Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: Ottolenghi's celebration of vegetables and M&S tackles food waste with new product

The news, reviews and trends from April 28-29.

30 April 2018
food wastefruitjapanesesustainabilityvegetables

Food news

When two become one

Sainsbury's is in advanced discussion with Asda for a £10bn-plus merger that could force the sale or closure of hundreds of stores across the UK, reports The Telegraph.

The tie-up would see the combined businesses overtake Tesco as the supermarket leader in Britain, but with more than 2,000 stores between the two, watchdogs are likely to demand widespread disposals of outlets to stop them dominating swatches of the UK retail market.

The newspaper reports the companies are mulling the merger to be able to source stock more competitively, rather than to cut costs and it is thought both brand names would be retained. The combination would give the retailers almost a third of the UK retail market, as well as an annual turnover of £50bn.


New delivery service to take on Just Eat

The tycoon of easJet Stelios Haji-Ioannou has invested in a new business called easyFood, which aims to break Just Eat's stranglehod on the online food delivery market, reveals The Sunday Times.

In their sights are the fees charged by the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats, with easyFood planning to charge restaurants and takeaways a flat monthly fee and help them build their own websites and apps.

It began trading with a soft launch in Birmingham last week, with 200 restaurants and takeaways signing up, with 800 more expected in the coming months. Rather than taking a slice of digital sales, easyFood will charge them £100 a month or £195 for a premium service, which comes with payments and data hardware.

There is also the potential to act as a broker to help eateries source ingredients and other goods and to take commission from it.


No more vanilla ice cream?

Consumers’ growing hunger for authentic ingredients has advanced the vanilla pod from obscurity to kitchen staple in recent years.

About 85 per cent of the world’s supply comes from the bourbon vines of Madagascar, where last year’s cyclone Enawo, drought and a crime wave have wiped out a third of the annual crop, reports The Times.

The kitchens serving Ruby Violet's ice cream parlours in north London have been been hit so hard by cost increases that they have taken vanilla off the menu. Owner Julie Fisher said she used to pay £65 or £75 per kilo and now suppliers want £580.


Duck & Waffle’s head chef flies coop for new ventures

The head chef of London’s Duck & Waffle restaurant, Dan Doherty, has stepped down.

Doherty has been with the restaurant – known for its 24-hour service and breathtaking vistas from the 40th floor of the Heron Tower in London city – since it was launched in 2012.

He started off as Duck & Waffle’s executive chef and later became chef director. Tom Cenci will remain as the restaurant’s executive head chef.

According to the Evening Standard, Doherty is poised to open his own restaurant soon, and while details have not yet been confirmed it’s believed to a permanent site for Sprout, a vegetarian pop-up he opened at Harvey Nichols last year.

He is also set to appear alongside Mary Berry in BBC’s new series Britain’s Best Home Cook.


Ottolenghi to open restaurant celebrating vegetables

Celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi has announced plans to open a new restaurant in London that will feature a vegetable-centric menu.

Known as ROVI, the restaurant is slated to open in June in the Fitzrovia neighbourhood. It will be Ottolenghi’s second restaurant in the capital – the other being NOPI – alongside four delis.

“The name, ROVI, is a little bit of NOPI and a little bit of Fitzrovia,” Ottolenghi told the Evening Standard.

"At ROVI, vegetables will be the main event, cooked on the grill.”

image credit: Instagram @ottolenghi


Gumtree-sourced head chef passes on the fry pan

108 Garage has named Greg Clarke as its new head chef, almost 18 months after the restaurant’s founder Luca Longobardi used Gumtree to hire Chris Denney for the role.

According to the Evening Standard, Clarke has been hired to look after the day-to-day operations of the Westbourne Park, London, restaurant while Longobardi and Denney continue to expand the business.

At 108 Garage, Clarke will be responsible for reinterpreting its acclaimed and innovative six-course dinner tasting menu.


American Bar reimagined with European influences

The Stafford London is poised to relaunch its iconic and historic American Bar on May 3, according to the Evening Standard.

The five-star hotel’s flagship bar will open its doors again following a refurbishment scheme that includes a new marble bar, new cocktail menu and a redesigned food menu from culinary director Ben Tish that will celebrate Italian and Spanish cuisine.


Food trends

Food waste fun for M&S as beers made from leftover bread

Rather than discarding unused bread, Marks & Spencer is sending it off to be turned into ales in a bid to cut waste, according to The Guardian.

