Thomas Blythe, guardian.co.uk, Updated: April 19, 2013 16:16 IST
Your guide to current food trends.
A is for... Ants. At least if you were prepared to fork out for A Taste of Noma at Claridge's. René Redzepi and his friend and fellow chef Alex Atala of D.O.M. in São Paulo, Brazil, have both been using ants in their cooking for some time and there is a wider interest in insects as a source of nutrition with the European Commission sinking more than £2m into research. Use as animal feed seems most likely, but will we be seeing ants and the like on domestic dining tables, rather than picnic blankets soon?
Also for Artisanal. Supermarkets are muscling in on the artisanal loaf and even Greggs has been trialling its more traditional "Greggs the bakery" concept in Newcastle. Some of this is clever marketing, and an addition to existing lines rather than a wholesale makeover. According to Chris Young of the Real Bread Campaign: "Of nearly 3,000 stores, only 539 branches of Tesco bake from scratch on site."
B is for... Burgers. The burger is the comet of the food world, always in orbit but coming round for a closer pass every decade or so. Whether in pop-ups or the new breed of small chains, the past 12 months have seen patties flipped and charred, with increasing fervour. Quality has been put before speed in fast food at places such as Honest Burgers in Brixton Village, Lucky Chip (at the Sebright Arms, Bethnal Green) or Almost Famous Burgers in Manchester. This new take on fast food is an affordable luxury in hard times.
C is for... Chicken. Of the southern-fried variety. It's got to have "a secret blend of herbs and spices" of course. The key is a long soak in buttermilk and a steady hand on the fryer. It's selling hand over fist at Rita's Bar & Dining in Dalston, set up by Jackson Boxer and Missy Flynn, with competition from Roost (from Canteen co-founder Cass Titcombe), and Brixton's Wishbone on the way. While this latest in the gourmet fast-food trend might not give KFC anything to worry about just yet, the Colonel must be spinning in his grave. Elsewhere, there was more proof of our renewed love affair with chicken as a recent food industry poll placed piri-piri chain Nando's at the top as the high street dining destination of choice ahead of Pizza Hut and Wetherspoons.
Ceviche. The Central and South American method of preserving fish using citrus juices, pioneered by the Incas, has been a must-eat this year. But while two London restaurants, Ceviche and Lima, proved popular with critics and bloggers alike, the forecasted craze for Peruvian food has yet to truly take off. And were any brave enough to drink Tiger's Milk? The residual fruit and fish juices mixed with vodka is said to be an effective remedy for the Pisco Sour hangover.
D is for... Dabbous. Ollie Dabbous opened his eponymous restaurant this year following stints at Le Manoir, the Fat Duck and Mugaritz, with his coddled eggs, Iberico pork and acorns, and chocolate ganache with basil moss hailed as instant classics. The only thing dividing critics and punters is the line between those who have been able to get a table, and those who haven't.
E is for... E-dining. It used to be that, were we too tired or not inclined to cook of an evening, our fallback was either to the supermarket ready meal or the local takeaway delivered by a man on a moped. While ordering dinner online isn't new, there's a move towards a more New York style of delivery where quality is beginning to nestle nicely up against convenience. East London's My Salivation is getting quality restaurants on board and delivering their food directly to the domestic dinner table. Housebites, founded in 2011 by internet entrepreneur Simon Prockter, rotates chefs and menus through the week and currently has 50 kitchens across London, Brighton and Manchester, with Glasgow, Edinburgh and Bristol launching later this year.
F is for... Foraging. Chefs and professional gatherers pluck hitherto ignored or unknown flora and fungi to tweeze on to the plate. But is there enough of the stuff to make it a going concern on domestic shopping lists, apart from, say, seaweed and sorrel? If hunting for mushrooms, remember what happened to Horse Whisperer author Nicholas Evans, whose kidney failed after eating a deadly nightcap, and take an experienced guide or reliable book. Oh, and remember, the next time you're caught pilfering apples from an orchard, when accused, you're not scrumping - you're foraging.
Foie gras. When 007 (Roger Moore) recently got involved in campaigning against it you knew this most controversial of delicacies was in trouble. California has banned it altogether, while in the UK, Compass, one of the country's largest contract caterers, has taken it off the menu altogether. Perhaps Faux Gras, the vegetarian alternative available from Waitrose, is the ethical answer.
