Granted, I’m a little bit late this year, but I’d like to say I’ve used the time to assess the lie of the industry a little. Most of the predictions I made last year, are in full swing, with a lack of Peruvian influx as guessed (only Coya opened and that was early this year really), a plethora of Italians, diet-related restaurant menus, mocktails, pop-ups and the further rise of bloggers (BBC Good food and ProChef both awarded bloggers, My Custard Pie and Foodiva respectively, and you’re starting to see all of us around as cheap celebrities at food events large and small.) There was less of the Chinese openings that I’d hoped for, but as I’d mentioned, that was more a hope than an assessment. Really do need to get myself out to International City and see if there’s anything good out there.
Ok – so this year, and it’s influences….
We’re looking at a double dip recession in many countries. The oil price is staggeringly low, meaning that even the fat cats of Dubai are thinking about (maybe) having to watch their pennies. But at the same time, we remain in an era of expected luxury. Everyone believes they deserve the best. We have unnecessary desirable consumer goods overwhelming our homes and our well exercised credit cards. Everyone is a sommelier – nobody drinks house wine any more. We all know the cuts of meat we should order, expect organic, demand local or region-specific delicacies. It’s going to be a hard year for many as they realise their Champagne budget is gone and they’ve been left with having to figure out what the hell Cremant de Loire is.
At the same time all this is going on, guilt is building. We’re only feeling a little remorseful over spending the childrens’ college fund on ethical foie gras and single-batch gin. Many current thirty-somethings have even forgone the whole kid-thing anyway (they don’t know it yet, they’ll just wake up one day when they are 42 and realise that in the midst of all that opulent consumption they forgot to have them). No – we’re guilty about the earth, the animals we eat, and the lack of provision for our futures – both environmental and financial. We’re guilty of losing touch with our culture, homogenizing ourselves and burying our history.
Thirdly, “Millennials” are making up a greater part of our population. This demographic, born between 1981 and 1997 are just now taking over the scale of the last great generation, the baby-boomers. They are all in their twenties and early thirties now, and ruling fashions, taking all the good jobs and directing our future. They’re known as a Peter-Pan like breed, trapped in a child-adult flux that never really figures itself out. What does that mean for food and restaurants? It means that they have to be user-friendly (no hard work please), fun, and of course, as beautiful and fanciful as Neverland.
And what does that result in for the crystal ball?
We’re all completely over that tapas-izakaya-mezze-sharing plates stuff. Kitchens love being able to present dishes to the table whenever they choose, but we’re not so so keen on having to scramble at nibbles sparsely at various times – it’s hard to remember how much we’ve eaten, and so we always spend twice what we need to. But we’re not just sick of it because of the timing and the price, but because those plates are really just too damn small to share properly, not to mention they always seem to have an odd number of pieces. There’s always a last prawn that everyone feels too guilty to touch, or a bitter fight to the death over a spicy lamb chop. Let’s see some more grandiose portions, and even better, options to reduce or increase portion sizes depending on the number of guests.
Death to Compulsory Degustation
Does anyone really want 11 courses when they go out to dinner? I’m so fat already, even the idea of this much food at a once-in-a-year restaurant makes me think I need a vomitorium. If I ever get out of the restaurant, that is, because it takes 5 hours to serve that many dishes. We all understand that the highly desired restaurants have the right to want to charge higher prices for the pleasure of dining in their worlds’-50-best or 3-Michelin-star restaurant, and that the chef wants to express his art. But today’s dining demographic won’t stand for it all that much longer. We’ll swallow twice-booked tables and shorter dining experiences, inflated prices, waiting lists, and more. But this amount of food is not good for us, and even if the portions are small, the idea of that many different ingredients in our digestive system at once is scary. And washing all those plates, and all the bits we don’t eat because we know how much more is coming? The waste makes my soul sick.
You know how I was saying Millennials like it easy? Well so do I, and I’m even Gen X (just, I’d like to add). I’m tired of getting into a restaurant with 5 other people who ignore the menus for 10 minutes while we catch up on life, then realize we are all starving and have to discuss food options for another 10. They invariably hand all the menus to me, tell the waiter: “She’s in charge”, and I proceed to order a whole stack of obscure stuff that nobody really wants to eat. The new menu is no menu at all. It might take a little longer to catch on here, because the whole idea of ‘seasonal produce’ is a little ripe. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you walked into a restaurant, and the waiter said “What do you feel like?” and then got you something rich, something fishy and something smothered in chocolate (or whatever your desire may be), getting all the quantities correct, and suggesting a new wine that might match really well. Now THAT is service worth paying for, and an experience to warrant return.
