Monday, 2 September 2013

Fancy Fast Food

Londoners have gone mad for fast food. In recent years there has been an explosion of restaurants opening their doors with one aim. To demonstrate that good quality food doesn't need to be fussy or take hours to serve. Since the documentary Supersize Me was released in the early 2000s, exposing the health risks of excessive MacDonalds consumption, we have recoiled in horror at burgers, and we have witnessed a revolution.

Enter the gastro-pub. Serving food of a better quality and with more finesse than a Harvester carvery, the gastro-pub put homely meals firmly on the map as accepted restaurant fare. But something was missing.

A craze swept across London. That craze was for upmarket fast food. Restaurants popped up, selling themselves as specialists in their chosen area. These were not pubs, these were revered establishments. Word got around and hungry folk can now be found traipsing around town devouring gourmet burgers, or rotisserie chicken slathered in peri peri sauce. Be wary, the quest for the most up market peasant food can turn them from friendly gourmands to Golum in search of The Ring.

So what is the attraction? A move towards a more relaxed dining experience is undoubtedly one reason. Diners are safe in the knowledge that they don't need to adhere to a dress code to chow down a burger. The secret to their success is making the diner feel at ease. Gone are the days when good food came hand in hand with molecular gastronomy, white table cloths and 5 courses. At establishments like Meat Liquor, the importance is placed on the quality of the beef, not on silver service.

Which leads me to the second reason for the success of the fast food craze. These restaurants are using really good ingredients. The burger joints have chosen their specific brioche bun because they are aficionado's. They charge more than Burger King because they care more about sourcing what tastes good and because they want to be the best. The health benefits of this new fast food are marginally better than demolishing a Big Mac, but probably not enough to be given the stamp of approval by Jamie Oliver. Regardless, the quality of ingredients is key to taking fast food from the realms of Wimpy to the realms of the hotdogs served at Bubbledogs. That and the glass of champers served at the latter. A change in our attitudes to what's nutritious means that many have been conditioned to feel guilty about what goes in their mouths. If its not free range, organic, locally sourced or offsetting our carbon footprint, then thou art condemned. Surely the most brilliant thing about this fast food frenzy is that you can trust the sourcing.

Another point to take into consideration has got to be the nostalgia factor. Chicken nuggets and chips are the stuff of childhood dreams, and the craze for fast food has vilified the foodie to indulge. It has provided the diner with the excuse to eat the most simplistic of foods, without feeling the pressure of ordering the most complex or bizarre dish on the menu. In doing so, these restaurants remove the opportunity for one up man ship and replace it with a level playing field. You can't be snobby about the humble chip, you can only seek to enjoy it. There will be those who remember when MacDonald's was first founded in the UK, and now its sweet meaty buns are a global phenomenon. These days, restaurants like Chicken Shop or Wishbone, serve fried chicken with finesse and sauce on the side. The queue outside Honest Burger in Brixton village shows a following which not only far outstrips the number of seats but demonstrates the power of nostalgia.

It remains to be seen whether the fast food frenzy has whet Londoners appetites for life or whether its just a fad. One thing is for sure, the public will always crave a good old fashioned hamburger.

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