Over the past few years we have seen a huge increase in the number of raw dishes on menus here in the UK. From tartars to cerviches it would seem that British sensibilities when it comes to food have changed somewhat as it wasn’t all that long ago when noses would have been turned up at the idea of eating uncooked beef or fish.
More common on our tables were grey, rubbery steaks and sad, dull vegetables that had been boiled to death. No wonder our food had such a bad reputation.
More recently, though, the UK has started to push forward and things that were once seen as highly bizarre are now commonplace. Nowhere is this more prominent than with raw food. A few decades ago only the most adventurous diner would eat raw scallops, langoustine or lamb but with the rise in popularity of sushi, raw food started to gain popularity not only for its clean taste but its healthy nature too.
Recent trends for Peruvian food and more specifically cerviche has pushed raw firmly into the ‘trendy’ box. Classic carpaccios and tartars have surged in popularity and are now being mixed with exciting new flavours and ingredients to meet with customers’ increasingly adventurous demands.
But how do restaurants that have long been established keep up? With raw bars popping up everywhere from taverns and pubs (Newman Street Tavern being a great example) to grill houses many have decided to combine their traditional flavours and recipes with new techniques to create dishes that appeal not only to their regulars but to new customers keen to try something different.
Christopher’s in Covent Garden is one such place. Well known for its traditional American grill menu, with surf ‘n turf lobster and steak being one of its classic dishes, it has also had a classic carpaccio on its menu since it started in 1991. Now, though, they have decided to expand their offering and have added a raw bar to their newly redeveloped premises. Spear’s spoke to Christopher’s head chef, Francis, about their new venture.
‘There’s definitely been an increase in the demand for all things raw. People are aware of the high quality of fresh ingredients available to chefs and can now be confident that raw fish and meat are prepared in the safest way possible in top restaurants. London has definitely seen an increase in the diner who is health conscious, more experimental and wants to discover new flavours and cuisines.
‘At Christopher’s, certain dishes of ours have been on the menu for a very long time and have always been very popular, such as the salmon carpaccio with avocado pearls. But we’ve definitely seen an increase in the popularity of Japanese cuisine (sushi/sashimi) which in turn led to many restaurants – including ours – experimenting with their own cuisine’s flavours on raw meats and fish.’
The Raw Bar at Christopher’s reflects a real blend of North and South American flavours showing how Francis has taken the raw trend and mixed it with the original DNA of the Christopher’s brand to come up with something new and exciting for their diners. Their offerings include a scallop ceviche served with a dressing of amarillo chilli, lime, yellow zucchini and coconut water and a salmon carpaccio marinated in a chipotle chilli, tequila and key lime dressing.
But of course, raw isn’t just fashionable, it is also a lighter option. I’m not talking about strict raw foodism here – the kind that requires food to be cooked at a temperature no higher than 40 degrees so it retains its nutrients and enzymes (yes, there are sub-varieties that include those who go under the joyful banner of fruitarians and sproutarians) but rather a sensible approach that recognizes the increased nutrients of raw vegetables and the lovely, lean nature of raw fish and meat.
At a place such as Christopher’s their raw bar menu offers something a little lighter for their diners, ensuring that all tastes are catered for.