I’m sure by now you’ve heard the news that we’re getting a new crisp ‘restaurant’ in Soho. Riding the same wave as the much-maligned Cereal Killer Cafe, where you can buy a bowl of Frosties for £3.60, HipChips promises to ‘treat the humble potato crisp with the same care and attention reserved for fine dining’. This involves a Yo! Sushi-style conveyor belt and a menu consisting solely of heritage potatoes (naturally) plus sweet and savoury dips, including baba ganoush, katsu curry and salted caramel. A medium-sized box of crisps with three dips is reportedly going to cost £6.75.
It’s a bloody stupid idea, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Londoners will flock there in their thousands. That’s because, as a demographic, we are powerless to resist a luxury gimmick – and it has to stop. The situation is already way out of hand: that’s why you can buy £18 cocktails with bits of gold leaf floating in them, and why there’s a shop in Boxpark selling high-end adult rompers for £150.
Gratuitous poshness is everywhere in this city, but it’s especially prevalent on the restaurant scene. Foods that were traditionally the preserve of the hungry and down-at-heel have been reimagined into spendy concepts with Instagram in mind: burgers in brioche buns, hot dogs with champagne, artisanal wood-fired pizza with sourdough crusts rolled between the thighs of a virgin and sauce from a rare breed of heirloom tomato grown only on a single Italian mountain. Restaurateurs under pressure to widen their profit margins even further have brought the cheapest cuts of meat into fashion, dressing brisket and pork belly up as fancy fodder and selling it on at premium prices. (You thought brisket was posh? Nah, mate: you can get it for £7.50 a kilo at your local butcher. Shove it in the slow cooker for eight hours and job’s a good’un.)
Even chips, a food that’s literally a benchmark for cheapness, has been given a luxury makeover. Truffle and parmesan fries? That’ll be £7.50. What would David Dickinson think?
The craze for luxury twists on basic items has even filtered down on to the property market. As landlords try and push the rent up by any means possible, nowadays modestly-sized flats on grotty streets come fitted with hardwood floors and Smeg fridges.
I’m not saying we can’t have nice things, or that we should go back to the bad old days of canned meat and newspaper-stuffed mattresses. Some occasions demand a touch of luxury. But when half of us are struggling to pay the rent and there’s real poverty on all our doorsteps, there’s something dangerous and short-sighted about our generation’s lust for luxury.
The Australian columnist Bernard Salt wrote recently that the more we millennials spend on posh brunches, the less we can put towards a house deposit. I don’t fully agree: it’s going to take a whole lot of avocados to make up that shortfall. But when the chips are down, none of us has the cash to humour a ‘luxury’ crisp restaurant – not when Frazzles are still going for 40p a bag.