Food Innovation Safari:
Bolo Bao, Blooming Onions, and Trivet's Tourtière

In our latest look at chef creativity on social media, we discuss broader Christmas dinner traditions, spotlight the power of flavour on the simplest of dishes, and highlight possibilities with pineapple buns
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Despite facing a raft of challenges this Christmas, from rising energy costs to chronic staff shortages, the UK restaurant industry’s unwavering creativity continues to be brilliantly showcased across social media, with chefs across the country working hard to develop innovative dishes behind the scenes.

In our final Food Innovation Safari of the year, we spotlight innovators from both north and south London, with burgers, pies and creative plant-based all on the menu.

Christmas Tourtières
Trivet, London
Christmas food traditions go well beyond pigs in blankets and Brussels sprouts, as Trivet’s Jonny Lake will tell you. Starting this December, the Michelin-starred chef has once again started offering high-end riffs on the French-Canadian seasonal staple, tourtière.

The tourtière, a savoury meat pie traditionally made from minced pork, veal or beef, is a centrepiece dish of the réveillon – a long, luxurious feast enjoyed on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in Belgium, France, Brazil, Romania, New Orleans (US) and a number of Canadian provinces, including Ontario where Lake was born and raised.

His tourtière, which comes with homemade corn relish, contains a mixture of pork and veal seasoned with cloves and cinnamon, and is available for collection at his restaurant in Southwark.

While festive réveillon menus also generally feature the likes of Dinde aux Marrons (turkey stuffed with chestnuts), a plethora of oysters, and bûche de noël (yule logs) as part of dessert; the dinner varies depending on region. In Provence, for example, the feast ends with les treize dessèrts – a 13-strong array of traditional dessert options representing Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles.
Trailblazer Takeaways:
  • Develop your own Christmas dish traditions
    Consider your family origins, or even upbringing, when creating festive dish options. With his tourtière – a dish he undoubtedly grew up with – Lake stands out from the crowd this Christmas, offering UK diners a glimpse into other festive food traditions.
  • Broaden your Christmas menu horizons
    While remaining respectful of culture and tradition, explore alt-Christmas dinner options from around the world for luxurious centrepieces, bold appetizers and showstopping desserts, such as Provence’s réveillon eye-catching end note, les treize dessèrts.
  • At-home Christmas options
    Lake's tourtière also opens up a new collection-only revenue stream for the season: a shrewd move considering the UK's ongoing struggles with the cost of living crisis. Follow suit next year with an at-home centrepiece option to take the pressure off the consumer.
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Blooming Onions
Supa Ya Ramen, Peckham
Next up is a flavour-bomb of a small plate from cult Japanese restaurant, Supa Ya Ramen. Developed by the team in October for its Peckham outpost, the Blooming Onion has earned rave reviews since launching, with the deep-fried vegan number slathered in miso mustard, Kewpie mayo and pear hot sauce, and topped with fried garlic and shichimi togarashi.

While it's certainly not ticking any healthy eating boxes, Supa Ya Ramen’s new option is a great example of how a simple plant-based dish, when driven by innovative flavour combinations, can seriously stand up on a menu.

Here, it's a rich blend of salty, sweet and spicy, with the homemade pear hot sauce and togarasi (a Japanese, umami-inducing spice mixture, which includes chilli flakes, seaweed and sesame seeds) really taking this humble onion to new heights.
Trailblazer Takeaways:
  • Simply plant-based (can be far from simple)
    As vegan-friendly horizons broaden, and with the appeal of meat alternatives dwindling, focus on real plant-based ingredients with workable textural attributes, harnessing bold flavour combinations to spotlight elevated simplicity.
  • All about Asian
    Without trying to sound like a stuck record, explore the vast reaches of the Asian spice cabinet for flavour inspiration, with global taste experiences ever-higher on the consumer agenda.
  • GP superstars
    Supa Ya Ramen's Blooming Onion small plate is priced at £8 each. With white onions priced at roughly £1 - £3/kg, and seasoning/sauces rarely making a serious dent; the restaurant is making serious profit per dish. Another good reason to look at simple plant-based ingredients for new opportunities for innovation.

The Sichuan Burger
Mr Ji's, Camden
Returning to the East Asian/European fusion restaurant's lunch menu with a bang in late-November, Mr Ji's Sichuan Burger is a “seriously messy" double-fried chicken thigh housed in a pineapple bun with lip-numbing Sichuan chilli oil and cucumber salad.

What caught our eye here is the use of a pineapple bun, or bolo bao – the traditional Hong Kong bread we mentioned in our breakdown of
Hong Kong-style French toast.

Popular at breakfast, as part of afternoon tea, or as an all-day sweet treat, pineapple buns are named after its characteristic crunchy topping, which resembles the texture of a pineapple.

The milk bread-based buns are fluffy and soft, boasting a buttery flavour, which sounds fairly ideal for housing a chicken burger – especially if you're a modern Asian restaurant with a reputation for generally thinking outside the box.
Trailblazer Takeaways:
  • Bolo and beyond
    While potato buns will take some beating as the dirty beef burger bun of choice, a buttery pineapple bun seems a great choice for fried chicken sandwiches, its slight sweetness complimenting nicely.
  • Pineapple for dessert?
    While we’re on the subject, how about an ice cream sandwich with pineapple buns instead of biscuits, cookies or wafers? Food for thought.
  • Exclusively luncheon
    Priced at £15 with a side, the lunch-only Sichuan Burger represents decent value for fans of their Taiwanese fried chicken roots when based in Soho. Consider a little exclusivity with relaunched items, even if only for launch. The concept is driving the integration of NFTs in foodservice.
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