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This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Many of the issues that dogged the UK’s dining scene in 2022 did so throughout 2023 — particularly the high cost of food, which continues to have a big impact on how and what we’re eating. This is being felt most notably in the capital, where food costs are compounded by high and rising rents, contributing to what many food writers have cited as a sense that restaurants are playing it safe, at least within the city centre. As the Guardian’s food critic Grace Dent put it in her end of year review, ‘2023 seemed to be the year that London’s restaurant scene lost its edge. Outside the M25, I was eating far better’. This sense of caution can be seen among many of the trends widely cited for 2024, with humble ingredients and classic creations seeing a return in popularity. Perhaps this is why the martini is back in fashion and beans are more prevalent on the menus of hip restaurants — albeit both with fresh twists and interpretations. For all this, though, there are still plenty of exciting developments, such as the rise of music-led restaurants and fresh ingredients to explore, such as the fig leaf. Here’s what’s on the horizon for 2024.
1. Fig leaf
The humble fig leaf is the surprising new must-have ingredient for chefs — the leaves are being used in everything from ice cream to curry. The leaf can’t be eaten raw, but its sweet, creamy, herbaceous flavour can be infused into oils and dairy, or even made into syrups as a cocktail ingredient. Simon Rogan’s Aulis features a fig leaf parfait with white chocolate and mint; east London’s hot new opening, Papi, serves oysters dressed in a fig leaf mignonette; new Mayfair bar Nipperkin has a fig leaf and butter cocktail; and Parafante offers a bottled fig leaf negroni to drink at home. Given the versatility and abundance of the fig leaf (they’re easy to forage), we’re sure to be seeing more of them in 2024.
2. Hot sauce heats up
Hot sauce hype has been building for years, but retailers are currently reporting a huge increase in demand — at Waitrose, sales are up 55%, while independent specialist retailer Hop Burns & Black reports a huge 94% rise. Why the sudden surge? Waitrose notes the trend of using hot sauces in home cooking for a quick flavour hit, while Hop Burns & Black thinks, ‘demand has been driven by the growing interest in world cuisine, and the desire to explore flavours from around the world’. Both retailers, however, attribute a large part of the craze to the success of YouTube show Hot Ones, where celebrities are interviewed while they eat chicken wings doused in a succession of sauces that get progressively hotter — customers are even buying the specific Hot Ones sauces to recreate the challenge at home.
3. Listening bars and restaurant crossovers
London’s restaurants are alive with the sound of music — and it’s no longer just the chef’s playlist of 1980s tunes that’s keeping diners entertained. Increasingly, music and high-spec sound systems are being put front and centre of the dining experience. Newly opened Bambi in London Fields has vintage Tannoy speakers, a huge wall of records on display and a music programme curated by Charlie Dark MBE, including live DJs who spin tunes to accompany casual small plates from chef Henry Freestone. Another new spot, in Dalston, mu, offers live jazz and Cuban bands alongside Japanese-inspired izakaya dishes; while in Newington Green, there’s Stella’s, the butcher shop that turns into a listening bar with charcuterie and wine on weekend evenings. It’s a trend being played out across Europe, too, from Bambino in Paris to Cornerstore in Amsterdam.
4. World whisky
It’s an unprecedented time to expand your whisky horizons beyond the big four of Scotland, Ireland, America and Japan and discover pioneering drams from surprising, less ‘traditional’ destinations. The Young Turks of the whisky world can currently be found in New Zealand, the Nordic nations, France and Italy — there, whisky makers are drawing on centuries of distilling expertise and invigorating the ‘classic’ category. Meanwhile, closer to home, the English whisky scene has been quietly maturing into one of the world’s most diverse and innovative. ‘Not hamstrung by history nor tethered so tightly to tradition, English distillers are able to innovate with measured abandon,’ wrote The Thinking Drinkers in the Spring 2024 edition of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK): ‘They’re also embracing pioneering ageing techniques, modern distilling processes and, crucially, celebrating provenance.’
As restaurants look for additional revenue streams beyond simply serving dinner, we’re seeing more and more restaurant-branded condiments and sauces come on to the market. As René Redzepi gets ready to shut Noma for good at the end of this year, his new Noma Projects arm has been producing wildly inventive things from its test kitchen, from smoked mushroom garum to corn yuzu hot sauce. In the UK, Bao offers bottles of plum pickle ketchup and burnt chilli sauce; from Poon’s you can pick up XO sauce and chilli vinegar dressing; and Gymkhana has just launched its Michelin-level curry sauces in Whole Foods Market. Bottling sauces is also a great way to use up ingredients: Fallow has its own super sustainable sriracha made with leftover English chillies, and Rocks Oysters will launch an oyster XO sauce in 2024 with chef Ana da Costa, using excess oysters that would otherwise have gone to waste.
6. Cool beans
Beans and pulses have gone from basic and bland to star ingredients in recent months: cans of butter beans and chickpeas are flying off the shelves at Waitrose and the new deluxe Bold Bean Co jars have been all over social media, resulting in a 650% increase in sales in the last year. But why now? As an ingredient, beans and pulses certainly tick a lot of boxes in the current economic climate — they’re cheap, versatile and nutritious, being low in fat and high in protein. Their popularity is also part of a wider trend of smashed veg and pulses, as restaurants and diners seek out alternative toast toppings to the environmentally problematic avocado. Meanwhile, chefs have shown that beans needn’t mean boring, with indulgent bean-based dishes being put centre stage. At Bambi, there are braised butterbeans with kale and goat’s curd, while hot newcomer Leo’s has white beans with cockles, lemon and olive oil on the menu.
