Sunday, 9 December 2012

2012: when things got gloriously sloppy

"Don’t be fooled into thinking this fast food revolution is frivolous and doomed."

Sorry Made in Camden. It wasn't your year...
I read an interesting article today by my beloved Jay Rayner, who talks about 2012 as the year when "deepening recession sent skilled cooks heading towards the gutter, the better to look up at the stars."

And he's quite right. 2012 was the year of posh fast food, a cuisine I seem to have covered in great depth (see Chicken ShopDirty BurgerMEATliquorBig Apple Hot Dogs and so on). Essentially, if you didn't force people to queue and expected diners to use a knife and fork, you weren't going to get blogged about.

I have a hunch that 2013 will be similar - gourmet fish and chips are probably due another airing. As is always the case, it takes a little while for everyone to catch up with the curve. Like how after Oasis we had to cough up saltwater from the waves of Hard-Fi and Kasabian. Hopefully the best is yet to come, but bearing my example in mind I fear not.

But what really caught my interest was a comment below the article. Among all the very Observer-style trolling (“HOW DARE YOU WRITE ABOUT FOOD WHEN SUDAN IS STARVING?!”) was JahConvict, who believes that the artisanal fast food revival was “finished before it started, which was last year”. Mr Convict is dead wrong. For a start there was no start, unless you count it as lots of unconnected food vans that sprung up on gentrified markets, then started pop-ups and food festivals before finally making the move into restaurants permanent (pretty much all this year and still thriving) when a bank finally believed in them.

But Mr Convict does go on to make an interesting point: “The real food news is that more people are more aware of what really matters with food; understanding and taking ownership of where it comes from, how it is prepared and how it is best eaten.”

In my head, that boils down to the same thing as the fast foodie argument – the idea that great, fresh ingredients have flavour enough. Diners don't want towers of soup and French words. They want to know their chicken had child tax credits and that their broccoli was grown on a farm that's name begins with an S. They want traceability, which inevitably means simplicity.

Knowledge of great flavours and where to find them is what matters now. So, my favourite meal of the year? It’s actually a toss-up between Made in Camden, an adventurous and exciting meal with some truly astounding dishes, and the Chicken Shop – the most basic meal I’ve eaten all year. Chicken; chips; buttermilk salad; beer; home. Or, put another way – 24-hour marinated and spit roasted; deep fried; well seasoned; locally brewed; just around the corner from my house.

That’s why so-called “fast food” is on the rise: it’s cheaper, heartier, simpler and more accessible, surely what people are looking for at this point in the economic cycle. Pies, burgers, roasts, sausages, pork baps, Scotch eggs – all these classic British meals are back, and any imbecile could knock out a decent version at home with the good ingredients. But that’s what’s brilliant about the whole thing. That very fact means best new restaurants in the capital are keeping prices low, menus small, ingredients traceable, and flavours big. They're telling people to do things simply, and do them well.

Don’t be fooled into thinking this fast food revolution is frivolous and doomed. It’s just the beginning.

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