Well it’s time to say a fond farewell to 2015, and what a year it’s been. The possibility of a pop-up that allows diners to pet foxes, a cereal café causing a riot, celebrity chef spats, and endless controversy as restaurant after restaurant was accused of unfair practices over tipping and service charges. From scathing reviews to exposés and intrigue, here are some of our favourite stories from across the web this year…
The owners of the Brick Lane cafe were on our 2014 highlights list after inadvertently becoming the poster boys for urban gentrification and its resultant, inevitable backlash. But in 2015 things took a rather ugly turn when anarchists Class War took to the streets for FuckParade to protest what they perceived to be the gentrification of Brick Lane. The Cereal Killer Café was doused in red paint and surrounded by an angry mob wielding pitchforks (no, really). Come on, the owners are just a pair of beardy blokes trying to run a business, it’s not like they’re some evil corporation. Not that we’d pay £3.50 for a bowl of cereal, but if others want to that’s fine. Let’s have some perspective please.
A local hipster has been admitted to hospital with allergic-like symptoms after eating pork that wasn’t artfully marinated overnight and then pulled by a middle class cretin. Witnesses claim that James Harrison, a 28-year-old web designer and self-described Snapchat poet from Islington, ate a burger which he believed to be sourced from a nearby craft foods fair only to discover it had been bought in a branch of Burger King.
So, this year we were introduced to London’s first ‘happy café’ The Canvas – a place for city dwellers to ‘seek comfort’ (as well as yoga classes, documentary screenings, courses, workshops… and even food); the possibility of a fox café, Stevie the Fox, where diners could pet tame animals (this was thankfully cancelled after outrage from animal rights groups); then there was the Porridge Café, a restaurant serving only oats; The Melt Room (just grilled cheese sandwiches); and finally the announcement of Come Fry With Me – an eatery dedicated to chips and themed around air travel. It is slated to open next year. Oh, and how could we forget The Potato Project where you’ll find posh jacket potatoes.
This wisecrack from AA Gill while lunching with Caring was pretty typical of media reaction to the moniker:
“What’s it called?” I asked.
“No, really, what’s it called?”
He gave me a humourless smile. “It’s called Sexy Fish. It’s a great name.”
“No. No, it’s a joke. That’s the worst name ever.”
“What’s the matter with it?” he said. “Sexy. And fish. What’s not to love?”
“If Borat ever opened a restaurant, it would be called Sexy Fish.”
Marina O’Laughlin takes the award for best bad review in 2015. And no, it’s not when she obliterated her fallen idol Marco Pierre White (after admitting a girlhood crush on the chef) although that was pretty good too. Nope, it was an utterly scathing write-up of the London outpost of Hotel Chantelle. Read it if only to hear the phrase ‘le wanquerie’, from the woman who brought us ‘Mayfair Wankpits’. From the food, to the service, to the very reason behind this restaurant/nightclub – Marina be not amused…
And the award for best good review? That goes to the Times’s Giles Coren for being compos mentis enough to actually write anything at all after a very successful trip to Fitzrovia’s Mac & Wild.
“…Last night I got absolutely mashed on wine at £87 a bottle and whisky at £17 a shot, literally poncing-fags-off-strangers-and-showing-my-penis-to-policemen drunk, and yet this bright October morning here I sit, feeling on top of the world, kids dressed and packed off to school, lovely walk to the office, tapping out this shimmering, pellucid prose. I haven’t even had a coffee yet.”
The Times’s Giles Coren was positively drooling over his keyboard at the very thought of another meal at Brad McDonald’s new Deep South-influenced Soho haunt Shotgun. His colleague AA Gill over at the Sunday Times, however, takes said shotgun and gives the place both barrels right in the face…
“This is supposed to be a well-meaning, everyman sustenance, and actually it’s just sloppy. When it’s done well, say in Texas or Kansas or the Carolinas or Kentucky, it’s quite unlike this… Only in London does it embarrassingly have any sort of gauche, amateur-chic bravado, an account with Mr Porter, a Facebook page and a profile on Tinder, but no girlfriend.”
Oi Gilesy, AA Gill says your mate’s got no girlfriend!
