2016 was quite a year for me and SushiSushi. The highlight for me was probably my trip to Japan to sail on the nori farming boats in the Ariake Sea, just off the Southern Kyushu Island, which is a few hours drive from Fukuoka, to see nori being grown and harvested. The low light was the Brexit vote and all the uncertainty and volatility that has been brought to the food markets.
2016 was a big year in terms of travel for me. The best of all was my tour of Japan, where I travelled by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Southern Kyushu to Fukuoka to Hiroshima to Osaka to Kyoto and to Tokyo, sampling as many kinds of authentic foods along the way. Some of the best things I ate were fresh nori, which are plucked from the nori farms out in the Ariake Sea; hakata ramen in central Fukuoka; a real Wagyu Shabu Shabu restaurant, which was also in Fukuoka; a beautiful minimalist SushiYa (sushi restaurant) in Hiroshima; an under the railway arch yakitori izakaya in central Tokyo and finally, probably the most impressive was the intimate and traditional multi-course kaiseki meal in Kyoto.
Visiting Nori Seaweed Farms in The Ariake Sea, Japan
Also, in 2016 I managed to go to Shanghai and visit the famous Nori auctions and meet some friends down by the Bund. It may be a cliché but my favourite food I had there was good old fashioned crispy duck in pancakes! I also had some interesting Western Chinese food that had an Arabic flavour, which was intriguing.
Other trips this year saw me tasting fantastic seafood in Venice and trying pretty much every cuisine imaginable at the SIAL international food show in Paris. I hope to be able to see and try as many great things this year as I did in 2017.
Sushi Stu at The Bund, Shanghai
For sheer size and diversity, the trade show highlight was going to the SIAL in Paris. However, in terms of fun and meeting great people it had to be the Restaurant Show in London Olympia. We had a great stand in the food supplier section showcasing a few of our favourite products to restauranteurs and chefs who were visiting over the three days. The biggest hits were the nihon shokken range of sauces and dressings and the kuro range of British made gyoza. We made a load of new friends and contacts and we’ll hopefully be back exhibiting there next year.
Sushi Stu at The Restaurant Show 2016
This was a tough blow for us, and most other food suppliers too. The leave vote cast the GBP into disarray and sadly we saw food prices rise across the board. Hopefully in 2017 we can work towards returning those prices to a pre-Brexit position.
We have had the fortune to work on some fantastic new openings this year. A few highlights were the Izakaya in Liverpool, Koj by Andrew Kojima in Cheltenham and the Great British Menu Judge Michael O’Hare’s new venture ‘The Rabbit In the Moon’, which looks to be pushing modern Asian food to new places. I’m particularly excited to see what their Head Chef Luke Van Cockeril can develop this year. His first efforts are stunning to behold.
Razor Clam Udon from Rabbit In the Moon
That leads me nicely to where I see modest British food at the end of 2016 and going into 2017. I think we finally saw the fall of cuisine-based food in Britain. The brightest and best chefs have thrown off the shackles of sticking to one cuisine and instead are taking influences and ingredients on taste alone and creating some truly innovative dishes. I personally think this attitude better represents Britain today. We have been a country of multiple cuisine for years now (certainly all my life) and it’s about time we reconciled this with what I would call truly ‘modern British food’. I think this year’s great British menu showed this in action. Many of the ‘British’ dishes intact contained Japanese ingredients. My personal favourite was Michael Bremner's ‘A Message to the Lode Star’, a dish that moved Judge Daniel Clifford with its ideas and beauty. It's a mackerel based dish set into a wine bottle sliced in half, with a scroll placed in the neck. The mackerel was lightly cured and was the first of five stages. Second came a potato and caper salad topped mackerel. The third, a pickled vegetable topping. Fourth, a steamed clam delicately wrapped in a pancetta and dashi gel. The final part of the five portions was a cooked oyster, topped with an oyster emulsion.
Michael Bremner's “A Message to the Lode Star”
I think a growth in the development of modern British food is one to keep an eye on, and something I personally have a big interest in.
Other trends to look out for are the growth of veganism. January is being called Veganuary by some. We may see quite a few vegan menu restaurants open this year. I for one, welcome it. You have to be pretty clever with your menu design and cooking to get big flavours into food, but the best innovators can do it.
Street food has been a big trend over the last few years. It doesn't seem to be slowing as the appetite for booze culture seems to be waning and being replaced by late night street food events like Peddlers Market in Sheffield. Therefore, I predict an evolution of street food this year, rather than it tailing off and being replaced.
Izakaya, the Japanese pub trend, seems to be pushing outside of London, with openings of Izakaya in Glasgow and Liverpool. Keep an eye out for more of those in your town at some point this year.
All in all, I think 2016 was a great year with a few more challenges than normal sent to test us. I’ve got a good feeling about 2017. Together, let’s make it the best it can be.