Why restau­rants are chang­ing

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - FRONT PAGE - EWAN SAR­GENT

Marl­bor­ough restau­ra­teur Liz But­ti­more re­calls that when she first started managing restau­rants she could fill her book­ings for a year.

A typ­i­cal diner would have a set book­ing for a set time – say 6.30pm ev­ery Fri­day.

The restau­rant sailed on through the sea­sons like a stately cruise ship on auto pi­lot.

If the diner was away, he would let the restau­rant know it could have its table back for some­one else.

‘‘We also pro­moted the use of im­ported prod­ucts be­cause we thought it was fancy and ex­cit­ing,’’ she says.

This glimpse at the not-tood­is­tant past is re­veal­ing for how much things have changed.

But­ti­more’s de­gus­ta­tion-only Ar­bour in ru­ral Blen­heim is a per­fect ex­am­ple of a mod­ern ap­proach to restau­rants. It is ca­sual, so­phis­ti­cated, asks din­ers to trust the chef’s choices, and cooks pro­duce from right on its doorstep.

That’s lit­er­ally. Some sup­pli­ers do drop off their veges on the restau­rant’s doorstep.

But­ti­more says change is ac­cel­er­at­ing.

‘‘We have been head­ing this way for years, but right now it feels like it is mov­ing at a re­ally fast pace,’’ she says.

Trendy New Zealand restau­rants now are in­creas­ingly health-fo­cused, ca­sual meet­ing places.

Pop­ping up on the menus are more gluten-free, dairy-free and even FODMAP-free dishes.

We are get­ting more veg­e­tar­ian, ve­gan, lo­cal-first, plant­based, and whole­food dish op­tions.

While there will al­ways be a steak and snap­per fil­lets, trendy restau­rants will tell us what farm the steer came from or what sus­tain­able way the fish was hooked, be­cause that mat­ters to us now.

Prices are bet­ter value to qual­ity be­cause we dine out more of­ten and want to be able to af­ford to do so.

Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion CEO Marisa Bi­dois says din­ers are steer­ing the changes in restau­rants.

The as­so­ci­a­tion re­cently polled its mem­bers on com­ing trends and nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) picked de­mand for restau­rants and cafes to pro­vide lo­cally-sourced, sus­tain­able and plant-based cui­sine.

Nearly a half (44 per cent) men­tioned the im­por­tance of healthy dishes, in­clud­ing fresh pro­duce and that list men­tioned above of diet and al­lergy friendly op­tions.

Nearly a third picked an in­crease in ve­gan, veg­e­tar­ian and plant-based dishes.

Bi­dois says fo­cus­ing on healthy food is a global trend and no pass­ing fad. Restau­rants that want to sur­vive and thrive need to change to meet it.

In many ways it mim­ics how we are eat­ing in gen­eral.

Su­per­mar­kets like Count­down re­port that sales of health and well­ness foods are boom­ing.

We are filling trol­leys with fer­mented foods, gluten-free prod­ucts, or­ganic prod­ucts, re­duced sugar prod­ucts and what­ever the lat­est ‘‘su­per­foods’’ are.

We want more ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian prod­ucts and, ac­cord­ing to Roy Mor­gan Re­search, more than one in 10 Ki­wis say they are al­ways, or of­ten, veg­e­tar­ian.

An­other im­por­tant in­flu­ence is the rise of the Nordic-style eth­i­cal, sus­tain­able, sea­sonal, whole­food, lo­cal pro­duce, sub­move­ments.

It sounds com­pli­cated, but fly­ing in fresh foie gras and At­lantic hal­ibut steaks from Europe for a fancy main in Palmer­ston North would be about the op­po­site of what it stands for.

This is about be­liev­ing food is bet­ter for you and for the world if it’s fresh and from nearby. The boom­ing farm­ers mar­kets are an­other sign of this.

Cui­sine editor Kelli Brett says mid-range restau­rants are of­fer­ing a level of ex­cel­lence like never be­fore.

‘‘So for fine din­ing to sur­vive and be able to charge a fine din­ing price and pro­vide the level of ser­vice needed, I think it needs to work out how to pro­vide a dif­fer­ent type of ex­pe­ri­ence that will hook a younger cus­tomer, but still hold on to that valu­able, more ma­ture cus­tomer.

‘‘It’s un­fold­ing and evolv­ing. There will al­ways be peo­ple who want to dine in an ex­clu­sive space, I’m not sure how that space will look just yet.’’

One cou­ple who have just put their money be­hind fine din­ing are Sid and Chand Sahrawat, who are tak­ing over the French Cafe in Auck­land, which sits right at the top of the fine din­ing tree.

‘‘Ab­so­lutely there is a big mar­ket for fine din­ing,’’ Sid Sahrawat says.

‘‘This ca­su­al­i­sa­tion thing is ev­ery­where in the world. Ca­sual din­ing restau­rants are al­ways more af­ford­able. Fine din­ing is for when you want to cel­e­brate some­thing or want to spoil your­self or pam­per your­self.’’

Brown, who can re­mem­ber with hor­ror be­ing taught at culi­nary school how to make a curry us­ing a French roux, ba­nanas and sul­tanas, says the big changes have given New Zealand stun­ning food at the mo­ment.

‘‘I think peo­ple do know more, but I don’t think they know as much as they think they do. But with im­mi­gra­tion, we have got so much more di­ver­sity, so much more dif­fer­ent food.

But are we at peak won­der­ful food and din­ing out?

Brown laughs. ‘‘Re­mem­ber this con­ver­sa­tion in 10 or 15 years time and again you will go ‘whoa, OK it’s bet­ter than it was’.’’

Liz But­ti­more says restau­rants are chang­ing rapidly to fit din­ers chang­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. Liz But­ti­more

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