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Food trends are within their own definition an incredibly transient phenomenon. Coming and going like a changing tide of kale, Cronuts and snail porridge that washes over year by year. Whilst innovation and originality rightfully remains the benchmark of trend-setting success, and the health food trend still marches on with more vigour than ever, the advent of comfort eating is something that has preceded and will far outlast all other trends. Comfort food is defined as those foods that you just keep going back to, those meals that wrap you up in a proverbial food blanket and keep you warm through thick and thin. This seemingly broad and all-encompassing category is, however, becoming increasingly found outside of home.
Consumers are looking outside of their Mum’s kitchen more and more, out to the food industry to solve their comfort eating needs, and no other dish exemplifies this more clearly than the humble cheese toastie. From Giraffe, to Walkabout and Brasserie Blanc, the grilled cheese sandwich is becoming a highly perfected and elaborated art form of melting dairy goodness. Crussh offers a low fat ham and Edam toastie to indulge those calorie conscious consumers, and Duck and Waffle’s whopping £12.50, vintage cheddar, and pastrami grilled sandwich, complete with its famous runny duck egg, offers a decadent option at the higher end of the market. At the street food level, and renowned as the best in London, Grill My Cheese offers bountiful interpretations on the toastie, including a mac n cheese alternative aptly named ‘Baby got Mac’. Cheese rules supreme in the comfort eating market, with mac and cheese also hot on consumer’s lips. It appears the powers of globalisation have brought this oh so American indulgence into our mainstream comfort food consciousness, with Pret recently releasing both a prosciutto and a cauliflower mac and cheese, to go alongside Jamie Oliver’s highly popular lobster mac and cheese.
Comfort food is inherently attractive to consumers, but equally so for those producing it. Firstly, many of these homely dishes are domestically cooked favourites, and thus by nature rely upon low cost items and ingredients that are simple to make. Therefore, at the lower end of the market they can be re-created for large profit margins, and at the higher end, a premium ingredient or elaborate technique can turn a home cooked dish into a show stopping master piece. Berners Tavern’s signature ham, egg and chips makes use of air dried British ham, with a Panko crusted duck egg. Similarly, The Fish and Chip Shop’s ode to our national dish makes use of the finest British seafood, to put elaborate twists on a comfort food classic. With both Jamie Oliver and Tom Kerridge focusing their latest books upon finding novel ways to reinvent our ‘go to’ dishes, it appears that in food, at least, it may pay to reinvent the wheel.
There must also be something said for the benefits that familiarity offers retailers and the hospitality industry alike. Consumers are predisposed to liking comfort food, so for them it offers sure fire winners on their shelves or menus. It is in this frame of mind that many in the food industry have been using nostalgia as a tool to entice consumers. Transporting consumers back to happy childhood simplicity, Retro Feast’s pop-up offered a tasty trip back in time with its delicious re-workings of vintage classics. Returning soon in a permanent venue, its delightful homage to the prawn cocktail is being joined by numerous other old-fashioned favourites. Bob Bob Ricard’s offers up throwback with a gourmet chicken kiev, London burger mecca, Patty and Bun, shows that the old school is still cool with its supreme choc ice, and Bedford and Strand has started up a weekly fondue night. The humble Scotch egg is the most recently trending retro food to get a makeover, as Scotchtails of Borough Market will testify. Its artisan revival of the Scotch egg is making waves, as it innovates with black pudding, chorizo, and lamb and mint variations. Even old school lunch favourites such as rice pudding, and custard and jelly are being re-introduced onto the high street by the likes of Pod.
Whilst the passing of time may have allowed us to forget why these foods went out of fashion, and nostalgia may cast false illusions of the golden years, these dishes are being revamped into something far more delicious than their predecessors, that play upon happy memories of yesteryear. Therefore, with the food industry tipping its hat to the past in such delicious ways, it is easy to see why we keep coming back to comfort food, time and time again.