1 Fine dining re-thought
The fine dining formula used to be so simple: open a swanky restaurant with white tablecloths and Riedel stemware, serve a lavish tasting menu of premium ingredients, and bingo. For many restaurants this tried-and-tested model remains the best approach and yet for others, especially in areas hit hardest by the cost-of-living crisis, it’s no longer the de facto approach. As a result, in 2024 an increasing number of restaurants will rip up the fine dining rule book and rethink everything from service style and menus to pricing in a bid to become more accessible and less predictable. Early in the year we’ll see this in action with the opening of Psycho Sandbar in Leeds, with chef Michael O’Hare’s replacing his Michelin-starred The Man Behind The Curtain with a more accessible offer, and he’s not alone. Birmingham-based chef Kray Treadwell is dropping the tasting menu at his restaurant 670 Grams in favour of a ‘more informal’ sharing-style format, and the Pidgin team also intends to take their Hackney restaurant back to its roots and create more of a neighbourhood and less of a destination dining spot. Times they are a changing, and fine dining is changing with it.
2 Lasagne (and numerous New York/Italian dishes)
Pasta restaurants have taken the capital by storm these past few years, with staples such as cacio e pepe, and carbonara served from wheels of cheese becoming restaurant and social media favourites (as well as any pasta dish covered with truffle shavings) in the process. This year get ready for a new, old school style of pasta to steal the limelight - one that comes layered with bolognese, bechamel, and tomato sauce. We’re talking about the mighty lasagne and how the Bolognese dish is set to take the dining scene by storm. It has already become the star billing at West Village restaurant Don Angie, where bagging a table is proving pretty difficult, and we think more restaurants are going to cotton onto the comforting familiarity of the dish over here. Those leading the charge include the now sadly closed Bright, whose lasagna fritta are much missed; Lazy Tony’s Lasagneria, which serves slabs of the stuff at Freight Island in Manchester; Leo’s bar and restaurant in Hackney, and Tom Brown’s new spot Pearly Queen, where the cuttlefish lasagne has fast become a firm favourite among customers. Other NYC/Italian dishes to look out for this year include vodka tomato sauce, New York style pizza, and spaghetti meatballs, the latter currently on the menu at newly opened New York Italian restaurant The Dover in Mayfair.
3 Langoustines the new lobster
The lobster has ruled supreme on fine dining menus for as long as anyone can remember but in 2024 it will face competition from another crustacean. Langoustines are part of the lobster family but are smaller in size and lighter in colour and have a sweetness that makes them stand out in the world of seafood. Soho super pub The Devonshire serves a pile of langoustines as part of its grill menu and by all accounts they are flying out of the door and it’s only a matter of time before these mini lobsters are found in a growing number of places up and down the country.
4 The great vegan fast-food reset
Remember when vegan-focused fast-food brands looked set to become a dominant force within the QSR market? It would now appear that that bubble has burst, with many of the segment’s major players either ditching or significantly rethinking their business plans. Take Neat Burger, the vegan fast-food concept backed by Lewis Hamilton and Leonardo DiCaprio, which is closing half of its UK estate amid large-scale financial pressures, and Milan-based Flower Burger chain, which has exited the UK after just two years, its plans to open more than 40 UK sites in tatters. So where does this leave the vegan sector? While it might not be disappearing any time soon, we predict 2024 will bring something of a reset, with brands creating mixed vegan/meaty concepts that please all diners, rather than alienate some. Vegan brand Oowee is gravitating towards a ‘mixed’ concept that blends the offers from its Diner and Vegan brands, having initially only focused on expanding the latter, while Soho newbie Wonderland takes a ‘meat vs plants’ approach with a menu that treats vegans and carnivores on a completely even footing. Could the days of ‘them and us’ when it comes to vegans in restaurants finally be over?
