According to research from the “restaurant discovery” app Zomato one in ten new restaurants opened in London since April is a single-item restaurant. This trend (and the frustrating no-reservations policy) originated in New York and if the queues are anything to go by it’s going down well here too.
With the arrival of restaurants like Come Fry With Me, Mussel Men, Balls & Company and Egg Break to name a few it’s easy to see that there’s a market for these niche restaurants. But does all the excitement mean that the trend is here to stay?
One advantage of these super-niche restaurants is that customers don’t have to face indecision or food envy and they do say that less is more. Without an extensive menu the dreaded choice is already made for us and you would think that a narrower focus makes for a better executed dish, but as Jay Rayner pointed out in his review of Ooze, “if you’re a specialist restaurant, it’s crucial that you take your one main dish pretty seriously”.
If you’re only going to do one thing you need to do it really really well. There are no excuses and nothing to hide behind so if you’re going to go down the super-niche and focused route you need to be pretty great at what you do. Surprisingly this is not always the case and some restaurants are unable to sustain the custom such as Fulham Road’s Fire and Feathers, coincidentally has now now swapped one single-dish for another from chicken to steak with newcomer Orange Buffalo.
When single-item restaurants started taking over New York two years ago Billy Lyons wrote an interesting article shunning the way this generation of chefs is “forgoing the traditional stylings of success, opting for Instagram and Twitter fame, and leaving fine dining for fast casual”. A 2013 article by Luke Nicholls for Big Hospitality highlighted some further issues that the rise of single-item restaurant causes for the industry observing that “single and dual-item restaurants are changing the chef’s skill set enormously and not necessarily in a good way since the ability to cook a great burger or cook eggs 10 ways does not automatically entail that someone has the grounding or traditional skill set”.
We must ask the question that is there a finite amount of times we are happy without a wider choice? This notion was muted by Rayner in his recent review of Piquet: “In a London overrun by concepts and formulas, by places offering small plates and sharing plates and things served on slates or by the 100g or by the bushel and peck, a place like this is quite simply a relief. It has starters, main courses and desserts. It has food cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing but is more interested in serving you lunch than in winning a place in some gastronomic hall of fame”.
Is the opening of Piquet the turning point for the single-dish restaurant to lose favour with London diners? Zomato’s findings also stated that one in ten new restaurants opened in London since April is a single-item restaurant is actually “double the number in the same period last year” so perhaps we have now reached saturation? New openings on the horizon include single-dish restaurants Shuang Shuang (hot-pots), Le Bab (kebabs) and Strut and Cluck (turkey) but equally we have Bellanger, Oliver Maki and The Lighterman. Possibly another sign that we are now edging towards a return to our previous preference of more actually being more?