London restaurant trends for your office in 2018

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Eating together doesn’t stop inside the office. Whether your London teams are going out together or doing their own thing after work, eating out is more and more of a cultural fixture in your employees’ lives. The average eater is more informed, more curious and more discerning than ever before, and London’s best restaurants are responding with ever more innovative takes on old favourites, entirely new ideas and influences from around the globe. Don’t fall behind with your office offering — whether it’s new year, new food or just time for a change — and stay informed on what your teams will want to eat together in 2018.

It’s more and more the case that food is a game of trends. New ideas and influences spring up; restaurants adopt them, or push back against them. Eaters decry them or splash them all over Instagram; publications cover them and social media goes wild.

Now more than ever though, it’s looking tough out there. Seemingly invincible casual dining steadies Strada closed 11 restaurants. Jamie Oliver lost £9.9m to closures and even went as far to close a restaurant by referring to it as an "extended pop-up". Byron is in the process of being sold at a 75% deficit, with the sale likely conditional on closures. In tougher and tougher climes, staying on top of what diners want — whether that means changing or staying the same, gently evolving or turning 360 degrees — will be the key for next year. In a time of challenges, delivery is proving a brilliant avenue for forward-thinking, independent restaurants seeking switched on clients: City Pantry are proud to work with a wide variety of London’s best, offering a range of food that competitors cannot compete with.

In the spirit of staying ahead of the curve when feeding your teams, here’s the City Pantry guide to what to expect in 2018: the foods to eat, the trends to watch, and the people and restaurants to look out for. It’s going to be a big year.

Regional specificity

2016 and 2017 saw an influx of a particular kind of restaurant: cooking techniques and traditions from around the globe being paired with exceptionally high-quality, British ingredients, often following extended journeys around the given country. Thailand was a particularly popular example, with the likes of Som Saa, Smoking Goat, Kiln and Farang all exposing London diners to the regional diversity of a country that for too long has been pigeonholed into Pad Thai. That’s not to say that there aren’t some issues — restaurants cooking food whose direction is often directed by scarcity and poverty rather than abundance and provenance need careful questioning — but expect this awareness and keenness to spread further in 2018. Mexico, China, India and Spain are the countries to look out for.

Wood-fire cooking

Charcoal’s rampant popularity isn’t without warrant: easy to produce, cheap to buy, produces crusty browned goodness. Kiln from above took this a step further when owner Ben Chapman built an entirely charcoal-fired cooking system from scratch (a full kitchen in the restaurant’s narrow space would have been much too costly), and now the nuances of cooking over fire are getting more and more pronounced. Restaurants like Sabor (Mayfair), Brat (Shoreditch), Nuala (Old Street) and Shibui (TBD) are all promising cooking over wood as a trademark, with Sabor in the Spanish asador tradition and Shibui taking Japan as its key influence. Expect more and more restaurants to open in this style, or to add a wood-fired element to an existing offering. 

 
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The asador at Sabor | Sabor

Basque influences

In the spirit of regional specificity, but with a particularly important slant. If London has any kind of culinary jealousy — a place it wishes it could emulate, somewhere that manages to keep that sense of place that makes food great while constantly raising the bar — it’s probably San Sebastian’s fault. Located in the Basque region in the north of Spain, and with the second highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world (after Kyoto), the city has been an educator for some of the city’s best chefs, as well as a guiding light for innovation around the globe. Despite all of this —and despite the city’s outsize grip on an area that is much more than one place — London has little in the way of high-profile restaurants inspired by the region’s cooking. While places like Donostia Social Club, Donostia (both named after the Basque appellation for San Sebastian) and Lurra quietly do the good work (which we erroneously missed on first writing), Ametsa, an offshoot of famed restaurant Arzak, looks increasingly behind the curve. There looks to be an upswell coming in 2018, with Brat — from ex-Kitty Fisher’s chef and wood-master Tomos Parry — leading the charge.

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Tomos Parry | The Evening Standard

Data-driven restaurants

Data-driven working is likely second nature to you. Test, take data, analyse the data, iterate, improve. Restaurants normally only have anecdotal instants — good or bad feedback given directly — or tough-to-analyse trends — why is this dish not selling? — to work off, but this is changing rapidly. Wagamama and Jamie’s have introduced Yumpingo to their tables, a data platform that promises “actionable insights at dish-level”. A one-minute review at the end of a meal offers data points to be collated to see which dishes are performing, how they are performing and why; it’s a huge step for chains to tackle variable quality across multiple sites, and offers more experimental kitchens the chance to get genuine feedback at a time when a sustained slump could be more deadly than ever. It’s also a key principle for City Pantry — we seek feedback from eaters and restaurants on each and every order, using our data to improve the food you can eat day after day.

Hyperlocalism

Locavore cuisine — the obsessive attention to local provenance that is most internationally recognised in New Nordic food — has slowly filtered into the London restaurant scene. As sustainability becomes more and more a mass-market concern, rather than the (dubious) privilege of the most illustrious restaurants, there will be new and creative ways to waste less and do better. Restaurant gardens, either on site or further afield, will be joined by initiatives (not that much) further afield, with restaurants working with farmers to have “their own” plots for ingredients. It’s not just independents — Wagamama are leading the way.

Comfort food 2.0

With the restaurant bubble slowly but surely bursting, it’s no longer as easy, or as viable, to pitch a restaurant based on challenging, difficult food: if people don’t want to eat that food, the punishment is likely to be more severe. Two of the most-acclaimed openings of 2017 were Pastaio and Rambla, both in Soho. The first serves a short menu of pasta dishes based on classics, not rising above £11. The second serves a short menu of Catalan classics, not rising above £9 (aside from the jamón). Both are packed nightly. That’s not to say that comfort food has to be stodgy, dull or just like being at home: it’s to say that ungenerous experimentalism has had its day in the sun, and customers are demanding something different — certainly a principle worth bringing to your office.

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A range of dishes at Pastaio | Pastaio

Vegan gets less vegan

Plant-based food and veganism are intertwined, and for obvious reasons: being a vegan, whether for lifestyle, ethical, or diet, is being a vegan: it’s every day, and it’s a commitment. As it gets more and more common — with a 350% increase in the UK’s vegan population since 2006 — vegan food will become less of a lifestyle element, and just, well, food. The innovations and ideas demanded by catering to a vegan clientele are now becoming more and more commonplace; plant-based food has never been tastier nor more influenced by global ideas. Plant-based food is good food, and more people will eat it.

All in all, it’s going to be another brilliant year in food. If you want to discover something new this year, then City Pantry have over 250 brilliant restaurants waiting to be discovered. It’s time to bin the Pret sandwich, toss the sad salad, and eat better together for 2018.