Weekend on a Plate

The weekend digested: virus-ridden oysters and the UK's future as a truffle producer

The news, reviews and trends from May 12-13.

14 May 2018
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Food news

Crunch time for Waitrose

The Sunday Times takes a hard look at Waitrose this week, as it examines how the retailer is struggling to compete in today’s marketplace. “Operating profits were crunched by almost a third to £172m last year as it was forced to compete harder in the cut-throat grocery market,” notes the paper, which questions the Modern Waitrose initiative that has seen around 720 store managers axed. More detrimental, however, may have been the rapid expansion that took place when ‘Chubby Grocer’ Mark Price was running the show, which now looks like it may have been unsustainable.


Could Amazon merge with Ocado?

Amazon is a “potential suitor” for Ocado, according to the Times, which quotes Sherri Malek, an equity analyst at RBC Capital Markets, as saying this is one of several possible deals on the digital horizon. In a short piece, the paper looks at companies ripe for acquisition after US tech fund Silver Lake bought out the British owner of property website Zoopla.


Truffle time for the UK?

“Britain is set to become the truffle capital of the world within 30 years, scientists have said, as they are developing a new genetically enhanced variety which grow twice as fast.” That’s the opening sally of a Telegraph article that claims changing climate conditions mean the UK could take over production of the gourmet ingredient from the Mediterranean. This coincides with new scientific techniques that are being developed to speed up truffle growth. A decline in supply recently has led the price of truffles in the UK to double to £900 per kilo.

The world is my (norovirus-filled) oyster

Seven in 10 oysters sold in the UK are “laced with a toxic norovirus – the winter vomiting bug,” reports the Times. Government scientists have identified raw sewage and farm waste as the most likely causes of the contamination, with more than 60% of places in Britain producing oysters deemed infected.

Food trends

The money in munch

As the Sunday Times celebrates its annual rich list, the paper takes a look at how our changing eating tastes are reflected in the wealth stakes. The owners of Hotel Chocolat, Sushi Daily and Yeo Valley are all raking in the millions, as are the people behind Fever Tree and BrewDog.


Super sundae

Sundaes are so hip right now, according the Times, which notes that the recently opened Mare Street Market Dining Room’s desserts are exclusively focused on the ice cream delight. The open-plan kitchen’s menu has been created by popular foodie personality Gizzi Erskine, who has “curated” ice cream sundaes alongside burrata, kale and poke.

Food interviews

Sat Bains, chef-proprietor of Restaurant Sat Bains

Michelin-starred chef Sat Bains talks over his successful restaurant’s business model, from opting for a tasting menu over a la carte, to having four kitchens: “one prep, one nucleus, one pastry, one the main savoury kitchen.” The Guardian interview also notes his fear that the gastronomic restaurant is in decline in the UK, as well as the fact that “magpie British food culture” will be consigned to the grave with the advent of Brexit.


May Holbrook, pioneering cheesemaker

The popularity of goat’s cheese doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, which is why it’s always timely for an interview with Mary Holbrook, the woman who brought a new wave of cheesemaking to Britain in the 70s. The Guardian speaks to her about supplying Harrods and her work with Neal’s Yard Dairy.


Peter Aldis, CEO of Holland & Barrett

The boss of health-food retailer Holland & Barrett notes how changing consumer habits have helped to ensure the brand’s steady growth over the last few years, as it moves beyond the UK into the Middle East and Europe. He also tells the Telegraph that rules over business taxes should change to provide a more level playing field against online retailers like Amazon, while stating his ambition to go from a vegetarian-only store to a vegan-only store: “Today there is a trend towards veganism. We are working on a vegan-only store. It is our space and we should be in it. When you do something like that, it is an impossibility for a supermarket to follow.”


Food reviews

Upstairs at No 1, Norfolk NR27 9HP

A seaside chippie in Cromer gets creative with international influences thanks to the inspiration of operator Galton Blackiston. Alongside the classic cod and chips sit evolved takes on classics – think fritto misto of prawns, squid and whitebait, and mushy pea fritters – as well as Mexican Baja fish tacos and “a sensitively cooked piece of hake with romesco, that one-size-fits-all Iberian condiment of almonds, garlic, paprika and oil, alongside chorizo,” writes Jay Rayner.

Beck at Browns, London W1S 4BP

“Bland and unmemorable” sums up this establishment from Heinz Beck, the chef behind three-Michelin-starred La Pergola in Rome. Red mullet sandwich and fagotelli carbonara fail to impress Giles Coren, who writes: “The whole thing just doesn’t escape that feeling of an arm’s-length residency by a famous name in a posh hotel.”

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