What will the credit crunch do for our eating habits? Sweep away some of the mega-chain restaurants; help us rediscover the joys of mince and cheap cuts; create a new new cuisineby Alex Renton / January 17, 2009 / Leave a comment
Do hard times make for better food? The British, we’re told, ended the second world war healthier than they started it, not least because the government directed the food industry to provide maximum nourishment from raw materials. Refining flour until it was white was forbidden. But in eastern Europe, cooking has yet to recover from the 1940s—one of communism’s terrible flaws was, of course, its lack of a cuisine. There’s still only one Michelin star in the former Soviet bloc, in Prague (it’s for Allegro, an Italian joint).
So far Britain’s new recession has been good for food, if not foodies. Prices are down in the supermarkets. In 2007, nearly a quarter of all the money we spent on food went on eating-out and there’s evidence that some of the uglier effects of that boom may be swept away. The mega-chains, responsible for so much bad, over-priced food in the high street, may well be the first to close.
That, at any rate, is Caroline Bennett’s view. She is managing director of Moshi-Moshi, a very small chain of Japanese restaurants. She bought me lunch in her newest venture, Soseki, which has just opened in the gloom of the City, under the Gherkin. Food is served in the omakase fashion, where you get what the chef deems worthy that day, depending on how much you want to spend. This is a good strategy for eating in a recession.
Many of the parents of the high street big names are massively over-leveraged (look at Mitchells & Butlers, owner of All Bar One and Harvester) and the loss of cheap labour from eastern Europe will starve profit margins that were already thin. Their failure could benefit the independents. The story in London this autumn is of high quality, name outlets doing well—Rowley Leigh’s Café des Anglais in Bayswater is just one example.
And in your own kitchen? It has not been easy to avoid advice on poverty cuisine. All newspapers have handed it out: lauding turnip tops and kale, drooling over grandmother’s ways with a piece of scrag-end. You’d be forgiven for thinking that before we became so unaccountably rich, Britons lived in a waste-not, want-not food heaven, just like smallholder peasants in Tuscany before we got there. I do hate fashionable thrift. There are few things as unattractive as the rich talking about the joys of saving money (see India Knight’s…