It’s that time again; our planet has completed another 584 million mile circuit around the sun back to the point where the northern hemisphere tilts furthest away from the light. It’s easy to take a swipe at seasonal over-indulgence in a world where 46% have to survive on less than $5.50 a day but this splurge exists because of the sufferings of our ancestors. When you’re struggling to stay warm, it’s dark most of the day and all you have to eat is stored stuff and livestock you haven’t sold, you need a festival of light, feasting and drinking to stave off the black-dog blues, at the same time reminding you that the nights are now drawing out.
It’s also a traditional time to conjure up the ghost of Christmas past and it would be easy for us to wallow a bit in self-pity. [violin on] At this time last year it was freezing cold and we were living in temporary accommodation waiting for the roof to be put back on our home so that M. NotLeafy could convalesce after upcoming non-trivial surgery. [violin off]
Not the best of times but, if grazing on cheesy footballs, and other weird stuff you’d never dream of eating during the year, is good for the soul, then you can imagine how much positive psychological benefit we’ve had from all the delicious food and drink recorded in our blog and our Twitter timeline. We can’t pick a favourite meal or meals because so many were so good and generally so different in concept that a simple points comparison isn’t appropriate.
Instead of looking back, let’s tap the ghost of Christmas Future on the shoulder and ask what 2020 has in store for us.
Vegetarian and vegan food has come on in leaps and bounds, even in the last year. You can now take discerning omni friends out for a vegan menu without them spending the evening wearing the expression of someone who’s just been forced into an ascetic monastery for a year. What’s also been unprecedented is that, tasting and supper club-style menus excepted, there hasn’t been a single meal where we’ve been forced to eat the same dish – thankfully, the era of ‘have a mushroom risotto or nothing’ option is fading. Notable also is that the best veggie and vegan meals we had last year were produced by omnivores. In 2020 we look forward to more chefs coming round to the idea that having dishes on the menu without meat or fish in them is not a crime against gastronomy.
It remains to be seen whether Brexit will have an influence on availability of food in the year to come. Although we import 30% of our food from the EU and another 11% from non-EU countries under the terms of EU trade deals, we might still have a transition period of free trade until the end of 2020, so no need to smuggle San Marzano tomatoes until 2021. Depending on how our trade deal negotiations progress, any further weakness in our currency is likely to start bumping some veg prices up towards levels normally associated with Daylesford Organic.
The Netherlands has become more than self-sufficient in veg by covering acres of land in greenhouses and smart UK farmers may start doing the same but, typically, there’s no sign of government planning or assistance in this area. Urban farmers such as Cardiff Salad Garden and those who grow stuff under LED light using hydroponics may also see an uptick in their businesses, should traditional supply routes become congested.
Regardless of who becomes the next POTUS we predict a trial influx of American food, so industrialised it will make an exceedingly good cake factory look like a French village artisan bakery. Reeking of alien oils and high fructose sugars (but hey, no trans-fats) it has an ingredients list longer than your shopping list. Do not eat this stuff – except maybe the odd Cheetos extra hot.
Ingredient trends were flavour of the decade but 2019 seemed blissfully short of them, at least in our neck of the woods. We can’t think of any box-tick ingredients that were worthy of eye rolling when spotted on menus. Brown butter has been hyped as if it was something new, but surely any good chef would have always have it in their basic repertoire. Butternut squash, kale and aubergine are still go-to options for token veggie dishes, yet we have had some wonderful examples of all three. In the wrong hands though, they can be veggie food at its worst, watery, squishy and bland.
Diners are promised “seacuterie” for 2020, i.e. “aged” & “cured” fish emulating charcuterie , which holds no interest for us of course but we will no doubt enjoy some schadenfreude reading about the horrors perpetrated by the insincere adopters.
One ingredient that appears to be trending in the US is miso and it’s out of the starting gate over here as well. Grady Atkins at Paysan is making his own miso and it’s not a gimmick, adding umame, depth and complexity to all dishes from all cuisines. When tasting Matsudai Ramen’s miso broth, you will not say politely “hmm it’s a very delicate flavour isn’t it?”. We are therefore going to stick our necks out and predict an increase in use of miso and Asian fermented foods generally, particularly as chefs experiment to get more novel flavours out of vegetable cooking.
The downside of a miso trend will be miso on your McD, weird, unsuited miso desserts and supermarkets selling jars of industrial miso in 3 different colours, all of which will taste exactly the same but have different prices. Meanwhile, the lazy will continue to just add bacon to everything , bastardising dishes and sides that are better in their original, vegetarian guise.
