Mr Porter Eats
The Food Trends You Need To Know
As he prepares to open his 15th restaurant, Mr Jason Atherton discusses what’s on the menu this year and beyond
Fresh rice cooked in seafood dashi, served with tempura clams, ikura and Japanese young onion – one of the dishes on the menu at Mr Jason Atherton’s latest London venture, Sosharu
Mr Jason Atherton has a knack for knowing what diners want. His new Japanese restaurant, Sosharu, which opens its doors in London on 7 March, will be the 15th in a portfolio that spans four continents, including The Clocktower in New York, The Commune Social in Shanghai and Kensington Street Social in Sydney. His first, Pollen Street Social, launched in London in 2011. It was an instant success, gaining a Michelin star within six months. The British chef had been rewarded for daring to reimagine the high-end, metropolitan eating experience – a fine-food restaurant notable for its bustling cocktail bar and non-existent dress code.
This skill for understanding demand has been finessed over decades. Now 44, Mr Atherton started cooking when he was just 12, and moved to London from Skegness when he was 16 to sweep floors at the Michelin-starred Glasshouse, owned by Mr Anthony Boyd. He worked under Mr Marco Pierre White, and Mr Ferran Adrià (Mr Atherton was the first British chef to complete a stage with the Spanish legend), before joining Mr Gordon Ramsay’s business in 1998. He is one of a few chefs who have gone on to great things after working with the controversial figure, but none have succeeded or command respect quite like Mr Atherton. In an industry where sheer hard work is as important as culinary skill and business nous, he is a master at balancing all three. When he’s not overseeing additions to his restaurant empire, he stars on TV shows – such as BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and Sky Living’s My Kitchen Rules. On top of that, he’s married to Ms Irha Atherton, who runs Social Wine & Tapas (another of his London ventures), and dad to their two children.
His new restaurant Sosharu is an izakaya-style restaurant channelling old-school Japanese tavern culture. Think: sashimi, teppanyaki and robatayaki small plates, washed down with sake and beer, in an informal-yet-authentic setting. Below, we discuss how Sosharu taps into some key food trends, and how Mr Atherton sees the culinary landscape for the foreseeable future.
Mr Jason Atherton at Kensington Street Social, January 2016
Tell us about Sosharu. What’s different about it?
Our restaurant group isn’t about regurgitating a brand. Each restaurant is completely different. Japanese cuisine has always been one of my favourite foods to eat – whether it’s Zuma [in London] or [three-Michelin-starred] Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. Sosharu will serve modern Japanese food in a really beautiful, simple environment. We have been testing out these new seaweed tacos, which have become a trend in Tokyo. You tempura Japanese seaweed, fill it with rice, chūtoro tuna, spicy mayonnaise and then salad on top. Sosharu also has a cool bar called the Seven Tales, which will serve funky cocktails. And we’ll have a sensational sake list.
There seems to be a bit of a thing for Japanese food at the moment…
It’s very on-trend to be opening up a Japanese restaurant. We’ve not done it intentionally, but everybody’s crazy about Japanese food right now. You go to Barcelona – there are great Japanese restaurants. And there are wonderful Japanese restaurants in New York and Australia, too. Everybody loves the building blocks of Japanese cuisine.
The food is packed with flavour. People are starting to understand the power of umami [a savoury fifth taste, after salt, sweet, sour and bitter]. And Western chefs are researching which Western foods carry a lot of it – such as parmesan and tomatoes – and how that flavour profile impacts a dish. A lot of chefs are using kombu stock instead of chicken stock in meat sauces because it makes the flavour so much more significant. In Japan, they adhere to the seasons much more because they see it as a gift from the gods. If we took that to heart a little bit more in Britain, we would progress so much faster in the food world.
Besides Japanese, which other styles are having a moment?
Peruvian food was a trend that started a couple of years ago and it’s here to stay. Virgilio Martínez at Lima brought it to the masses. Martin Morales as well. And people are getting more into ethnic food – from Pakistani cuisine to Ethiopian dishes. Everyone is starting to understand the difference between regions and the amounts of different cuisines in one country.
Order the slow-braised lamb shoulder, seared loin, pumpkin purée, fava beans and corn beer juice at Lima in London
Do you think that will ever happen here?
One trend I’d like to see is, say, a restaurant that only focuses on Lancashire cuisine. You could have a Lancashire restaurant in Soho. Why can’t we have a restaurant that focuses on Yorkshire cuisine? You go to Italy and you’ll have a chef who just cooks Sicilian food. Or they’ll just make Naples pizzas. All we do is cook ‘British food’. What is that? Someone could look into the history of our food, and present it in a more thought-out manner.
Does that link to the hyper-local food trend?
One thousand per cent. The start of it all was Simon Rogan at L’Enclume in Cumbria, England. He brought it down to London at Claridge’s and it’s hugely successful. It’s a Cumbrian restaurant in London, but everyone’s too scared to PR it that way. If someone pops up and does Norfolk cuisine, I’m sure it’s going to be sensational. Norfolk has the sea, it has flat plains, it is fantastic for breeding animals.
The elegant interior at Mr Simon Rogan’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Fera, at Claridge’s in London
Are we seeing more informal restaurants like Sosharu?
Sosharu is based on the principles of an izakaya in downtown Tokyo, which is not too dissimilar to a gastropub in the UK. You can pop in after work, grab a great beer, a glass of sake, and enjoy a couple of dishes. The Michelin Guide is good at keeping up with the times. It knows that it’s outdated to put on a three-piece suit to eat in a restaurant. We were one of the first Michelin-starred restaurants [with Pollen Street Social] in London not to have a dress code. It’s the future. Just look at men’s fashion – most of it is coming from the casual end of the market. We believe our company stands for the next generation of fine diners.
Do more people care about what they consume these days?
Everyone’s much more knowledgeable now. People are becoming as interested in what they’re drinking as they are in what they’re eating. The everyday man in the street is interested in single malt whiskies. We’ve never sold so much liquor as we have in the past few months.
Cumbrian suckling pig, pumpkin purée, kale, spiced plums and granola clusters is a must-order at Mr Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social, London
Are there any ingredients we’ll see more of in the next few years?
People are looking more and more at unusual root vegetables and how best to look after this ingredient. What’s the best way to use the waste? Don’t store roots – potatoes, swedes, etc – in the fridge as the sugar intensifies, becomes more sweet, and you lose the natural flavour. So the best place to store them is at cellar temperature. Chefs are looking at their indigenous cuisine, the ingredients around them, and how to get the most out of them.
Which chefs are leading the way?
Isaac McHale from The Clove Club, Tom Sellers from Story, James Lowe from Lyle’s, James Knappett at Bubbledogs. They’re doing super-interesting dishes that are really simple – coming up with amazing menus with the food that’s around them. They’re not trying to do three-star stuff. I lived through the elBulli years, when everyone was trying to turn mangos into balloons. It was great, but it wasn’t that real.