Thinking small


Thinking small

Thinking small

The variety of cuisines available in restaurants these days has turned formerly unheard of dishes into mainstream staples. Whether it's Brazilian, Mexican, Thai or Japanese, food from all over the world has found its way to British cities and restaurants.

The appetite for exotic and exciting food is stronger than ever: a report by found that the top Google ethnic food searches in 2016 leant towards Asian and Hispanic specialities with pho, empanadas, ramen, pastelitos and bibimbap amongst the most-searched-for terms. Finding something to capture the imagination of adventurous guests can be challenging.

To satisfy guests keen to sink their teeth into unfamiliar dishes and ingredients many restaurants are now thinking smaller, gaining their menu inspiration from regions, rather than entire countries.

For example, Italian food is one area which has become such a staple cuisine that many people barely even consider it an ethnic one anymore. Yet its success on the British highstreet is undiminished, as restaurants begin to look at specific regions of Italy in order to create menus that will help them stand out. Ostuni, a growing London brand, specialises in the food and wines of Puglia; Polpo has an award-winning Venetian menu; Pizza Union's Roman style pizza regularly makes lists of the capital's best; and local Bath business Yammo! has seen huge success with their take on Neapolitan street food. Although these restaurants represent the same country, they each have their own distinctive take on the cuisine they offer.

By offering a familiar cuisine with a regional slant, they are able to appeal to adventurous diners, as well as provide more recognisable fare to cater for those with more traditional tastes. It enables operators to offer something unique and individual, without alienating guests hesitant to step outside their comfort zones.

This trend may also be driven by the growing desire for authenticity in cooking. 98% of Millennials ranked 'eating local cuisine' as something that was very important when they travelled. Doing our own research, we discovered that "authentic" was one of the 5 most appealing food terms to diners under 35. Authenticity is something chain restaurants can find difficult to convey to their guests. Smaller, independent restaurants are able to draw much more easily on the culinary roots of their founder or chefs in order to develop a unique, regionally inspired menu, and it naturally draws diners to them.

Shoryu Ramen, for example, describes its traditional ramen dishes as "Hakata tonkotsu ramen from the Hakata district of Fukuoka city on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan". Their website reports that the recipe has been specially created by their executive chef who was born and raised in Hakata - a connection which highlights the authenticity of the menu and provides a unique selling point over other ramen restaurants. Larger chains are beginning to understand the value in showcasing their own origins and culinary identity- Carluccio's recently made a triumphant return to their Sicilian roots.

By building their menus on the food of localised regions, restaurants are able to stand out from the competition by providing specialist, authentic dishes that offer something unique to their guests.

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