Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: Byron faces scrutiny over allergy death and cancer link to chicken

The news, reviews and trends from September 7-8, including afternoon tea's revival and salmon stocks critically low.

9 September 2019
image credit: Getty Images

Food News

Mutton mafia

Organised crime gangs are feared to be behind the slaughter and expert butchery of more than 700 lambs, sheep and ewes in fields across the Midlands, reports The Times.

In dozens of incidents over the last six months, the animals have been herded in the middle of the night, killed in situ and stripped of all edible parts with just their fleeces, entrails and heads left scattered in the fields.

The butchery has taken place at farms close to trunk roads, in Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and Leicestershire.

With wholesale lamb carcasses being sold by farmers for about £80, and consumers expecting to pay about £150 to £160 for a carcass, it is feared the spoils are being sold on the black market to food retailers with little regard for food safety regulations.


Time for tea

Afternoon tea is undergoing a revival as a new generation helps to keep the 19th-century tradition alive, according to The Times.

Bookings at hotels and restaurants are surging with a growing number of young people preferring to socialise over finger sandwiches and scones than beer and wine in the pub.

Open Table, the reservations platform, says bookings have jumped by a quarter in the past six months and are 122% higher than five years ago.


Haute cuisine gets the heave-ho

French traditionalists fear for the future of haute cuisine as growing numbers of luxury Parisian hotels swap elaborate dishes for hamburgers, reports The Times.

Modernisers say the three-star restaurants that used to be a staple of Paris’s finest hotels are too costly and ill-suited to an era when guests want dishes they can photograph and post on social media, while dishes like hamburgers are more profitable and better liked by wealthy guests.

However, traditionalists believe the trend shows how French culinary genius is being crushed by globalisation.

Now, many top chefs are leaving Paris’s five-star hotels to open their own restaurants where they can cook the kind of Michelin-star quality food.

image credit: Getty Images


Scots oppose junk food deal ban

Almost half of people living in Scotland oppose plans to bring in a ban on two-for-one deals on junk food.

Ministers plan to introduce curbs on goods with high sugar, salt and fat to address obesity and other health issues, particularly among children.

But a poll for The Times has found that 48% of Scots do not want a ban. Only 36% favour new regulations and 17% are unsure, the YouGov survey found.

Critics say the rules will hurt business and the poorest in society, who use deals to lower the cost of their family shop.


Irish alcohol priciest in Europe

The price of alcohol in Ireland was the second-highest in the EU last year and only slightly behind Finland, according to The Times.

Figures from the European Commission showed that alcohol in Ireland cost well above the EU average and was more than twice as expensive as in many countries.

The study not only examined price but compared it to the wealth of the population and calculated an EU average for consumer price levels.

Ireland was 77% above this average, or almost twice as high, while Romania and Bulgaria were found to have the cheapest alcohol, at 26% below the EU average.


Phosphate crisis on the cards

The world faces an “imminent crisis” in the supply of phosphate, a critical fertiliser that underpins the world’s food supply, The Guardian reports.

Phosphate is an essential mineral for all life on earth and is added to farmers’ fields in huge quantities. But rock phosphate is a finite resource and the biggest supplies are mined in politically unstable places, posing risks to the many countries that have little or no reserves.

Researchers say humanity could only produce half the food it does without phosphate and nitrogen, though the latter is essentially limitless as it makes up almost 80% of the atmosphere.

At current rates of use, a lot of countries are set to run out of their domestic supply of phosphate in the next generation, including the US, China and India.

image credit: Getty Images


Salmon stocks critically low

Atlantic salmon, a species that once packed British and European rivers, is down to its last few million fish and faces extinction in many UK waters, reports The Sunday Times.

Just 5% of the salmon hatched in UK rivers return to breed, compared with 25% two decades ago, scientists found.

It means fish numbers have hit their lowest ever, with 50,000 salmon caught in the UK last year – the worst result on record and a fraction of the 600,000-800,000 caught annually until the 1960s.


Cancer link to chicken

Eating chicken has been linked to a higher risk of getting cancer, the first time a white meat has been connected with the disease.

According to The Sunday Times, researchers from Oxford University found that chicken consumption was associated with a higher risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, and with an increased chance of prostate cancer in men.

The findings emerged from tracking 475,000 middle-aged Britons from 2006-14, analysing their diet and the diseases they developed. About 23,000 developed cancer.

“Poultry intake was positively associated with risk for malignant melanoma, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” the researchers said in a paper published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. “The positive associations of poultry intake with prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma require further investigation.”


Byron questioned over allergy death

Burger chain Byron faces serious questions at an inquest this week into the death of a teenager who died in his girlfriend’s arms after suffering an allergic reaction while celebrating his 18th birthday.

Owen Carey, from Crowborough, East Sussex, who had multiple allergies including dairy, suffered a fatal reaction hours after ordering a grilled chicken burger at Byron in north Greenwich, London, reports The Sunday Times.

The family’s law firm wants to establish whether the chicken contained buttermilk, which was not disclosed on the menu.

image credit: Getty Images

Plenty of profits for Wetherspoons

Pub chain Wetherspoons is set to report robust sales on Friday, according to The Sunday Times. Analysts expect revenues of about £1.8bn, a 6.5% increase on £1.7bn the year before. However, profits are likely to be squeezed by pressures such as higher wages and Investec forecasts a slip in pre-tax profits from £107m to £102m.


Shareholder revolt against Greene King payout

In other pub news, Greene King defended its decision to give former chief executive Rooney Anand an £850,000 payoff after it suffered a shareholder rebellion, The Telegraph reports. Nearly a third of investors voted against the remuneration report at its annual meeting on Friday.


Food Reviews

Café Barletta, Margate, CT9 1XJ

The latest addition to Margate’s Dreamland, Cafe Barletta has a “short, clever menu” with “a real feel for vegetable-led dishes”, says Marina O’Loughlin. A “vast slab of hispi cabbage, chargrilled into smokiness” comes with “fat, floury butter beans, crème fraîche and a zingy, almost-salsa verde”. Then there are the carrots “crinkled and caramelised from fierce heat, languid over their bed of ricotta and neon-green herb oil – tasting of parsley, maybe sorrel, crunch added via a gravel of toasted hazelnuts.”

Here, “flavours are fully in-yer-face, and the kitchen is creative with texture: coarsely chopped steak tartare pungent with mustard and capers hides a perfect egg yolk under a flurry of brittle chicken skin. A ragu of heroically meaty beef and pork comes with microplaned parmesan and lashings of breadcrumbs crisped with bone marrow on homemade tagliatelle. Rich? It just bought Greenland.” 


Wun’s Tea Room and Bar, London, W1D 4DZ 

Jay Rayner is blown away by the “sugar skin Iberico char siu” at this Cantonese restaurant from the team behind steamed bao specialists Bun House. “It is not just char siu, that boisterous Cantonese way with roasted pork, involving the aromatics of five spice punched up with fermented bean curd and honey. It is char siu fashioned from Iberico pork, prized for its thick gilding of glistening, ivory fat. No, it’s more than that. It is Iberico char siu with a crisp, sugared skin. Some of you, the pork-eating ones obviously, may feel you need this in your life. I need this in my life,” he enthuses. Other dishes impress too, including the “wind shelter fried chilli sardines: the crisp-skinned fish rest in a heap of dried red chillies and a golden crumb of salty deep-fried garlic. You eat them and worry that your breath will scare away small children the next day. Then you realise that being scared is character-building for small children, so you don’t care.”

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