Chicken shops, burgers and many new openings: The top food trends for 2021

Cultured meat, McPlant burgers and robot waiters may be getting closer, but there’s plenty of fine food heading our way in 2021

No one would have bet on food deliveries and meal kits topping the food trends for 2020, or imagined that we’d be doing so much washing up – and that’s dishes, not hand washing we’re talking about – but perhaps one of the biggest surprises this year was that so many new restaurants opened.

While there is less gastro babble than usual about what colour our food should be, whether we should be moving on from pea protein and quinoa, or if there’s some unpronounceable ingredient that we’ve missed, if the end of this year is anything to go by, there’s plenty of interesting eating ahead. So here you have it – the food trends for 2021.

A decent bird

Nando’s was history when Chimac burst onto the food scene with its addictive Korean fried chicken in 2019, and now there’s a whole flock of crispy birds coming home to roost. Yes, the chickens are Irish, but not all of them are free range.

You’ll find Cluck, Ian Usher’s shiny new yellow food truck, looking sunny side up on Walkinstown’s roundabout at weekends as it serves a KFC – Korean fried chicken – and a thoroughly decadent Mother Clucker, which is dripping in cheese.

Spreading the love for Nashville fried chicken and chicken skin fries are Peter Constant and his American fiancé, Ashley Wright, who opened Fire Byrd in Ranelagh, after moving back to Dublin from Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked in food on the festival circuit.

Taiwanese fried chicken has joined the Instagram friendly line-up at Kakilang on Bachelor’s Walk, a welcome savoury course before your mango cheese foam bubble tea and Japanese soufflé pancakes.

And for a limited time only, Happy Endings Street Food has a pop-up fried chicken joint in The Dorset Lounge, where you’ll get the “Cheezus” – Mission spice buttermilk fried chicken with gochujang cheese sauce.

Burger blowout

An unexpected breakout star, burgers are once again on point. People queued for hours during the spring lockdown for Rene Redzepi’s pop-up Noma burger in Copenhagen and now, with a slew of natural wines, it finds itself in a permanent home called POPL.

Gordon Ramsay is unleashing the flames on his own chain of Street Burger restaurants in London, with the predictably named Hell’s Kitchen burger on the menu, and is throwing wagyu and fresh black truffles at what surely must be called the Tone Deaf burger, an £80 luxury special for his Harrod’s outpost.

Gordon Ramsay: Launched Hell’s Kitchen burger. Photograph: Frazer Harrison/Getty
Gordon Ramsay: Launched Hell’s Kitchen burger. Photograph: Frazer Harrison/Getty

Closer to home, at the Dash Burger pop-up in Kevin Street, it’s all about smash burgers, the super simple LA-style burger that has a lattice of crispy bits around the edge after it has been smashed onto the grill to increase the surface area. They come in double patties, so they’re plenty thick.

Hush in Rathmines is doing sandwiches by day and burgers by night with its secret Hush sauce, with an impressive selection that extends to vegan options. A secret wine bar and tasting menu is planned.

Coming soon, well, as soon as he has repurposed a 36-seater bus, is Just Chubby’s, an American style food truck being rolled out by Barry Stephens of 147 Deli. It will be parked outside The Magic Carpet Pub in Foxrock, and judging by his Instagram, there’s going to be a ton of 147 Deli love going into his burgers and other dishes.

Smoke and fire

Baste, the spectacular barbecue pop-up at Harold’s Cross Bridge, was due to move on at the end of this year, but now, with an extension to stay till August, they will be doing monthly whole animal cooks and will be opening up the space a bit more for other food trucks. The plan is to move Baste to a pub in the long term. And in Derry, the pitmasters at Lo & Slo, who have been cooking street food during lockdown, will be hitting the roads when they launch their new food truck in 2021.

Mexican wave

777 will be taking things outdoors with 777 Afuera at the back of the George’s Street restaurant, transforming the former parking spaces into a new dining, drinking and socialising spot with cocktails served from the hatch of an Airstream trailer.

Pizza

All the homemade pizza has not dulled our love for this Italian staple, and people are beating a path to the long awaited Little Forest in Blackrock where Reggie White, who put Pi pizza on the map, is at the helm of the wood burning pizza oven, using a slow-fermented base to make five different types of pizza. It’s takeaway for now, with plans to add indoor dining in the new year with additional dishes on the menu.

Also, much loved for his pizza prowess is Giovanni “Joe” Oualadi, of Wood Fire Café on Blessington Street, who has just opened a second WFC on Poolbeg Street.

And in West Cork, Stewart Bowes, who started Curly Stu pizza, selling Neapolitan pizza from a converted horsebox, is back on the road, you’ll find him pitched at Coal Quay Saturday market.

Cookies are the new doughnuts

All of a sudden, the country is awash with thick, chocolatey cookies, giving us something truly beautiful to chew on, and we’re sure that there’s absolutely no correlation between them and the Covid stone, especially if they come as an ice-cream sandwich. If you’re a fan of New York’s Levain cookies, head to Batch Cookies for your fix, you can order online, batchcookies.ie; and you’ll find Cordon Bleu level cookies and a load of choice at The Cookie Lounge, thecookielounge.ie. And for the best vegan cookies, head to Tiller + Grain in Frederick Street South, and Dublin Barista School on Anne Street South.

