Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: PizzaExpress could be forced to close restaurants

The news, reviews and trends from October 12-13, including champagne under threat from climate change and the NHS pledges to cut 100m plastic straws, cups and cutlery. 

14 October 2019

Food news

Champagne risks fizzling out

France is fighting to save champagne after scientists said the grape varieties used to make it will be ruined by rising temperatures by mid-century, reports The Times.

Data from 50 weather stations in vineyards shows that average temperatures have risen by 1.1C since 1990.

The rise has changed the grapes used in champagne, causing a 0.7% boost in alcoholic content because warmer grapes produce more sugar.

If the temperature increase reaches 2C “champagne will be gone forever,” according to Thibaut le Mailloux of the Comite Interprofessionel Du Vin De Champagne (CIVC), which represents France’s growers, merchants and government.


French to monitor British fishermen

British fishing fleets are set to be monitored by a French company after the UK leaves the EU, according to The Times.

The business that won the tender to track UK fishing vessels wherever they operate, as well as foreign-licensed boats in British waters, is Collecte Localisation Satellites (CLS), a French maritime surveillance provider.

The contract was awarded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in late summer having previously been held by a British firm, Globavista.


McDonald’s sends money back home

The European arm of McDonald’s wired a $2.7bn (£2.1bn) dividend to its American parent last year – the first such payout since Donald Trump was elected, reports The Times.

Trump’s tax reforms have tried to get US multinationals to repatriate foreign earnings.

The fast-food giant has also ended a controversial fees arrangement that critics said helped to minimise its British tax bill. 

image credit: Getty Images

Guinness sales slide in Irish pubs

Guinness parent Diageo is concerned at falling sales of the iconic stout in its home market, reports The Times.

John Kennedy, Diageo president for Europe, Turkey and India, recently told analysts that Guinness had lost some share in Irish pub sales and that the company was “doing a lot of work about how to turn that around.”

The performance in Ireland contrasts with sales in Britain, where draft Guinness sales grew 5% last year, which was described as “a super performance in a market that’s flat to declining in the on-trade.”


Heston in hot water

Heston Blumenthal has come under fire for suggesting that women chefs are not physically suited to the job.

According to The Times, the Michelin-starred celebrity chef has claimed that the reason female chefs are not reaching the heights of their male colleagues in the world of gastronomy is simple “evolution”.

Speaking to India’s The Economic Times, Blumenthal said: “I have always employed female chefs, but historically and ultimately the body clock starts working.

“It’s evolution, and it is one thing to have a nine-to-five job and quite another to be a chef with kids. So that makes it difficult, the physical strain of lifting heavy pots and pans.”


PizzaExpress set to close sites

PizzaExpress could be forced to close up to two in five of its restaurants – putting thousands of jobs at risk, reports The Telegraph.

The newspaper understands that lenders fear around 40% of the 470 Pizza Express outlets in the UK are loss-making. One source said that an option under consideration by bondholders is to enter into a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to close stores that are in the red.

Any such plan could put more than 150 restaurants and an estimated 3,300 jobs at threat.


Scotch whisky companies plea for help

Twenty Scotch whisky companies have joined forces to warn that tariffs being imposed by Donald Trump's administration next week will cut their US exports by a fifth and cause "irreparable damage".

In a letter to The Telegraph, the distillery chiefs said the move threatens to cost them around £84m a year in lost sales in single malts and poses a risk to thousands of jobs.

They said their industry has "nothing to do" with the dispute over aircraft subsidies that triggered the trade war, but "we will be paying over 60 per cent of the UK's tariff liabilities."

image credit: Getty Images

Harvest rosy for British apple growers

Apples are the most colourful they’ve been in 20 years after a perfect combination of warm days and cool nights, reports The Telegraph

The unusually hot days dropping into cool nights this summer have caused the apples to brighten up, with trade body British Apples and Pears saying that growers are reporting the most colourful crop they’ve seen since the millennium. 


Final straw for plastic in NHS catering

The NHS is pledging to cut more than 100m plastic straws, cups and cutlery items from hospitals across England each year, reports The Telegraph.

The move will affect staff and patient canteens, on-ward catering and plastics handed out by on-site retailers including Boots, M&S and WH Smith.

These major retailers have signed up to the pledge and promised to get rid of straws and stirrers from April 2020, with cutlery, plates and cups phased out over the following 12 months.

image credit: The Flint House

Food Reviews

The Betterment, London, W1K 2HP

Marina O’Loughlin is not a fan of big-name chefs opening restaurants inside swanky London hotels, and The Betterment by Jason Atherton inside The Biltmore in Grosvenor Square does little to change her view. “The first impediment to sanguinity is that name: the Betterment. Ugh. I neither know nor care how they came up with it, but it sounds less destination for a posh dinner and more Ordnung manual handed out at Amish meetings, accompanied by a nice bowl of anti-masturbatory gruel,” she says. Then “there’s no need for the trolley delivering starters, other than as a piece of half-hearted camp. Performance is more entertaining than the item, a trout-studded blini affair topped with more trout, frisée salad theatrically dressed tableside and plonked untidily on top, the whole thing soaked in “curry velouté” (curry in the French sense of the word). Two king crab legs (£8 per appendage) come with lime, yuzu gel and sea herbs, chopped into chunks and served back in their shells on a vast bowl of ice. So much effort is put into tarting them up, they’re denuded of their natural sweetness.”


The Flint House, Brighton BN1 1GS

Jay Rayner delights in a menu of satisfying dishes at this newcomer to the Brighton restaurant scene from celebrated local chef-restaurateur Ben McKellar and his wife Pamela. “If you haven’t heard of them, it’s because you don’t live in Brighton, where they have run multiple restaurants for the past 21 years. Their places usually have the word “ginger” in the title. It’s Ben’s way of celebrating his once luscious head of russet hair,” says Rayner, who clearly knows their places well. The Flint House, in a new development within the city’s Lanes, is “seemingly unlike any other McKellar outpost before, which may explain the absence of “Ginger” in the title.” He goes on: “Dig through the unstructured menu, its belt unloosened to the last notch. Take in the nods to Spain and Italy. The bit of the menu headed encouragingly “Fried / toast / snacks”, for example, includes ham croquettes with saffron mayo, which feels like a departure from his overtly British agenda. But you’ll still find the big fat McKellar thumbprint: it’s about solid dishes that don’t sacrifice substance for looks. The béchamel in those croquettes isn’t just flavoured with ham; it’s spun through with ribbons of the stuff, as if determined to make its point.”

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