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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

London Food Trends

Elderflower spritzers served in test tubes

Having been to London many times for vacation, I couldn't help but notice things were a bit different this time around. Sure, the recent foodie focus of London has been documented ad nauseum, and restaurants like St John, Moro and Fifteen and celebrity chefs are all the rage, but there were subtle differences I noticed too.

I've never really thought of England as the vanguard of health food, but everywhere I went I saw low-fat, low-sugar, sugar-free, organic and plenty of fresh food packaged in convenient ways. Convenience seems to be balanced with health. Chains like Pret A Manger and Wagamama highlight nutritional information associated with their offerings and I was impressed with the food at both places. In addition to healthier food, I saw healthier packaging and wooden utensils, healthier for the environment.

Taste. Yes, a focus on taste is clearly a priority! The upscale market Waitrose announced they were going to start selling "uglies" not THE ugly fruit, but ugly-looking fruits and vegetables that still taste delicious and are perfectly suited to making preserves. Waitrose also is involved in local sourcing and has a team of buyers that seek out local and regional sources of the best quality food that is not often found in other supermarkets. The crowds at the Borough Market also signal a heightened enthusiasm for great-tasting fresh food.

Another sign of the foodie revolution? The Taste of London event took place for the third time and was a sell-out for many sessions. People paid 15 pounds just to get in and then paid more for tastes of food from celebrity chefs and restaurants--participating were some of the top chefs in London including Angela Hartnett, Vivek Singh, Tom Aikens, Marcus Wareing, etc. For more on this event check out my pal Lulu's post.

Whenever people ask me where to eat in New York I always rave about the Bread Bar at Tabla. I love the concept and the execution, sophisticated Indian food made fresh with the best ingredients available. Indian food is nothing new in London but whether Michelin starred or simply innovative versions of street food, there is a lot more to Indian cuisine than takeaway curry in London these days. I relished tastes from the kitchens of Imli and Cinnamon Club at the Taste of London. I wish I could have tried even more of these restaurants.

I couldn't believe how popular Elderflower was, from cordials to soft drinks it seemed to show up everywhere. On my return I discovered Delicious Days had posted about it too. I may have thought "aromatherapy water" was silly when I saw it at the Fancy Food Show in January, but the Brits seem to be taking this kind of thing seriously!