Chomping on some fried lamb’s sweetbreads the other day at a restaurant in Notting Hill, I suddenly hiccupped. An extraordinary thought had surfaced: I was bored of offal. After ten years of evangelical consumption of animals’ trotters, ears, brains, noses, entrails and so on, I was full up. Not only that, but I had had enough of restaurants that promise (as does Hereford Road, the one I was in) “whole-hearted, robust, simple British cooking.” How about a return to complex, effete and tricksy foreign cooking? My wife, who never abandoned her foie gras habit for ham hocks and calves’ brains, said it was about time.
It is in fact 16 years since chef Fergus Henderson opened St John in Smithfield and reintroduced the world to rampant carnivorism coupled with what he called “nose-to-tail eating.” Henderson, the unlikely high priest of the movement, combined a back-to-basics message with a plea to use animals properly again: “If you’re going to kill an animal, it seems only polite to eat it all.”
This struck a chord among foodies with a conscience, in a country cursed with cheap meat and in which up to half of every slaughtered animal is thrown away. Chefs, celebrities (and combos of the two) made pilgrimages to St John, where they discovered marrow bones and jugged hare. And Henderson sparked what we in food writing call—without shame—a revolution. Go-ahead chefs explored old cookbooks and the body cavities of animals for forgotten treasure. Soon pubs with gastro-pretensions were offering devilled…