5 The US is once again the land of opportunity
Since Ronald McDonald looked across the pond and thought ‘I’ll have a piece of that’, US brands have seen the UK as ripe for international growth. But now the tide is beginning to turn, with some of the UK’s most high-profile restaurant groups regarding the States as a land of opportunity. JKS, whose London-based portfolio includes singular high-end restaurants such as Gymkhana, Lyle’s and Kitchen Table, as well as the expanding brands BAO and Hoppers, is ‘actively exploring’ opportunities in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas following the completion of its latest funding round, and French-owned Italian restaurant group Big Mamma, which has several outposts across London, also has its sights Stateside after recently securing long-term investment from private equity backer McWin. They are not alone: The Wolseley Hospitality Group is plotting a move to the US, and D&D London CEO David Loewi recently returned from looking at a number of possible new sites in New York where the London-centric restaurant group already has two successful restaurants (Gustavino’s and Queensyard). Some have already made the leap, of course. Steakhouse chain Hawksmoor hit up New York back in 2021 and will open a second outpost later this year in Chicago.
6 The year of the black stuff
Little more than a decade ago, a Mintel consumer report determined that, amid the craft beer boom, Guinness was ‘no longer cool’. How times change, with the black stuff now a dominant force in the on-trade and available in 36,000 pubs nationwide, with an average of 3.6 million pints sold every week. And yet there’s more to come from this drink if its soaring popularity and new Soho pub du jour The Devonshire is anything to go by. This year it’s going to have competition from the brand itself in the form of Guinness at Old Brewer’s Yard, which will be a vast 50,000sq ft space spanning Mercer Walk, Langley Street, Neal Street and Shelton Street in Covent Garden, and will house a microbrewery, a restaurant, an events space with an open-fire kitchen and a 360 degrees glass rooftop space. We’re not just talking about Guinness either; the wider stout market is hotting up with several major players recently entering the space. These include BrewDog with its Black Heart; Forged Irish Stout, the latest venture from UFC brawler Conor McGregor, which is now available on draught in more than 500 pubs nationwide; and London Black by Bermondsey-based brewer Anspach & Hobday, which is sold at more than 200 outlets. Only time will tell if any can knock Guinness off its perch, but with stout marked out as one of the fastest growing beer categories in the on-trade, there’s everything to play for in 2024.
7 Smashed burgers
It seems ridiculous that burgers could be a trend for 2024 given that there’s no shortage of decent burger joints the length and depth of the country thanks to the rise of the better burger sector a decade and a half ago (thank you MEATliquor et al). And yet the hype around smashed burgers is palpable, not just on these shores but across the pond as well. In the US, where burgers can no more be called a trend than Coca-Cola can, Americans are losing their minds over new NYC-based burger joint Hamburger America, burger expert George Motz’s tribute to the country’s roadside griddles of old - and we all know the impact our stateside cousins can have on the global fast food scene. Over here, Soho-based burger joint Supernova has been creating queues (remember them?) for its thinner, crispier patties and Honest Burgers looks to be throwing its patties into the ring with a new QSR concept opening this year where the smashed burger will no doubt play a pivotal role.
8 More regional Middle Eastern food
The cuisine of the Middle East has been prominent among new restaurant openings over the past decade, whether it be vegetarian restaurant Bubala, chef Fadi Kattan’s Palestinian restaurant Akub, Zahter in Soho, or Persian grill Berenjak, to name a small few, and is showing no signs of stopping. This year we predict the arrival of more geographically specific Middle Eastern cuisines, with the food of countries such as Egypt, Afghanistan, and Syria likely coming more to the fore as chefs look to explore more deeply the varied cuisine of the region. We expect to see more from Turkey as well, with former Oklava chef Selin Kiazim set to return to the kitchens with another Istanbul-inspired restaurant, and The Counter chef Kemal Demirasal believed to opening a second, more fish-focused restaurant, following the success of his authentic Turkish restaurant in Ladbroke Grove. Turkey’s neighbour Greece also had a strong 2023 with new openings such as Kima and Gaia in London and Fenix in Manchester and more restaurants serving its country’s cuisine are likely to make splashes in 2024.
