Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: failed Patisserie Valerie bids and the Sunday roast revolution

The news, reviews and trends from February 9-10, including the latest news on the Ocado fire and game-stuffed sausage rolls.

11 February 2019
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Food news

Ocado robots may have impeded firefighters

Firefighters have alleged that they had to manoeuvre around live robots as they battled flames at Ocado’s Andover warehouse, according to the Times – though Ocado says the battery-powered machines would have been turned off automatically as part of safety procedures. “Deep voids” in the facility’s complex structure may also have impeded those trying to contain the blaze. What caused the fire is yet to be determined, but the disaster has led to questions about whether the automated tech is actually viable, according to the Guardian.


Retail closures set record

It’s official: there were more retail closures in 2018 than in any other year on record. The Sunday Telegraph has revealed that research it commissioned from the Local Data Company “shows that 18,355 stores brought their shutters down for the final time. There were around 13,676 shop openings last year, producing a net loss of 4,679 retail outlets, up more than 1,600 on 2017.” Around 23,000 more closures will take place this year, according to the Altus Group.


Mike Ashley abandons Patisserie Valerie

At the beginning of the weekend, Mike Ashley made a surprise play for the entire Patisserie Valerie estate. Two days on, that gambit has now evaporated, amid complaints that administrators KPMG did not provide adequate access to the company’s finances – a claim KPMG denies. Sources quoted by the Financial Times say that Ashley-owned Sports Direct made an offer of £15m, but were told that figure would need to increase by £2m.


Boparan Restaurant Group assesses options

KPMG is also involved in assessing the viability of the Ed’s Diner and Giraffe chains for the Boparan Restaurant Group, which is mulling whether to sell loss-making sites or even offload the brand entirely, writes the Times.

image credit: Ed's Diner

Balancing Bill's and The Ivy

Richard Caring is trying to “hold back the casual dining tide,” according to the Times, which notes that the owner of Bill’s and The Ivy is facing the dual challenge of bucking up the former while expanding the latter. Caring dismissed the possibility that the struggling Bill’s could seek a company voluntary agreement, while appearing confident in The Ivy’s expansion from one site to 31, despite sources claiming that sales are not living up to expectations.


Allergen labelling needs sensitive touch

Productivity will take a hit and staff will need to be retrained if new labelling laws are rolled out, writes the Times. The paper notes that Pret A Manger has admitted that significant strain has been placed on the brand as it attempts to roll out a raft of allergen measures throughout its estate, including full ingredient labelling – and if it’s proving a struggle for a large business, how are smaller operations expected to manage?


Food trends

Sunday roast revolution

Last year, Food Spark noted the increasing number of restaurants offering fresh takes on the Sunday roast. This weekend, the Telegraph has highlighted some of the diverse offerings on display, from Ceviche’s Peruvian pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken), to vegetarian haunt Greens’ red lentil loaf with all the trimmings, to foraging-forward Native’s seasonal meats such as venison.

image credit: Ceviche

Gussying up the sausage roll

Speaking of venison, that’s one of the unusual ingredients in a sausage roll highlighted by the Times, as it rounds up meat-filled versions of the classic British eat in response to the popularity of Greggs’ vegan version. The article notes that upmarket sausage rolls are appearing on Michelin-starred tasting menus everywhere, including at Restaurant Sat Bains, which serves up a pheasant sausage, and Morston Hall, which stuffs its pastry with suckling pig, veal sweetbreads and truffle.


Gene editing

The Financial Times digs into the utility of gene editing through the work of Tropic, a company that is using the technique to commercialise bananas with a longer shelf life and coffee beans without caffeine. It is one of a number of agritech companies experimenting with gene engineering, despite the fact that the European Court of Justice ruled last year that foods subjected to gene editing should face the same stringent rules as GMOs.


Food interviews

David Tyler, chairman of Sainsbury’s

The soon-to-be-leaving supermarket boss speaks to the Times about the crucial reasons why the Sainsbury’s-Asda merger needs to go ahead in order to guarantee the grocers’ long-term survival. “If the CMA sets too high hurdles and this [merger] doesn’t happen, then it will not be good for the long term of the UK because the competitive advantage that will be instituted for a number of overseas players will be significant. Tesco has got enough scale to look after itself, but I am afraid the rest of us won’t and it could be a sad story,” said Tyler.


Food reviews

Kutir, London SW3 2TS

Though Kathryn Flett can’t always identify the exact meat she’s eating amidst the array of spices and sauces at Kutir, “the total flavour-equation adds up to more than the sum of its parts.” Indian Accent’s Manish Mehrotra previously told Food Spark that game and Indian cuisine are a match made in heaven, and the Hunter’s tasting menu here proves that, taking in partridge, duck, venison and guinea fowl. But the standout dish for Flett is “a stunning-looking, refreshing and delicate falooda rabri – a creamy pud-drink made with vermicelli noodles, cream, sugar, nuts, and cardamom and presented in knickerbocker glory-style layers.”

image credit: Kutir

Gilpin Spice, Windermere LA23 3NP

Though it takes in some Cumbrian and Chinese influences, the menu here is very much about brash Indian flavours for Jay Rayner, who tucks into Southern Indian buttermilk fried turkey – “crisply coated bits of bird, on a huge sauce full of star anise and orange zest, alongside candied beetroot” – as well as saddleback pork belly, “rubbed with five spice and roasted in a wood-fired oven for 12 hours before being finished on the rotisserie.”


The French House, London W1D 5BG

Indulging in a spot of Francophilia, Marina O’Loughlin tests the classics as she examines the mettle of chef Neil Borthwick. She dubs the French onion soup a “muscular brute: meaty, boozy, heavy with bubbling gruyère, thick with perfectly caramelised onions, the whole thing completely, messily perfect.” While her main of brill is simple but competent, the Paris-Brest choux pastry elicits greater raptures: “the blowsy cream filling hiding the surprise of a candied hazelnut in every other bite, a jug of bitter chocolate sauce to glug on top.”

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