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 kidneys, lamb shanks and even tripe.
But a decade is long enough for any food craze—and, after all, the “forgotten cuts” fashion was a revival of the thrift-driven cuisine of our grandparents, rather than a genuine novelty. It’s time to move on, and further away. However, as restaurateur Alan Yau of Wagamama and Hakkasan tells me, the plunging pound and tougher labour migration laws make it close to impossible to bring in staff from beyond the EU now. So we may be stuck with revising our native cooking for a lot longer. But I, for one, will not brook another oxtail (though there will always be room for a nicely-cooked kidney or Bath chap).
For a change, I am going to eat lavishly and exotically, taking my cue from the fashion world, which always marks recession with excess. From the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi comes a recipe for Parrot’s Eye, a suitable way to start dinner or, in this new era, the day. Take a piece of crustless toast, cut it into a saucer-shaped disc and lather it with cream cheese. Then make a circle of caviar, or avruga, the excellent substitute made from smoked herring roe. Into this caldera drop the raw yolk of an egg. You’ll see where the name comes from. Eaten with buck’s fizz, it is indulgent, unsustainable and garish—the watchwords of my new cuisine.
This article originally appeared in the May issue of Prospect