9 Manchester comes of age
2024 is shaping up to be a huge year for the north west’s most populous city. While the past five years or so have seen Manchester’s restaurant scene go from strength to strength, the coming year will cement its status as one of the UK’s most exciting cities for eating out as recently launched restaurants bed in - not least Higher Ground and Fenix - and newcomers set up shop. The hottest launch this year is unquestionable Skof, the debut solo restaurant project from former Simon Rogan lieutenant Tom Barnes. In the NOMA district, the restaurant is billed by its creator as aiming to provide ‘world class’ food but will be very much in tune with a city that famously likes to let its hair down. “Manchester is a buzzy city,” Barnes says. “We want to offer amazing food but we also want people to be able to relax and have a laugh and not feel intimidated.” Given that Barnes’ last role was overseeing the three-Michelin-star L’Enclume, Skof is almost certain to bring a second star to the city (currently Simon Martin’s Mana, which launched in 2018, is Manchester’s only Michelin-starred restaurant). Other key openings for 2024 include Kurt Zdesar’s Nikkei concept Chotto Matte - which has secured a 20,000sq ft rooftop site - and Soho House. Manchester’s culinary rise has not gone unnoticed by the red book either. The 2024 Michelin star revelation ceremony for Great Britain & Ireland will take place at the city’s Midland Hotel next month sparking speculation that a big Manchester-based award could be on the cards.
10 Loyalty schemes that require buy-in from customers
Having moved away from basic two-for-one deals and refined their loyalty programmes in recent years, we predict that some larger operators will take things a step further by looking to ape aspects of Pret A Manager’s highly-successful subscription model, which sees customers pay a monthly fee in return for major perks including free hot drinks and a 20% discount across the board. As the sandwich giant has proven, turning the tables on the traditional digital discounting model and requiring buy-in from customers to access a good deal is potent because people in general like to get their money’s worth - if they sign up to something, they’re going to use it. In Pret’s case, that means sticking to their own venues where possible at the expense of other operators. Such an approach would be particularly well-suited to brands that dominate their space like Nando’s, Wagamama, Tortilla and Pizza Express. The latter - which already has a well-integrated digital loyalty app that has clocked up some 2 million downloads - could further leverage its large restaurant footprint and omnichannel positioning - including its supermarket range and delivery offering - to offer a discount on all or most of its products in return for a monthly payment.
11 Confrontational dining
Squeamish people look away now: 2024 will be the year chefs serve food that stares right back at you. The ‘exotica of animal body parts’ in cooking (as The New York Times once described it) may have long been a part of certain dining cultures overseas – France and China come to mind – but in London it’s often felt like something found more towards the fringes than in the mainstream. All that appears to be changing, though, not least following the recent launch of FOWL, the pop-up ‘beak-to-feet’ chicken shop created by the founders of Fallow in St James’s. Its signature dish, the La Grande Coque Pie, combines confit chicken hearts, livers and cockscombs and comes complete with a chicken’s head emerging from the pastry. As you might expect, the sight of a rooster’s bonce poking out of a pie, stargazy style, has sent the internet into meltdown. One Australian news outlet branded the pie ‘grim’; while US rapper Snoop Dogg made it clear that the pie was not for him in an amusing Instagram post. This isn’t the first time Fallow chefs Will Murray and Jack Croft have taken a more anatomical approach to their dish development. With an emphasis on sustainability-driven, zero waste dining, Fallow’s menu features dishes including a cod’s head slathered in a house-made sriracha butter, and an off-menu confit pig’s head. Over at Manteca in Shoreditch, chef Chris Leach recently marked game season in the UK by adding a pheasant leg cotoletta to the menu. The deboned pheasant leg comes complete with attached foot, breaded and fried, and is served alongside a black garlic mayonnaise. The question is, where will chefs go next? Maybe we’ll be seeing a traditional Valencian paella with rabbit ears poking out the top; or perhaps someone will try to create a real-life version of Desperate Dan’s cow pie complete with horns. The possibilities are endless.