7. Pet nat
Pétillant naturel — or pet nat, to use its cute nickname — is a traditionally made semi-sparkling wine that’s bottled while it’s still fermenting. And while it’s by no means a household name in the UK, it’s growing in popularity in fashionable wine bars. Food by National Geographic Traveller UK’s wine columnist Fiona Beckett explains: ‘Hazy, fruity and generally low in alcohol, pet nats bring a year-round taste of summer to your table and the colourful funky labels take the snobbery out of drinking. What’s more, English winemakers are making them, too.’ Beckett recommends Lost in a Field’s Frolic pét nat as a good option for those new to the style.
8. Big sharing dishes
If small plates defined the past decade (at least) of dining out, now it could be the turn of showstopping large sharing dishes, which are becoming increasingly favoured. At Tomos Parry’s new restaurant Mountain, the signature dish is a lobster caldera stew for three or five to share; Llama Inn offers lomo saltado, a huge plate of Peruvian beef stew topped with fries and served with scallion pancakes; while whole roast chicken has stolen the show at new openings such as Dovetale, Story Cellar and Bébé Bob, which specialises in the dish. Offering value for money for the diner, simplified service for the kitchen and, let’s face it, an attention-grabbing visual for social media, it’s easy to see why these centrepiece dishes are catching on.
9. Classic gins, modern martinis
The martini is about as classic as they come, but the cocktail is fashionable again according to the Diageo 2024 trends report, which claims it’s ‘enjoying a cultural moment on social media’. It certainly seems as though creative martini serves are everywhere right now: in New York, Temple Bar has a dozen variations including the Bilbao martini, which contains a drop of anchovy oil, and at elNico there’s a tomato martini with sun-dried tomato-infused vermouth and basil oil. In London, two sub trends have proven popular: Tayēr + Elementary and new Peruvian restaurant Llama Inn offer ‘one sip’ martinis served in shot glasses; and both Ever After and Hawksmoor are serving martinis at sub-zero temperatures straight from the freezer. Taking this to the extreme is Mimi Kakushi in Dubai, which has a pre-bottled martini encased in a block of ice at -20C, which is then chiselled out by bartenders for each order. Meanwhile, Food by National Geographic Traveller UK’s drinks columnists, The Thinking Drinkers, are predicting a similar resurgence for classic gin brands. ‘As with the martini, expect classic gins to benefit from an appetite for nostalgia,’ they explain. ‘Now the dust has settled following the stampede of flavoured and wacky gins, it’s time for gin’s illustrious juniper-driven founding fathers, such as Beefeater, Tanqueray and Plymouth to step up.’
10. Posh hash browns
As part of the wider trend for nostalgic comfort foods, hash browns are being seen in increasing frequency appearing on restaurant menus. But don’t expect to see crisp, golden brown triangles on your plate — chefs are giving them a serious upgrade. Jackson Boxer serves an oblong hash brown topped with whipped cod’s roe and kosho at his new Selfridges restaurant; new opening, The Dover, has a hash brown snack topped with caviar; and Dorian in Notting Hill embellishes crisp fried potato with crab. Meanwhile, last November, Hash Hut launched at KERB Seven Dials Market, offering three different hash brown shapes to choose from and a whole host of toppings, from sriracha mayo and parmesan to crispy onions and nori flakes.
11. Mushrooms as meat
As the market for fake meats appears to be plateauing, amid an increasing wariness of ultra-processed foods, natural alternatives are back on the table — and king oyster mushrooms are ruling the day. The thick stem and meaty texture of this particular fungi appeal to chefs, who are using it to create everything from mushroom ‘scallops’ (at Glas in Dublin) to panko-crusted rings of ‘calamari’ (Willow in New York). Expect more next year, too, as roving supper club Holy Carrot opens its first permanent site in Notting Hill, complete with king oyster mushroom ‘wings’ in a crispy gluten-free spicy coating and served with miso butter.
12. Lower alcohol wines
The ongoing trend for lower alcohol drinks grows ever stronger, with no-lo beers and gins in particular hitting new heights. Meanwhile, recent UK duty change has made it more attractive to make wines with a lower ABV. ‘An 8% wine only incurs £1.49 duty compared to £2.67 on a wine of 11.5% or over,’ writes Fiona Beckett. ‘There does tend to be a loss of structure and intensity in lower alcohol wines — and this suits some styles, such as mosel riesling and New Zealand sauvignon blanc, certainly better than most reds. Lower alcohol wines also tend to be generally sweeter.’
13. Savoury French toast
A classic French toast swimming in maple syrup is a brunch stalwart — but your weekend brunch in 2024 is just as likely to feature a savoury version of the dish. Nigella, ever the trend setter, has a superb recipe for parmesan French toast with Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce, which she suggests is just as good at dinner as it is for breakfast. No33 in Norwich tops French toast with mushrooms and spinach in a creamy brie sauce with parmesan, crispy onions and balsamic. And Notting Hill’s Eggbreak now offers a savoury French toast with za’atar, cherry tomatoes, garlic, thyme, poached eggs, labneh and pickled onion, finished with a drizzle of hot honey (itself a trend we highlighted in 2023).