Thirty or forty years ago, holidaying Upwards loved French pavement cafés and Italian piazzas, but back at home they led their lives behind closed doors. They didn’t eat out often, because they could only go to expensive French restaurants, or Italian restaurants in Soho. They couldn’t go to cafés (all working class), or chains like Wimpy and the Golden Egg (lower middle class, full of tourists). They didn’t go to pubs much (noisy, smoky, full of the wrong people). They spent as little time as possible in public places (crowded with the “hoi polloi”). They hated to see and be seen. We went to endless “bring a bottle” parties in each other’s homes. But then we began to go to community festivals and fringe theatre and comedy gigs and salsa classes and gyms... Some American research concludes that people meet in public places more now than they did 30 years ago.
According to the broadsheets, burger chains have “transformed the British dining experience” in the last ten years. They mean upmarket burger chains in central London (Byron, Five Guys), not Wimpy, Wendy, McDonalds, Burger King and Star which have been with us for decades. You’ll find a McDonalds everywhere, but the others are more often seen in working-class areas, are much cheaper, have no gourmet touches and don’t qualify as a “dining experience”. You can get a decent burger in some pubs, too, with proper chips.
Oh, no, it’s not burgers, it’s the sandwich: The world-beating British sandwich industry is worth £8bn a year. It transformed the way we eat lunch, then did the same for breakfast – and now it’s coming for dinner. Guardian Nov 2017 (Food can only “transform British lunching” if someone is making billions out of it.)
The papers also say the young are discovering low-alcohol wine (and Tesco has a new range). Not like the old paint-stripper versions of the past! (We had perfectly decent low-alc wine and beer in the 80s, thanks. Always wondered where it went.)
Old St pop-up breakfast snack: Brazilian cheese bread with cassava flour. (@HamishMThompson)
Have been underfed stupid arty food: going for pizza now. (Friend writes from biz conf in Milan)
But to Upwards, the thinner the sandwich, the more common it is. Like a fish-paste sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off. Damp, bland and easy to eat (cut in triangles with a sprinkling of cress, please). Sandwiches like this come with a handful of potato crisps, in a half-timbered café somewhere like Marlborough. It’s decorated with oak beams, copper pans and Victorian china, and it's called the Polly Tea-Rooms. (It is, really.)
Central London is now full of noodle bars, sushi bars and burrito bars – for the visitors. An American ex-colleague once told me: "It’s OK to go to Dublin now – there are Thai restaurants!"
Apparently Wetherspoons are “cheap and tacky” and “chav central”. (Thankyou, internet. Update: the boss of Wetherpoons is printing pro-Brexit messages on beer mats.)
Wine-tasting and wine snobbery were popular with the middle classes in the 70s, epecially among young couples who had just bought their first house. It was like announcing that you were now an adult and had bought into the bourgeoisie. See also weddings in picturesque country churches.
Mary Berry has announced the death of the dining room. In her new house, she’s repurposed the room and is extending her kitchen so that she can eat in it.
At Prince George’s school, “the canteen serves such dishes as lamb ragout with garlic and herbs, pork stroganoff with red peppers and smoked mackerel on a bed of puy lentils”. When the news got out, there was a run on Puy lentils. Upwards like these because they are a tasteful shade of dark brown and don’t go mushy when cooked, unlike the bright orange lentils you can get in the corner shop. I’m so glad I’m not going to Prince George’s school aged four. Someone should airlift his class some chicken nuggets and chips.
More here, and links to the rest.