Phoney Food Trucks
All the artisans have already got their food trucks, and they are traipsing all over the UK and the US. Europe has had them for a hundred years and so are wondering what all the fuss is about. Asia and Africa mastered street food even before that. What we are going to see rolling out now are the corporate food trucks, capitalizing on all this trendy downsizing rigmarole. They’ll be packing their assembly-line product half-baked into the truck, so they can whack it in a microwave or a deep fryer for 30 seconds and serve it up in a bamboo plate with a raffia bow. Next time you walk past an authentic-looking kitsch, no-fuss, soul food trailer, check the small print, because you might be eating a drive-through special for double what you’d pay in the restaurant. There will of course be some great ones around. It’s your job to sniff out the difference.
This is going to be one of the only ways to keep that Champagne flowing on that Prosecco budget. Last year saw more and more mid-level restaurants offering a home delivery – it’s not just about pizza and curry anymore with the likes of Lafayette Gourmet, Jones the Grocer and Certo on the band wagon. But better than that, there are copious chefs and caterers now going door to door (look for Chef Tom and Marta’s Kitchen in particular) and offering a service for smaller parties. And they clean up! Also with the introduction of Chef Xchange we should see more Pop-ins rather than Pop-ups. Exciting time to stay in…
The last year or so saw a rise in Kimchi – a fermented vegetable dish from Korea. Who would have thought it? It’s partially because of its tangy, umami-rich flavour, and also for a little bit of poncy shock value (Oh, I’m sooo cool because I can eat stinky fermented cabbage without gagging). But the main reason is because it’s been found that fermented foods have a high level of digestive enzymes and probiotics (the things we need to take constantly now to fend off the disaster trails left by all the antibiotics we take). Miso is a big one you’ll see crossing cultures (look for it in more salad dressings and burger toppings), then try Kefir (a fermented milk drink with very slight alcohol content), and of course sauerkraut, which will be the buzz thing everyone is making at home, putting in jars and giving to people as housewarming presents (because all that farting will definitely warm your house). Oh and natto, which is a putrid fermented soy bean dish from Japan, guaranteed to clear a room in 5 seconds flat.
Vegetables, but not necessarily for vegetarians
Bring on the guilt I mentioned before. Meat production is something to be sorry for. Greenhouse gasses, land clearing, water usage, hormones and chemicals – it’s all pretty bad, notwithstanding the whole slaughter thing, and the very real possibility of pretty poor treatment of animals. But we don’t have to give it up completely, because chefs are going to get all clever this year and make veggies taste as good as meat. And there’s not going to be any tofu in sight (too much GM soy, but they may toy with tempeh, because it’s fermented…), because they are going to forget the whole balanced protein iron health thing, and just focus on yumminess. It’ll do us some good to eat red meat only once or twice a week.
So all these Millenials are known for “boomeranging” – i.e. Heading back to live with the oldies once schooling is all done. It’s mainly because the Gen-Xes completely stuffed up the economy and gave them no chance of buying their own home, but also because Mum is a really good cook. These mums are aged 50-70, older Gen-X and younger baby boomers, women who still had to take Domestic science as a compulsory subject until year 9. We’re talking old recipes, handed down by even older teachers and grandmothers. Steak, stews, pies, burgers, fish and chips, ploughmans sandwiches. But to 2015-alize them we’re going to splash on a stack of luxury condiments. Smoked, pickled, fermented, infused, bottle-numbered, spiced with obscure ingredients, and a whole heap of unexpected pairings to throw our taste buds out of the box, and forgetting we could probably just have mum cook this for us at home. For free.
Lack of money. Guilt over eating only fillet steak for the last 5 years. Reduced price in slow-cookers. These are the elements that will increase the production of peasant food at home. Restaurants with any nous will also start charging fillet prices for brisket and bringing sumptuous looking sharing dishes to the table that probably only cost 8aed to cook. Think polenta dumplings, bread soups, red beans and rice with jerk pulled pork, Mujaddara, pot au feu, phở (yes, I’m still hanging for a phở truck in Dubai) and more.
Continuing from last year, this trend is going nowhere, only getting bigger. We don’t want to have to think about diet – we want restaurants to do all the work for us. After all, they are the experts in food, and after all the damage Gen-X cooks have done to our waistlines by hiding butter and sugar in everything that comes out of a restaurant kitchen, it’s time the young blood did something to improve chefs’ reputation. Food bloggers have taken the lead with this, with all their health balls, macrobiotic stir-fries, avocado chocolate mousse and dreaded kale chips. Judging by the continued popularity in these recipes, chefs will need to show them who is boss by doing a bigger and better job at it.
This year I’m going with Mexican, Greek, and Korean. But not with any great strength of foresight. I don’t think we’re going to see a swathe of new openings in these genres (except maybe a couple of Greeks), instead some more menu items from these cultures will make it into the mainstream. Rather than an increase in a particular cuisine when it comes to openings, I think Dubai restaurateurs are going to play it safe and go with mixed offerings, instead developing their individuality according to their location, decor, music and service. Expect more sleek bars and lounges with casual but clever food that can be ordered around the clock, DJs in restaurants even early, as the sun goes down, and warehouse or loft-style venues with pumping tunes, great cocktails and soul food.