Julie Bindel

The food trends that need to die

From foraged ingredients to smashed avocado

  • From Spectator Life
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Jacques – a tiny French restaurant in Finsbury Park – was the very first posh joint I ever ate at, back in 1987, and I have fond memories of it. The proprietor, Jacques, was a flamboyant 40-something: very gay, extremely rude to his customers (did I mention he was from Paris?) and partial to drinking his own profits. Nouvelle Cuisine, with far less fat and much smaller portions, was on trend, and Jacques’s glorious menu of rabbit in mustard sauce with mashed potatoes, and rich crème brûlée, was slowly replaced by carrot salad, followed by minuscule portions of blowtorched fruit. The cheaper ingredients and smaller portions allowed Jacque to consume more champagne sur la maison. 

I can’t mention food crazes without ranting about smashed avocado

Today, one food fad I would love to see disappear is oversized sandwiches, including gigantic burgers – basically, anything Jay Rayner calls ‘boy’s food’. While these might sound delicious to the ravenous, eating one should be classified as an Olympic sport – be sure to cover your entire upper body with napkins if you tackle one. It’s a macho endeavour, all about cramming as much down your throat as humanly possible, and given the choice between one of these giants and the tiny portions, I know what I’d go for.

Food and restaurant fashion is cyclical – what goes out one year might make a comeback in ten or 20 years’ time. Here are some I would love to never see again: raw food, pompous home chefs, small plates, and diners Instagramming every morsel and course. 

Molecular gastronomy: a term chefs tend to hate, though many still seem to indulge in it. Heston Blumenthal’s flagship joint The Fat Duck in Bray, which serves up individual headsets blasting sounds of the sea to accompany one of the 150,000 courses on the set menu, seemed to me not just pretentious, but totally unnecessary if the seafood does actually taste of the sea. Egg and bacon ice cream was the dish that made the headlines when it first appeared, and I can think of nothing more repulsive. Which brings me to bacon flavoured everything, from fruit pastels to seaweed to vodka. Just stop it. 

Foraged food, Norwegian style: made popular by René Redzepi, whose restaurant Noma is supposedly one of the best in the world. It is deeply irritating. There is a very good reason why bitter berries, inedible leaves, and other ingredients are not cultivated for cash. With the exception of wild garlic, I am not feeling it. And I always wonder how the promises made by these forest-to-fork gaffs (where your entire dinner comes from within a 50-mile radius because local is king) are kept when it comes to Campari and coffee beans? Olive oil and peppercorns?

Tinned fish: it snuck into restaurants through the back pantry, and before I knew it, I was paying £16 for an open tin of sardines with a fork stuck in it. Scandalous. Don’t get me wrong, there are some delicious offerings in tins, including oysters, anchovies, and the very best preserved tuna (better than fresh in my opinion) – but could they perhaps take the fish out of the tin and serve it on an actual plate? Sitting there with the lid peeled back reminded me of a visit to a domestic violence refuge where, due to lack of funds, the electricity had been cut off and all the kids were having to eat from cans. 

Toasters: there was a phase at one time for posh deli type joints to seat everyone on communal tables and stick a couple of toasters in the middle. I first saw this in Ottolenghi’s and wondered why I hadn’t just stayed at home and made my own brunch.

Avocado: I can’t mention food crazes without ranting about smashed avocado. It is on every single menu in particular middle-class enclaves of London, with a price tag of about £8 or £9 for a piece of toasted sourdough (don’t get me started) laden with a dollop of mashed up avocado and sprinkled with sea salt. 

Other irritants include paté served in a Kilner jar, putting parsley or edible flowers on a fry-up, chips cut thick and stacked like a game of Jenga, and plates carved from granite. If I see the word ‘deconstructed’ on a menu I cringe. It tends to mean something such as lamb hotpot with the potatoes in one corner of the plate, the lamb standing in a miniature chip basket, and the carrots carved into the shape of a farmhouse. 

But if I had to vote for the all-time worst food fad of all, it would be the dastardly, wretched kiwi fruit garnish, which, for about a decade sat atop any savoury dish from chicken Kyiv to egg and chips. Whoever started that particular trend should be charged with a hate crime. 

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