While making beer from bread isn’t exactly new, it’s the first time that a retailer is using discarded bread in this way. Three new beers will soon be available at M&S made from surplus bread from its sandwich factory.

M&S’s initiative follows the success of Toast Ale, launched two years ago by the founder of food waste charity Feedback, Tristram Stuart, who was inspired to use leftover bread to make beer by a Belgian brewer who follows the same process.

The trend is being viewed as a solution to the daily waste of bread, with Brits throwing away more than 24 million slices every day.

M&S said that if the new beers prove popular with customers, the use of surplus beer will be expanded to a wider range of beers. 


The hidden insects in food

Turns out people have been eating insects without knowing it. One of the most widely used red food colourings - carmine - is made from crushed up bugs and the insects used to make carmine are called cochineal, and are native to Latin America where they live on cacti, reports the BBC

A staple of the global food industry, carmine is added to everything from yoghurts and ice creams, to fruit pies, soft drinks, cupcakes and donuts.

Carmine continues to be widely used because it is such a stable, safe and long-lasting additive whose colour is little affected by heat or light.

Supporters also point out that it is a natural product first discovered and used by the Maya and then the Aztecs more than five centuries ago. They claim that it is far healthier than artificial alternatives such as food colourings made from coal or petroleum by-products. 

But even fans of carmine agree that it should be more clearly labelled, and there are a growing number of natural red colouring alternatives that don't come from insects.


Pineapple pizza wars

Research by YouGov has found that the proportion of people who say they “really like” Hawaiian pizza has more than doubled over the past six years, while the proportion who say they “really don’t like” it is up 15%, reports The Times

A growing number of people are also googling the term “pineapple pizza”. Analysis by Google Trends shows the subject has risen from an “interest rating” of four out of 100 in 2004 to 93 out of 100 this month.

The debate has even got political, with President Johannesson of Iceland saying that Hawaiian pizza should be banned.

Day boat lemon sole, brown shrimp and Romane courgettes from Evelyn's table
image credit: Instagram @evelnystable

Food reviews

Abd el Wahab, Belgravia, London SW1X 9EL

Marina O’Loughlin checks out Abd el Wahab in London’s posh Belgravia neighbourhood for The Sunday Times, in which she criticised the restaurant for its “frustrated quest for Middle Eastern promise”.

She initially expressed excitement in the Lebanese restaurant’s swish interior design and layout as well as its promise for authenticity, with the business being founded in Beirut in 1999. She also praises the restaurant’s mezze dishes but conceded it all went “downhill” once the meats and mains came out, and her boredom for the dessert was obvious.

“I think what’s happened is that I’ve self-gaslit, convincing myself that, because Abd el Wahab is all over Dubai and Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, it’s going to be significantly different, significantly better,” O’Loughlin writes.

“Better than, say, the excellent Ishbilia around the corner. But it’s not.”


Gaijin Sushi, Birmingham B5 7AH

The Guardian’s Jay Rayner could hardly contain his praise for Gaijin Sushi, a new Japanese restaurant in Birmingham that is run by Polish chef Michal Kubiak.

With seating for 12 people only, Rayner says Gaijin Sushi is “an utter delight” but stops short of calling it the best sushi restaurant in the Midlands.

Going through its menu – which features a new spin on tempura, nigiri sushi, seaweed rolls with crispy prawn or eel – he revels in what Kubiak has created for diners and dismisses any “pointless debate over authenticity”.

“[Kubiak] has not laboured with some ancient Japanese sushi master for decades before being allowed to even wash the rice,” Rayner writes.

“He has not been forced to stand outside by the bins practising his knife skills until he can turn a whole turnip into an unbroken single ribbon. He’s a Polish guy who loves Japanese food. And if any of that bothers you, because you just adore a cultural stereotype, then please go somewhere else.”


Evelyn’s Table, Chinatown, London W1D 6DJ

The Evening Standard called on Kate Spicer to review Evelyn’s Table, a tiny basement counter restaurant below The Blue Posts at London’s Chinatown where patrons enter through a secret downstairs door marked private with a peephole.

She gave the restaurant’s ambience a 5/5 and its Southern European food menu a 4/5. Price praised head chef Luke Robinson as a man with a “fishtory” for sourcing and cooking great seafood.

“The food was split between good and the last three dishes we ate, which moved into a different realm of awesome,” she wrote.

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