G is for... Gin. Specialist gin sales increased by 150% this year, spurred on by the continued success of boutique businesses such as Sipsmith, who work the first copper gin still in 200 years in London. For some the love affair with mother's ruin has always been an enthusiastic one, but increasingly discerning booze hounds select boutique brands over the more traditional larger distillers' offerings. The Sex and The City era of sipping Cosmopolitans has been usurped by a generation of drinkers who prefer a Negroni or Gimlet.
H is for... House's Own. Brown sauce, ketchup, butter, baked beans... pub and restaurant chefs increasingly churn their own, but when existing products already hit the spot - can anyone really improve on HP Sauce? - is it worth it? So while we love the idea of chefs playing around with their own take on salad cream, we're crossing our fingers the manager has got a bottle of Heinz stashed behind the bar.
I is for... Instagram. The mobile phone photo app became the essential tool for any food lover with a Twitter account who wishes to share what they're drinking, eating or cooking. The lone diner no longer needs a good book propped open with a fork when they can share dinner with a few hundred followers. Not all restaurants are keen, however. David Chang's Momofuku Ko in New York has an absolute ban on photography in the restaurant.
J is for... Japanese noodles. Alan Yau launched the first Wagamama restaurant 20 years ago bringing udon noodles to the UK high street (there are now 90 branches worldwide). Yau's recent announcement that he plans to "retire" from the restaurant world next year leaves an influential legacy of eateries, his latest Naamyaa - a Thai cafe - opens in London's Islington in the autumn. Ramen at Tonkotsu and udon at Koya (OFM's best cheap eats 2011) in London's Soho have taken the Wagamama concept to exciting and yet still reasonably priced heights - deep-flavoured broths, celebrating seasonality.
K is for... Kimchi. Cabbage, radish and cucumber smeared in hot pepper paste became the relished relish for foodies as it found its way into burgers, pulled pork buns and hot dogs. The fermented Korean pickled vegetable dish may also be a reason for the women of the Korean archery team at London 2012 winning gold again; years of plying leaves with paste is thought to increase dexterous sensitivity.
L is for... Localism. Or for locavores if you're American, where the trend for eating food only sourced within a restricted boundary has taken on a much greater following than here in the UK. Oliver Rowe made a stab at localism with King's Cross's Konstam in 2006, sourcing almost all his supplies within the M25 (the doors closed in 2010), but the notion still holds some rapt. Others see localism as far too restrictive - do we really want to abandon the opportunity to enjoy Nordic salt cod, Yorkshire grouse or Alba truffles?
M is for... Moustaches. If you're an aspiring mixologist or modern chef you're not going to get anywhere without the requisite upper lip garnish. When it comes to mixing cocktails, facial hair is in, bottle juggling is out.
Moscato. Time was when your multi-million selling rapper would settle in to a bottle of Cristal or would pass round the Courvoisier. But the sweet, sparkling white wine from Piedmont has supplanted these as many rappers' drink of choice. Favoured by Jay-Z, Lil' Kim, Kanye West and newcomer AB-Soul, who composed this tribute... "When things get hard to swallow, We need a bottle of moscatoooooooo."
N is for... Never Seconds. Nine-year-old Martha Payne's daily blog of what she was being served in the school canteen hit the headlines when Argyll and Bute council banned her from taking photos of her lunch. Outcry among her 100,000 fans saw the decision overturned, and she has raised a bundle of cash for charity Mary's Meals. A blog about food that may, in its own way, do as much for kids' eating habits as Jamie Oliver or Leon's Henry Dimbleby can achieve.
O is for... Offal. Although Waitrose dipped a toe into stocking offal, we still only really pay lip service to Nose to Tail Eating. Yes, it features on restaurant menus but as a nation we're still squeamish, preferring the chicken breast and rib eye to tripe or heart. Blogger Lucy Moore has pledged to eat nothing but offal for 12 months after building up what she saw as a "meat debt" - if she were only buying chops, what was happening to the rest of the animal? Her blog Offally Good was reported by the Sun as something of a novelty, but is informative and shows a desire to explore just how good those meats can be.
P is for... Pasty. The chancellor of the exchequer comes up short with a proposal to levy 20% VAT on hot food, including the pasty. Outcry and a policy U-turn on savoury turnovers. Sausage rolls are safe, for now at least.
Pork. Pulled and popped in a bun. David Chang's iconic pork bun was replicated, some say bettered, by Yum Bun at Eat Street in London, though many got a rare chance to sample the original at this year's Taste of London festival.
Q is for... Queuing. Increasingly, newly opened restaurants spurn the traditional reservations diary for a no-bookings policy. Infuriating for some, but from the restaurateurs' perspective, no bookings means never having to bite their tongue at last-minute cancellations. Not having to pay for a receptionists and long queues didn't hurt the hype.
