Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: hiding the sugary cereal and flood-affected veg

The news, reviews and trends from December 7-8, including more tastes tests of this year’s Christmas goodies.

9 December 2019
Christmasplant-basedrestaurant openingrestaurantssugarsupermarketsvegetables

Food news

Supermarket starts sugary cereal trial

Sainsbury’s has moved sugary cereals to the top shelf in more than 40 London stores as part of a trial to encourage consumers – and particularly children – to opt for healthier options. Described as a ‘nudge’ strategy, the test run is being overseen by the Consumer Goods Forum; the effectiveness will be analysed by Oxford University experts. 


Government adviser claims meat-filled diet is unsustainable

“The meal of the future will have very little animal protein… It will have to be based on plant protein. We cannot feed the 11bn people who will be on the planet by mid-century — including 75m or so in the UK — using the food production system we have now.” That’s the message from Professor Sir Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who helped to draw up plans for farming post-Brexit. The academic claims his work turned him vegan and is advocating for a meat tax to force a change in dietary habits that are becoming increasingly unsustainable.


Flooding leads to more ‘wonky veg’

Supermarkets are having to relax their standards on vegetable size and appearance after last month’s flooding destroyed large amounts of crops. As a result, it is expected that brown cauliflowers and small sprouts will be appearing in retail and restaurants this Christmas. Veg shortages in the spring are also to be expected.


Is there a hunger for Vietnamese street food?

The private equity investors behind Vietnamese chain Pho are reportedly weighing up a sale of the business. The street-food-style outfit, which now has 29 locations, saw sales grow 13% to 34m in the year ending in February, but pre-tax earnings fell to just under £2m.

image credit: Pho

Tesco mulls offer to exit Asia

Tesco is considering the sale of its Thai and Malaysian businesses after being approached by an unnamed buyer. The move would mean the retailer’s complete exit from Asia, but analyst Clive Black from Shore Capital has said that it doesn’t need to sell the profitable Thai arm, which means "it could go for a very high price… It should be a knockout price.”


Muse on this

Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens’ new restaurant Muse has begun to wind up the PR machine, as it prepares to open in the New Year. So far, all that is known about the 10-course tasting menu is that it will draw on the chef’s memories, with courses titled “We all have our ‘beech tree’ moment” and “Muddy flats and bacon.”


Plant Pioneers breaking new ground in January

Speaking of building up to 2020, Sainsbury’s has announced it will be rolling out its new plant-based brand nationwide in time for Veganuary. Dubbed Plant Pioneers, the 31-strong line will include jackfruit shawarma, fishless fingers and ‘shroomballs.’ The move comes as meat-free products are seen as increasingly profitable for retailers, with The Guardian noting that even compared to last year the number of vegan Christmas options has exploded.


Food trends

Christmas taste tests

Both the Observer Food Monthly and The Sunday Times have taste tested the Christmas ranges this weekend. For the former, Melissa Hemsley has dubbed Morrisons' premium panettone the best traditional panettone of the bunch, while Whole Foods wins the mince pie fight and M&S gets the nod for its six-month-matured Christmas cake. Andy Oliver, meanwhile, is in charge of judging cheese and chocolate, selecting Morrisons baking brie with cranberries and sloe gin drizzle as one of her favourites. Over at the Times, food editor Tony Turnbull exhaustively analyses everything from smoked salmon and pigs in blankets (winner: Waitrose No. 1) to panettone (winner: Aldi Specially Selected) and mince pies (winner: Tesco Finest).

Favourite foods of 2019

The Guardian has asked some of Britain’s top chefs about the best things they ate this year. For Tomos Parry (of Brat fame), it was a Chinese dish of whole steamed fresh flowery crab with aged Shaoxing wine, fragrant chicken oil and flat rice noodles, while for Clare Smyth (of Core), it was summer squash lightly cooked in salted water and paired with a gently barbecued cod and tama miso.


Red kiwi adds a splash of colour

Is red kiwifruit set to become a future fad? New Zealand brand Zespri are preparing to launch a new batch of the berry-flavoured crop in 2020 after a successful trial this year. Supply will be limited for the time being, however, as there aren’t enough vines currently to meet demand.


Food interviews

Julian Metcalfe, Itsu founder

The boss of Japanese chain Itsu talks to The Sunday Times about the difficulty of ensuring food safety – sesame seeds, one of 14 major allergens, are a constituent of 12 dishes on the menu – while also touting the brand’s expanding range of meat-free items, including the usage of a vegan version of pork that is currently under development. Metcalfe claims 40% of Itsu’s sales are already meat free, but he expects this to rise to 60% within a few years.


Food reviews

The Creameries, Manchester M21 0SD

Pureed split peas cut and fried in Jenga-shaped pieces, accompanied by mushroom ketchup, start the meal at this bakery-turned-restaurant, but it’s the treacle tart that has Jay Rayner in ecstasy: “The tart case is thin and crisp and dark; just the right amounts of brown sugar, butter and flour have been introduced to each other and have then decided to shack up together… There is a burst of citrus in there, pointed up by a separate bowl of lemon jelly. Next to that is a jug of warm, frothy cream, flavoured with Earl Grey tea.”


Bertie Blossoms, London W10 5SY

“This is without doubt the oddest restaurant I’ve been to in a long time,” announces Marina O’Loughlin at the beginning of her review of Ed Sheeran’s new restaurant. “Nothing seems to connect the dishes, no narrative or cohesion,” she adds, as she goes from harissa-spiced lamb meatballs with tahini to “marshy risotto overloaded with wild mushrooms, hazelnuts and rubbery strips of manchego.”

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