How fine dining and takeaway have started to get on together
“Gone are the days of stiff formal service”
Britain’s evolution as a foodie nation is set to hit another stage in 2017, where the distinctions between fine dining and fine fast food continue to lessen, bringing different strands of the restaurant world closer together.
There are hints of this everywhere. In the 2015 film Burnt, in which Bradley Cooper plays a fine dining chef making a comeback, he spends part of the time eating his way through London’s backstreets. One of the purposes is to identify talented chefs in the foodstalls to recruit for his kitchen. This doesn’t seem unrealistic and it reflects accurately how different levels of cooking are nowadays taken equally seriously, in a way in which they simply were not in the past.
You can see this in how investors are choosing to back fast food restaurants of a sort we have never seen before. Take Hipchips, a “crisp restaurant” that opened in London’s Soho in October. At first hearing this might sound like a parody but it is much more than that. The menu lets you choose the type of potato and the point of the place is not just the “crisps” but the dips provided to go with them. These are both savoury (veggie ceviche, katsu curry, smoky cheese fondue) and sweet (chocolate praline, lemon tart, crème brulee). All of it is designed to appeal to foodies. Yes, it is a crisp restaurant but it is rather more than that too. One suspects that the “crisp restaurant” publicity campaign was a clever marketing understatement. It seems to have worked very well.
At the other end of the culinary firmament, grand dining is also changing. It’s not that it has gone downmarket – perish the thought – but it has become more relaxed. Nowhere is this more evident than in Marcus Wareing’s Michelin two-star restaurant at the Berkeley Hotel.
Formally highly formal, Wareing took a decision on the restaurant’s last refurbishment to introduce a far more relaxed style.
He says: “I think really fantastic restaurants will continue to open, but they will be dressed up in a new and different way – being more relaxed than ever before.” This doesn’t mean that the level of cooking will change – indeed the demand for top notch quality is unabated, as the Soho crisp restaurant demonstrates.
Wareing says: “Top end dining is still detailed and intricate, it is just presented in a very different way. For instance the staff are now more relaxed than ever before, they are showing their personality more and engaging with customers in a much more personable way. Gone are the days of stiff formal service. It is much more personable now.”
Part of all this is simply down to customer demand, the so-called DIFM (‘do it for me’) culture which leads diners to be less and less patient with anything they do not want. It seems a long time since the 1990s, when the star chefs ruled their dining rooms with strict policies and acidic tongues.
This trend has even affected the world of takeaway, which has been transformed by delivery services such as Deliveroo, which make sure that customers can get restaurant quality food at home.
Deliveroo’s place in the UK’s food culture has been firmly established since it was set up by a former investment banker in 2013. Today it is not just operating in London but all over the UK, even making a mark in cities such as Exeter, where the local paper has run stories on how Deliveroo’s uniformed couriers congregate in one part of the city centre awaiting orders.
It is all part of the Britain’s diverse and ever-developing food culture, a culture that is competitive but can offer big rewards for canny investors.