is that neither the food waste nor the retailers’ discounting is sustainable. Food has been (too) cheap and plentiful for many of us for a long time. We need to remember that the global population is growing at such a rate that traditional farming can’t quite keep up. International grain prices have gone through the roof and combined with droughts, floods and now global warming we’re seeing falling agricultural yields just when they need to rise. It can’t be a coincidence that there have been food riots in more than 30 countries. Food security is becoming a concern for everyone. All of a sudden throwing out perfectly okay food is not just a problem for individual households in the UK. 

Posted by Toby Schuster




The Return of the Big Breakfast

This week we were interested to read about the soft launch of the Hawksmoor breakfast menu (reviewed here by uber blogger Eat Like a Girl). Hawksmoor, famous for London’s greatest steaks, has decided to open its Guildhall restaurant for breakfast from 7am. You may wonder if steak would be a popular choice first thing in the morning, but judging from the reviews so far, Londoners are quite happy to abandon their muesli and go for something with a bit more iron.

When you consider that lots of breakfasts (especially at the weekend) contain plenty of meaty fare such as black pudding, sausage and bacon it’s not a huge leap of the imagination. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the spectrum, McDonald’s recently launched its Breakfast Wrap – a tortilla wrap containing egg, hash brown, bacon and a sausage patty. Handy and portable it may be, but it’s not exactly healthy. Nor does it particularly adhere to the Government’s new ‘Responsibility Deal’ – a voluntary initiative for brands to reduce sat fat and salt which McDonald’s is part of. However, our view is that it’s all about choice (even we’ve been known to eat last night’s pizza for breakfast). Hawksmoor and McDonalds couldn’t be more different, but whether it’s because food lovers have so much choice they want breakfast time to work harder, or if we’re looking for comforting indulgences when times are hard, one thing is for certain; the big breakfast is back.

Posted by Lynne Shirley


Postmodernism on a Plate?

As the V&A opens the doors to its autumn blockbuster exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion our thoughts (naturally) turned to the kitchen. Could it really be that the years between 1970 and 1990 gave us nothing more than prawn cocktail, potato waffles or the Alessi kettle? And if so, what was the connection to Postmodernism, the cultural movement of the time that said goodbye to radically utopian architecture in steel, glass and concrete, and hello to ornaments, kitsch and banality? While it’s certainly true that just as postmodernism shrugged off the austerity of modernism and reintroduced aesthetics, eclectics and ornamentation, cooking became a lot more elaborate, fun and clever but equally disposable.

From cheese hedgehogs and oh-so-sophisticated Chicken Kiev in the seventies, the kitchen took a detour via Nouvelle Cuisine to end up with convenience food ranging from Pot Noodles to Walls Vienetta. And the parallels don’t end there. Scratch the shallow surface - architecturally and culinarily speaking - and often you’ll find a plethora of quite worrying details. The nutritional content of most foods was shocking – packed with transfats, sugars and salt – while architecture revelled in high-rise superficiality hiding the economic hardship many experienced during that time. Postmodernism gave us pink granite in form of City office blocks and fluorescent pink desserts courtesy of liberally applied E123 food colouring. So why didn’t Postmodernism last? For the same reason the Chicken Kiev didn’t make it…both were essentially quite disturbing. 


Posted by Toby Schuster  



Is eating the new black?

With London Fashion Week in full swing restaurants seem to be falling over themselves like Naomi Campbell on Vivienne Westwood platforms to tempt even the most calorie controlling fashionista with specially created LFW menus. From the Stephen Webster Bijoux Afternoon Tea at the Langham to beef carpaccio and baked salt crust sea bass at Babbo, admittedly most menus heavily focus on champagne (or in the case of J Sheeky even low calorie Pol Roger) but we here at Phipps obviously welcome every opportunity to indulge in some native rock oysters, mackerel ceviche or calamari with spicy cucumber, especially if it comes with a side of celeb spotting at Massimo. Mind you, how times have changed. Not long ago the fashion world was rocked by the ‘size zero’ debate and stick-thin models. These days models are eating, and today the latest pictures from the catwalks are competing for column inches with health secretary Andrew Lansley’s announcement at the UN that ‘obesity is the new smallpox’. Who says fashion is pure la-la land?


Posted by Toby Schuster


Pens At The Ready...Food Writers Discuss Supermarkets

We were under no illusions…putting together a panel of distinguished food writers with food retailers, and asking them to debate the power of the supermarkets was always going to be an evening of conflicting views. And sure enough the event, hosted by the Guild of Food Writers delivered. Kicking off by highlighting a trend we discussed a few weeks ago Alex Renton claimed that food has become “too cheap” while Guardian writer Zoe Williams cited feminism as an influence on the way we eat, using “supermarket meal solutions” as an example of how the modern working woman doesn’t have time to shop around. Meanwhile, former ad-man turned food writer Tim Hayward argued that advertising has created perceived problems for which, in return, brands and supermarkets provide profitable solutions (a tactic he claimed perfectioned by the beauty industry). In defence of the retail sector Andrew Opie was calling for more fact checking in the media, and used BOGOFs as an example of skewing public perception, insisting the deals are not always funded by suppliers. Thankfully, Sophie of fresh produce supplier Barfoots bridged the gap between the two sides saying that whilst supermarkets have undeniable power it is up to suppliers to be smarter in the way they run their businesses. Not surprisingly for a group of foodies, the general consensus was that it was important for the people in the room to encourage their readers to shop at places other than supermarkets and show how that can be made easy. Then again, we couldn't help but think that this is really a middle classes debate, with the majority of the general public not having the time, money or interest to look beyond the supermarkets when it comes to shopping for food. Discuss. 


Posted by Becky Erwood


Food Trucks Serving Up This Year's Hottest Trends

You know a trend has gone mainstream when the Wall Street Journal covers it. After taking the U.S. by storm (12 of the best-loved food trucks from across the pond) Europe has started to replicate the trend and especially London has seen its fair share of mobile food outlets over the last few months.

From The Meatwagon and Street Kitchen to the Pitt Cue Co, what these mobile eateries have in common is a relentless use of social media to drum up business. The Meatwagon alone has 5,000 followers on Twitter and 1,500 Facebook fans, not to mention the numerous food bloggers who have written about it (rumour has it that Street Kitchen is even working on an iPhone app). But we can’t help thinking that other factors are at play as well. “Food trucks are a combination of several food-related trends we have seen this year,” comments Phipps’s resident food blogger Rachael Everitt. “By serving British staples they let us indulge in comfort food at a reasonable price and offer a level of authenticity and food provenance you can’t get from traditional take-away food.” But with temperatures turning positively autumnal do we think the trend will survive the winter? Our take on this is that rain and colder temperatures might dampen our national obsession with queuing but if the quality remains high food trucks could give the trusted lunchtime sandwich a run for its money.

Posted by Toby Schuster