Nestled in our email inbox, a press release so flowery it seems to emit an aroma of homemade potpourri. News that Novikov has acquired a kitchen garden in Suffolk may not seem like (ahem) fertile ground for comedy but the wording of this particular epistle provoked an archly raised eyebrow. In a ‘bucolic paradise’ near Lavenham, Brent Eleigh Hall, is a ‘glorious’ Grade I listed country house. But, in its grounds – the press release breathlessly tells us – ‘a miracle is now taking place’.
Two acres of Victorian walled kitchen garden is being brought back to life by none other than that bastion of country simplicity and fresh air Novikov Restaurant & Bar (this would be the same restaurant group that offers a private jet takeaway service).
In what was, frankly, a melba toast thin story, the two chefs were said to have engaged in a war of words with the shouty one telling the Mockney one off for not going to his own restaurant launch in Hong Kong (naughty, naughty). Then things escalated as Oliver (usually so chill and pukka) retaliated by saying that Ramsay was just jealous of massive restaurant empire. A multi-million pound pissing contest if ever there was one.
Then a few months later this happened: December 2015 – The Daily Mail asks: “Has Jamie bitten off more than he can chew? Angry staff being laid off, bad reviews, a £12.8million loss – and questions over the brother-in-law with a dodgy past running his empire…”
“Foodie hipster heaven” The Clove Club became the first UK restaurant to charge diners who cancel their reservations less than 24 hours in advance or fail to show up at all. From April 2015 restaurant-goers who made bookings at the old Shoreditch Town Hall dining room were required to register their debit or credit card details, buying ‘tickets’ for their meal. It struck us as a determinedly un-hipster-like policy. Less laissez-faire and more pay your fare in advance.
Heston reopened the Fat Duck in Bray on 29 September after a nine-month hiatus. As well as a new look, a new menu was unveiled which takes the form of a map and is inspired by the chef’s nostalgia for his childhood holidays, rock-pooling and eating ice creams at the beach. “It will be a journey from the minute you book your ticket” he said. Which, by the way, costs £255 per person and must be paid in advance. So presumably the journey begins with a trip to see your bank manager!
When the first allegations over unfair tipping and service charge practices in restaurants surfaced in August 2015 Harden’s said: “The furore in the press over service charges has served to highlight the mess that the tipping system creates in the UK. But it’s a shame that we have been the only ones to raise the really big question – why do we submit ourselves to this agony in the first place? It’s time to ditch the tip.”
And although 69% of people surveyed agreed with our idea, there were a few vehement objectors…
Mayfair’s Le Chabanais closed in September 2015 just two weeks after Inaki Aizpitarte, the chef behind the estimable Le Chateaubriand in Paris, severed ties with the restaurant. Proof, perhaps, (if proof were needed) that no matter how enthusiastic the hype, a big name with an even bigger price-tag is no guarantee of a sure-fire winner. When Le Chabanais (named after the infamous Parisian brothel) opened to the public in June, a string of bad reviews followed in the British press.
The Evening Standard’s venerable Fay Maschler suspected that ‘after nearly 10 years the owners of Le Chateaubriand probably wanted a nice comfortable cheque’. AA Gill in his Sunday Times column Table Talk was, perhaps, typically cutting, but underneath there was the same disappointment of an opportunity missed. And The Observer’s Jay Rayner at least enjoyed the food, although it was rather overshadowed by his incredulousness at the yards of burnished brass and “absurd prices”.
In September 2015, self-proclaimed ‘culinary deviants’ Bompass & Parr and Bespoke Offers launched a tasting menu marathon. The 200 Club comprised 200 separate courses served over a 24-hour period. But all this opulence and indulgence came with a hefty price tag – £2,000 per person.
“The awards are basically a stich-up by the luvvie foodie journo crowd. Committees of the great-and-the-good of the foodie world enter smoke-filled rooms to put up lists for other luvvies to nominate. Of course, no-one has even come close to visiting all the restaurants – in fact how many have visited more than 2-3 out of the 50 in the last year? Ever?
“None of this matters, because the award’s true raison d’etre is as a shmooze-fest for the top chefs, who have no other global stage to prance on…”