R is for... René Redzepi. Noma topped the annual World's 50 Best Restaurants poll for the third year running in 2012 and his Taste of Noma in London was a sellout (see A). Redzepi and friends again hosted the MAD [Danish for food] symposium in Copenhagen inviting a host of chefs, philosophers and thinkers from around the world to discuss the future of food. His detractors would prefer chefs to stay in the kitchen but do we just want chefs to cook? Jamie Oliver champions better school meals (see N) and is heralded as a hero, so why do we sit uneasy at the idea of chefs having bigger ideas?
S is for... Street Food. The early pioneers of the moveable feast, MeatWagon and Pitt Cue, now have permanent homes, but the fleets of Streamline caravans and converted ambulances continue to park up and serve. This weekend, the movement is holding its annual national awards, presided over by Richard Johnson. During the recession the food wagon seems to be the way forward for enterprising cooks to kick-start a business.
San Sebastián. Once more San Sebastián held two places in the World Top 10 (Mugaritz and Arzak), reinforcing its reputation as the ultimate destination for dedicated food lovers, albeit those with a big budget.
T is for... Tattoos. Be they inked upon waiters' arms, or on the chests, arms and legs of chefs, tattoos are now a more vital accessory to the hardened foodie than a Japanese knife or a Wordpress account.
Television. The idiot lantern's love affair with food has only deepened - there's a new star in Rachel Khoo, Gok Wan, has successfully switched fashion for food, and The Great British Bake Off is an on-going phenomenon. All three point to a diminishing appetite for megachefs such as Gordon, Jamie and co. Do we now prefer to watch talented amateurs and semi-pros sweating for the lens? Food TV is also, for many, like the pristine, grease-mark-free pages of cookery books. It's there to marvel at or to take to Twitter to criticise.
U is for... Unfinished. Restaurant interiors are increasingly pared back. This isn't just about economics - though not splurging thousands on an Emin, Hirst artwork or a David Collins multi-million fit-out didn't hurt - this was about aesthetics. St John's utilitarian dining room and bar may have started it all in the 90s, but walk in to, say Russell Norman's Spuntino and you'll find walls stripped bare and menus typed on brown paper. Now, of course, more corporate chains are spending huge chunks of their budgets on fitting out sites to look like they've barely spent any money at all.
V is for... Vegans. In a world of odd diets and fads, veganism is no longer niche. It's not for everyone but the plight of Maria Alekhina, of Pussy Riot, caught the eye of film star Alicia Silverstone who, on learning that she had been denied her dietary requirements, and subsequently collapsed in court, wrote an "impassioned" letter to Vladimir Putin asking that Alekhina be given access to vegan food.
W is for... World's 50 Best. The annual countdown of the planet's finest restaurants splits opinion every year, not so much as to the top rankers - where there has been little change - but more as to how relevant the San Pellegrino sponsored list is beyond the upper echelons of the restaurant world. Still, it remains a big event for chefs and the Noma crew's Viking helmets and unpredictable acceptance speeches are always a hoot.
X is for... Xerez. Gin and micro-brewery beer (see Y) have enjoyed a surge in sales over the past few years. Could sherry be next? Wine writers think so - in 2011 the UK was the second biggest market for sherry behind only Spain. Some put this down to the Downton Abbey effect - a pre-dinner fino sherry is to the show what gin is to Mad Men. Although it may not have shaken off its old image here just yet, it offers a well-priced alternative to wine when pairing with food, particularly fish.
Y is for... Yeast. Fabulous fermentations are on the rise thanks to the increase in microbreweries across Britain. In London alone, 14 new microbreweries have been bottling in the last 12 months. What was once the domain of the keen dad with a Boots home-brewing kit has become a serious industry. And when it comes to food, superstar chefs such as Magnus Nilsson and David Chang have looked to ferments and moulds for new flavours and textures - witness "piso", a northern hemisphere miso made from fermenting peas.
Z is for... Zedel. Old-school restaurateurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin follow up last year's acclaimed Aldwych restaurant the Delaunay with Brasserie Zedel on the former site of Oliver Peyton's Atlantic Bar & Grill in Piccadilly. Ornate and luxuriant - gilt, marble, brass - Zedel bucks the recent trend for less-is-more in terms of decor, but delivers keenly priced French brasserie food. The numbers through the door suggest that this is another success. OFM
A is for ants, on the menu at Noma in Copenhagen and D.O.M. in São Paulo. Photograph: Getty Images