Omi’s John Lee knows that aburi sushi will eclipse tapas to become the next big trend.
A lot of restaurants are going under next year, and I blame reality TV.
I knew the bottom was about to drop out of the real estate market when home makeover shows like Sell This House and Property Ladder started running disclaimers at the beginning of each episode about six months ago, a variation on "Results may not be as financially rewarding as pictured. In fact, you'll more than likely lose your shirt."
Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares gives the wrong impression of the resto biz.
Shows like Restaurant Makeover and Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares make the hospitality business look like a bit of a lark, a quick route to celebrity and financial success. No wonder enrolment in George Brown's chef school is through the roof.
I doubt they teach these would-be Jamie Olivers and Rachael Rays that there's little money to be made in the restaurant industry even at the best of times. Six per cent profit margins are considered cause for breaking out the champers. And glamour? Tell that to the kids in the kitchen washing dishes for minimum wage.
It won't be the dirt-cheap fast food joints and bang-for-the-buck bistros that'll be going bust in the near future. It's the fat-cat steak houses and chi-chi cocktail lounges that will be the first to go belly up. About time, too; think of it as a necessary cull.
Peering into the culinary crystal ball, I see less meat and more veggies. When foie gras retails for $50 a pound and a 2-pound bag of carrots goes for 79 cents, it's not difficult to predict which will appeal to cash-strapped restaurateurs. Besides, they'll no doubt spin the fact that vegetables help you live longer and are good for the environment.
Pricey organics will get the heave-ho, too, especially anything sourced from faraway climes. Carbon footprint and all that. Consumers will continue, however, to support locally grown food, if only because it makes economic sense to help those in your own backyard first. Sorta like buying a hybrid manufactured in Oshawa instead of Osaka.
The death of the high-end restaurant also fits with a populist trend that gained momentum in 2008. Some of the hottest new beaneries, for example, don't take reservations. Who needs two formal seatings a night when you can have a packed house - witness the crowds at Pizzeria Libretto (see listings, page 29), the Black Hoof (928 Dundas West, at Gore Vale, 416-551-8854), Foxley (207 Ossington, at Dundas West, 416-534-8520) - from 6 pm till closing?
Local vegetables will be the rage in the coming year.
Prix fixe meal deals like Sidecar's (577 College, at Clinton, 416-536-7000) loss leader $22 Sunday-through-Wednesday three-course steak frites dinner and Debu's (552 Mount Pleasant, at Belsize, 416-927-9340) daily he-must-be-giving-the-food-away-for-free-at-these-prices $20 three-course lunch or brunch spreads will be the norm and not the exception as discerning diners demand value with their vittles.
Frugal foodies will adjust to the times and learn the merits of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Sometimes - at Ivory Thailand's (81 Church, at Adelaide, 416-363-0081) $12.95 weekday lunch spreads, Siddhartha Pure Vegetarian's (1411 Gerrard East, at Hiawatha, 416-466-9777) $9.99 Indo lunch and $11.99 dinner deals and Katsu's (572 Danforth, at Carlaw, 416-466-3388) $9.99 Monday-to-Thursday bargain sushi - quantity and quality are not mutually exclusive.
Watch for brunch to be bigger than ever, the one meal a week almost everyone can afford. Say goodbye to the $4 Starbucks coffee and the $10 bottle of designer mineral water and hello buck-a-shot espresso (Jet Fuel, 519 Parliament, at Winchester, 416-968-9982) and $2 bottles of carbonated-in-house water (Mildred's Temple Kitchen, 85 Hanna, at Liberty, 416-588-5695).
Foolish enough to consider opening a restaurant? Forget burritos! Go with something the public can't find anywhere else - inexpensive no-frills southern Italian comfort like lasagna and spaghetti 'n' meatballs, for instance.
Tired of tapas? Look for aburi sushi (that's nigiri topped with raw fish that's been partially seared via blowtorch) to be the next bandwagon to roll into town. Prescient Omi sushi-meister John Lee (243 Carlton, at Parliament, 416-920-8991) is already on board.
And if there's one expression you'll be hearing regularly in cutting-edge boîtes over the coming year, it's this: pass the turnip.