Our addiction to food porn is in danger of killing London’s most delicious but dowdy dishes, says Kate Lloyd
It’s the year 2100 and you’re out with the girls at a brightly lit London restaurant. At every table, diners strain to hold their iPhone76s high in the air as they take pictures of their food. The dishes are Pinterest-board fantasies: milkshakes that change colour depending on your mood, mountains of rainbow profiteroles with live parrots perched on top and pies sculpted in the image of Prime Minister Danny Dyer, who’s been ruling as a hologram for the past 20 years. You can’t wait to taste them, but as soon as you’ve taken a picture, the waiter (also a hologram) takes them away. ‘You don’t want to eat these,’ he says, pulling off a chunk of what looks like Play-Doh to show you (holograms can do this in 2100). ‘They’re just made of flavourless paste.’
While this might sound like the start of a disappointing sci-fi novel, it’s actually the future awaiting us if we continue to obsess more about how food looks than how it tastes. Sure, you ‘eat with your eyes’ and all that, but over the past few years, the prettiest dishes have been grabbing as many headlines as the Kardashians, while the tastiest have landed on the Z-list.
Take last year’s trend for extreme milkshakes piled high with popcorn, ice cream and whole brownies. They resembled magnificent works of architecture, but actually eating one was like undertaking an immersive theatre experience based on the life of ‘Matilda’ glutton Bruce Bogtrotter. Plus, only a few months into 2016 we’ve already lusted after supernatural rainbow bagels pumped with food colouring but tasting exactly the same as normal bagels. Toast them, smear them with cream cheese: they’re all the same in your mouth.
There’s a sense that something’s not worth eating unless it looks pretty on Pinterest or will get you attention on Instagram. It’s meant that the places that are flourishing are those that serve doughnuts dripping with icing and 11 avo-on-toast, rather than actual meals. I know this makes me sound like a 50-year-old fun-police dad, but have you ever seen a yorkshire pudding and gravy look pretty on Instagram? In fact, when The Stockpot closed last December after 25 years, some critics suggested it was because its simple, traditional – but exceptionally brown – food didn’t appeal to the Instagram crowd.
It’s a terrifying prospect for anyone who actually likes food. So many of the capital’s most delicious treats aren’t photogenic. The slabs of meat served up at Mangal’s grills are never going to win Miss Sexy Dish UK 2016, but, boy, do they taste good. The bourguignon at Brasserie Zedel may photograph suspiciously like swamp water, but it smells and tastes like boozy, meaty French heaven. Ditto noodles, kebabs, burritos, stews, anything with gravy, slimy sauce or coloured an odd shade of brown.
So this is a call to arms, knives and forks: let’s support our city’s ugly food. It’s time to focus on what will win favour with our stomachs rather than our followers. I want a future where I’m embarrassing my kids by jumping up and down at a restaurant, exclaiming ‘this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten, mate!’ not one where I’m high-fiving over a killer picture.
A hologram of Danny Dyer would still get my vote, though.
In other food news, you can now get a pulled pork sundae