16 February 2024, 07:00 AM
  • Add adventure to comfort food classics to refresh menus and stimulate spend says Sally-Jayne Wright
Trend Watch: What is British Fusion food?

Many diners think twice before ordering unfamiliar foreign dishes. But you can win them over with the new British fusion trend. That was the conclusion of a 2024 survey conducted by CGA/NielsenIQ for foodservice wholesaler, Bidfood

What is British fusion food?

This is when chefs give well-recognised formats such as Sunday roasts, full English breakfasts and desserts, new twists of globally-inspired flair. How about roast chicken with Chinese stir-fried greens? Or Italian sausage rolls containing fennel seeds, sun-dried tomatoes and garlicky salsiccia Toscana? According to the survey, more than one in three respondents felt British fusion spans the divide between vibrant international cuisine and British comfort food; 68% of 2,003 UK respondents found the concept appealing. 

Any more examples?

Marks and Spencer’s Garlic Haddock Kievs are a spin on chicken kievs. The Bombay-inspired restaurant group, Dishoom, reinvented the bacon sarnie when they offered Ayrshire bacon with tomato chilli jam on a naan roll. Pieminister has also put one of our best loved takeaways, chicken tikka masala, into the cosy confines of a pie. 

What’s behind the British fusion trend? 

1. Brunch culture, where it’s okay to break the rules and serve hybrids.

2. International chefs adding their own touches to British staples.

3. Our appetite for world flavours coincides with a rise in sales of comfort food (because of the cost-of-living squeeze). Nearly a third of consumers (32%) surveyed for the Waitrose Food & Drink Report 2023-24 reported regularly eating such classics as shepherd’s pie and macaroni cheese. In 2023, Waitrose shoppers bought more rice puds, pies, sausages, ready-made roast potatoes and Yorkshires.

4. People are craving a variety of dining experiences (Open Table 2023 Q2 Diner Survey). 

Which cuisines should we borrow from to inject more excitement into our brunch menus?

Almost every country has an egg dish from huevos rancheros to shakshuka, Parsi scrambled eggs to frittata, Turkish eggs to Spanish tortilla. 

At Hatch, Manchester’s retail and street food courtyard, there are breakfast classics with twists inspired by Africa, Brazil, Texas, Australia and Mexico. They include an Ethiopian-inspired full English - Ethiopian scrambled eggs, lamb sausages, a fava bean medley, fried onions and tomatoes, hash browns and sourdough toast. 

That’s too bold for our customers. Can you suggest some gentler tweaks?

How about a bacon sarnie on focaccia or on a bagel? The restaurant website Square Meal has tipped bagels as the ‘square croissant of 2024’. Customers who’ve only ever tasted supermarket-bought will be in for a pleasant surprise if you can track down a good supplier.

At Tebay Services Farm Shop on the M6 northbound to Cumbria, in a new take on the British sandwich, they’re serving flatbreads with such home-grown fillings as pulled lamb shoulder (using lamb from the farm), rocket salad and tzatziki. 

How to make the most of the British fusion trend

1. Social media visibility is more important than ever (Open Table). Create anticipation for the arrival of your next hybrid dish. 

2. Showcase local produce with global touches. Younger customers who wouldn’t order game casserole will surely like bao buns stuffed with char siu (Chinese barbecue-style pork) venison and Asian slaw made from fresh farm veg.

3. If, as at Macknade Food Hall cafe in Faversham, the menu lists a potato and kimchi hash, reveal where in store customers can buy kimchi.

4. Know your customer. Chocolate pots with Thai chilli may appeal. Kimchi cheese croissant might be a step too far.

Should you involve staff in fusion food ideas?

Good thinking. Dezi Dalton, owner of the Rye Deli in East Sussex, was born in London of Indian heritage. She says, “Working with a diverse team we are able to draw on Mauritian, South Indian and Pakistani [influences] as well as being able to offer British food classics. Most popular is our Brindian range. We do a keema pie with spicy beef under a buttery, puff pastry topping. Other bestsellers are our Indian shepherd’s pie, chicken korma pasties, spicy chickpea turnovers, and rye Delhi burgers.” 

Now that spag bol is a British staple, Rye Deli is not afraid to jazz it up with a few cumin seeds or to put ground cardamom in a classic French tarte au citron. 

“Recently, to go with a harissa-spiced roast leg of lamb, we layered potatoes, Dauphinoise-style, with coriander, turmeric, chillies and roasted aubergines. It wasn’t Moroccan, French or Turkish, but it was delicious!”

Whose British fusion products should we try?

One of our favourite condiments is Pico Punjabi Ketchup which tastes like butter chicken sauce. It’s one of numerous spins on classic tomato ketchup. Hibiscus Lily’s Lemon and Ginger with Turmeric Marmalade is another Brindian product we love.

Will the trend last?

We think it will. As food writer, Bee Wilson, says in her book The Way We Eat Now, “The truly successful food trends are those that offer something new to excite our neophiliac (novelty-loving) side while also appeasing our cautious, neophobic (novelty-fearing) side with the familiar”.

Kateline Porritt, head of trends for Egg Soldiers, a food intelligence company for hospitality and retail, says, “Fusion options are really starting to emerge back into the limelight with considered inauthenticity a new cool in food.”