Eating London: The World on a Plate

1 October, 2018

London is a truly global city with a vast multi-cultural population and a food culture that reflects this, and as such Londoners have access to, and are able to enjoy, a wealth of different cuisines, ingredients and flavours – arguably more so than in any other major world city.

This culinary melting-pot and all the benefits it brings is perfectly summed up in an article by Nigel Slater taken from The Guardian (published 5th May 2015):

‘I can think of no place that welcomes the food of other countries with more enthusiasm than Britain. Good though our indigenous cooking is, made with ingredients from our own landscape, we have long had an insatiable appetite for the food of other countries. A walk along our high streets will offer everything from sashimi to tacos and pizza to Korean noodles. Some of this food comes from chain restaurants with global domination, but for the most part it is the product of small restaurants and food shops run by first or second-generation immigrant families that have come to Britain and set up shop. It is something I wholeheartedly want to celebrate.

Walk past the big international retailers and you will pass a string of small restaurants, cafés and food shops. As the smell changes from cappuccino to cardamom, we enter the home of the kebab and the korma, the dim sum and the laksa, places where you can get your hands on a box of Alphonso mangoes or a warm, freshly baked roti. The further we go, the food becomes ever more intriguing, more tempting.

Now do the same in Nice or Naples, Stockholm or Bordeaux. There will be little food on offer that isn’t local. Certainly there will be sections of each city with a particular culinary flavour, but there won’t be anything like the concentrated array of nationalities there is in Britain. No one, it seems to me, has embraced the products of the rest of the world’s kitchens like the Brits.

It would be churlish and uninformed to assume that this enthusiasm is a product of our own food not being good enough to retain our interest. Those who peddle that old idea need to catch up. British food has never been more interesting. It is more that we are, mostly, a nation of adventurous eaters. Our appetites are open-minded, our plates ever happy to receive something new. We should not be considered gluttons who eat anything that comes our way, but rather culinary magpies who pick up the best on offer. To restrict ourselves to indigenous products, however good they are, would be to miss out on some fine eating, from the tea in our pots (camellia sinensis, the tea bush, doesn’t survive well in this climate) to the food of Chinese, Indian and Italian kitchens.

Our eagerness for the cooking of other countries is not confined to restaurants either. At home in the past week I have eaten the products of about six different countries. Italian gnocchi with gorgonzola on Monday, Thai pork ribs on Tuesday, Japanese sushi on Friday. (On Thursday my planned dinner of Taiwanese buns was nipped in the bud only by the length of the queue I was expected to join. We ate decent jamón at a Spanish bar instead.) It was on Sunday that I ate what you could call a British meal: asparagus from the Wye Valley, roast chicken from Suffolk and roast potatoes grown in Herefordshire. If I was someone who eats processed chilled foods from the supermarket, a business worth billions of pounds in this country, I would probably have eaten even more adventurously.

Our own home cooking of a Thai or Indian recipe may not be authentic, but that only proves our willingness to adapt the ideas of others where it suits us. A fact that may horrify those who demand “authenticity” but suits most of us non-pedants who just want something good to eat. As any cook knows, authenticity varies according to who you ask – every Italian has a different way of making a carbonara, just as every British cook’s recipe for Yorkshire pudding or apple pie varies.

I am not interested in cooking in a kitchen that doesn’t include ingredients from other countries. Imagine a lifetime trying to make good things to eat without access to lemons or cardamom, vanilla or limes. No cumin or Vietnamese chilli sauce. No cane sugar, chocolate or cinnamon. No oranges, tea or coffee either.

But let’s go back to that British high street. Just suppose we fancy a dumpling. And this is the great bit, and why I cannot understand why a small minority of people shun international food: we have so many to choose from. That dumpling could be a meat-filled ravioli from Italy, a crisp-bottomed Japanese gyoza, a Chinese soup-filled xiaolongbao or a soft and juicy Polish pierogi. They are all essentially the same thing, a precious, highly seasoned filling enclosed in a wrapper of dough. The recipe and method of making them varies delightfully from culture to culture (even city to city), but none is that far from the other. (Our own version is the other way round, the dough being cooked in the meat filling.) What seems at first so different is the same the world over. And it is all here on our doorstep. The same story goes for the noodle, the soup, the pie and sandwich.’

 

London’s unique culinary cornucopia is something we embrace and draw upon when creating menus for our clients. We aim to offer geographically focused menus, often filtered through a British lens, inspired not only by the global flavours available on our doorstep, but also by our own travels and experience working in the capital’s diverse restaurant industry. This is important as it not only reflects the food culture of the city we work in, but also keeps clients interested in, and excited by, what they are eating – essentially as we are feeding people used to having access to, and experiencing, global flavours, our menus need to offer the same variation.

Here are some example working lunch menus we have recently written for our clients:

A Korean Lunch

Korean braised brisket of beef,
chilli & ginger

Courgette & Spring onion pancake,
soy & ginger dipping sauce

Both served with
Steamed rice, house chilli sauce & wun tun chips

Broccolini, green beans,
mushroom & sesame salad

Kimchee slaw, roasted peanuts
& crispy shallots

And something sweet…

Matcha & white chocolate cheesecake

Mango, blueberries & melon, stem ginger syrup

 

A Mexican Feast

Fish tacos
Spicy cod in a cornmeal crust
with jalepeño slaw

Mushroom, chipotle & tarragon tacos
with sour cream

Both served with
Tomato salsa & guacamole

Black beans, roasted corn, piquillo peppers,
red onion, radishes & queso fresco

Iceberg wedge,
slow roast tomato, avocado, croutons,
crispy bacon & ranch dressing

And something sweet…

Pineapple upside down cake,
coconut cream

Watermelon & blackberries,
mint & lime syrup

 

A Middle Eastern Menu

Lamb shawarma,
pickled chillies & soft herbs

Berber calzone, Swiss chard,
melted onions & sweet spices

Both served with
Flat bread & yoghurt

Autumn tabbouleh
Raw cauliflower, dried fruits,
Spring onions, mint ,parsley & lemon

Chopped salad
Cucumber, cherry vine tomatoes,
red onion, radishes & sumac

And something sweet…

Chocolate, halva & tahini brownie

Figs, blackberries & pistachios

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