Dining trends, on the other hand, move apace. Nobody can miss the rise of food halls, maybe not the best atmosphere for a romantic evening but a great way to get a choice of quality foods at a great price. Cardiff doesn’t have anything like the food halls of London and greater Manchester but Sticky Fingers, although not a food hall as such, looks set for a season of great multi-vendor offerings from Hoof, Brother Thai, Tukka Tuk and Leyli Joon; all but Hoof have outstanding veggie dishes.
Cardiff market has been experimenting with late openings and these have been extremely popular, allowing punters to enjoy the food outlets after work. We hope this will continue, not least because we’ve managed to miss all of them so far. No doubt the festivals and temporary street food events will remind us what a good permanent food hall could be, if we only had one. Bite Cardiff is, of course, the street food event we are all most looking forward to but that’s another 341 million miles of orbit down the road.
Another successful dining trend is small plates, not the same as tapas, pinxos or cicchetti but abandoning the stricture of starter, mains and dessert, so allowing you to mix and match dishes according to your fancy and dietary preference. Nook in Cardiff and The Gaff in Abergavenny are prize examples of what can be achieved with this format; both change their menus regularly and seasonally, so plenty to look forward to there.
On the restaurant front, DARK has just opened in the city centre, promising a great experience for both vegetarian dining and persuading the meat eaters that throwing away 90% of animals is not the way it should be. If Brexit affects the availability and price of traditional meat then they may be sitting very pretty at the end of the year. The term nose-to-tail eating has been echoed in gill-to-fin and root-to-shoot which all dovetail with sustainable and no-waste principles slowly gaining traction in the food world. Beet tops or turnip tops will be a nice surprise for those who haven’t tasted them. Deep fried vegetable peelings were delicious at DARK but we can see them being a thing of horror in uncaring hands.
Heaney’s has a new round of guest chefs for 2020, a fantastic seven chef lineup, four of whom are female, kicking off with the Hangfire Southern Kitchen ladies in January. We already have ours booked.
This should also be the year of The Warden’s House, Dusty Knuckle’s ongoing adventure into cooking with fire. Exciting in itself, it has a special significance to us because we will be able to redeem our kickstarter reward of designing a DK pizza which will be sold with an inbuilt donation to charity. You will then have the joy of us hassling you constantly on Twitter to eat one because a) it’s wonderful b) it’s in a good cause.
Breaking news is that Canton’s Cameo Club premises is to be taken over by Tom & Lois Simmons. Looking at the menu of their Tower Bridge restaurant there are some vegan options but no dishes are labelled vegetarian. This brings to mind another trend we’ve noticed, the rise of veganism is squeezing out vegetarian food because vegan dishes are, by default, vegetarian. Unfortunately when we don’t fancy the vegan options, this brings us back to the hassle of having to bother FoH staff to find out if that appealing dessert or side dish is actually vegetarian or whether it contains gelatine or Parmesan.
The Ivy is well and truly open, it will never be our thing but will it gain traction in 2020 in a city where Burger & Lobster and Miller & Carter failed ? Our guess is it will thrive because it has the kind of brand presence that will draw those who feel they are getting the finest experience. Should a Michelin starred chef ever set up in the city centre, they might find themselves in a different position.
So what will we be doing in 2020? After M NL’s operation we are a bit more inclined to lick the lid of life, at the same time being careful to avoid bankruptcy or death through overeating.
Because we share what we eat there is a drive to be novelty hounds, constantly trying and writing about the next new thing, but that’s not our preferred MO. We will be trying some new things, but we’ll be consolidating the places we have come to love. We already have some bookings for favourites in that most dire of months, February. Above all, we’ll be focusing on independents for many reasons. They usually care more about the quality of the food than chains, money stays in the local community and independents don’t usually have financial reservoirs to call on when times are tough.
Work permitting, we’ll probably also spend more time eating in town. To our shame we still haven’t practiced our Welsh ordering a Ffwrnes pizza, we need to try a DARK lunch, Mme. hasn’t eaten Asador 44 lunch, we’ve only scratched the surface of Bwyta Bwyd Bombay’s offerings and there is always the siren call of Café Citta and Science Cream.
Whatever your hopes and dreams for the coming year we wish you great food and great service, but for our veggie and vegan readers we also wish you great choices
Have a healthy and fulfilled(or should that be fill-fulled?) 2020!