Tiller + Grain, Dublin
Tiller + Grain, Dublin

McPlant

Yes, get ready for it. McDonald’s is creating its very own plant-based line, imaginatively called “McPlant” and they’ll be adding a plant-based “meat” patty which they’re developing with Beyond Meat, the Wall Street darling valued at over $8 billion.

Culture vulture

Cultured meat is a phrase that is pushing hard to get recognised, but the ‘culture’ in question has nothing to do with good breeding, it’s the Frankenstein lab grown stuff that starts life in a petri dish. Singapore is the first state to approve the sale of cultured meat, while SuperMeat, a startup company in Israel, is working on developing meal ready chicken.

Green grocers

Comestibles, green grocers, provisions … call them what you want, one of the best things to come out of lockdown was the proliferation of fine green grocers sprouting out of restaurants such as Forest Avenue, Host, Michael’s and Mamo. They may be temporary responses to our current situation, but more permanent green shoots have taken root in delis such as Toons Bridge in George’s Street, Margadh Food and Wine store in Howth, Salumi Grazing in Terenure, and Provider, the smart new green grocer in Harold’s Cross, which is becoming a bit of a culinary hot spot.

Margadh Food and Wine, Howth
Margadh Food and Wine, Howth

Food markets

While things seem to have stalled a bit on a food market in Smithfield, there’s quite a bit of action happening elsewhere. Google has announced exciting plans for Boland’s Mills, with talk of something similar to the English Market in Cork and Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. And with the Iveagh Market now back in the hands of the Guinness family, who have historically contributed so much to the Liberties, hopes are high that this building may once again become an important part of the community.

The drinks trolley is back

Oh, the things we’ve missed during lockdown! When British Airways and Quantas put their glasses, table ware and drinks trollies for sale online, the drinks trolleys were the first to be snapped up. And if you’re looking to up your cocktails game, you could join Ashley Hupp’s 2.7 million TikTok followers, who watch the @theparadise.bartender strut her stuff as she whips up cocktails.

Robot waiters

There’s always a robot story when it comes to the New Year, and this time it’s champagne pouring robots recruited to serve diners at the high-end M restaurant chain in London over the Christmas period. They’re not replacing staff, we’re assured, although there are some exceptions. In Tokyo, a robot bartender was employed to make drinks at a railway station pub after humans had failed miserably.

Wine and bottle shops

Consider this the off-licence reset. What we really want now are the new hipper bottle shops, and we saw all manner of bottle shops and wine bars emerge in 2020, with low intervention wines and naturally sparkling pet nats at the fore.

Knead Pizza & Bottle Shop has opened upstairs in the Cat & Cage on Drumcondra Road, which has had quite the makeover, and is now home to this new pizza spot with a grab and go bottle shop with some interesting wines.

Wine Upstairs at Forest Avenue in Sussex Terrace has an impressive array from wine importers Wine Mason, and around the corner is newly opened Neighbourhood Wine, run by wine importer Shane Murphy and Master of Wine, Mick O’Connell, with enough space in the bar to leave us all wondering if a wine bar may be in the offing in 2021.

Consider this the off-licence reset. What we really want now are the new hipper bottle shops. Photograph: iStock
Consider this the off-licence reset. What we really want now are the new hipper bottle shops. Photograph: iStock

Newly opened Winedown at Meltdown on Montague Street, is pretty much as it sounds – amazing cheese toasties during the day, mellowing into a wine bar at night, with a more extensive evening menu.

Outside Dublin, Ger O’Donoghue, who closed First Draft, has taken up permanent residence at This is It in Ennistymon; Éan in Galway, an offshoot of Loam, morphs from café to a wine bar by night, and, in Tramore, James Brooke is heading up the Cellar at The Beach House, which will work as a wine bar when they open for indoor dining again. Meanwhile in Cork, after nearly two years of repairs after a devastating fire, Beverley Matthew’s Latitude 51 has reopened, now with a Parisian style cave-a-manger approach, combining a bottle shop with organic and biodynamic wines with casual small plates in the evening.

Zero waste

We’ve all become more conscious about food packaging and sustainability, and leading the charge in our quest for zero waste are Small Changes Wholefoods in Drumcondra, and The Good Neighbour in Dundrum, which also has a pop-up in Terenure, where you can bring your own containers and buy by weight. And, the added bonus is, they’re both independent Irish companies.

Holiday food

Where will we be eating when we can travel again? If you’re jumping on a plane, consider heading to Greece which Lonely Planet has named as the best place for organic food; and if you’re keeping it local, the Burren Ecotourism Network tops Lonely Planet’s Best Tourism Project, which they described as “a global leader for sustainable tourism”.

Nannetti’s, on Dawson Street, is one of the most recent new restaurant openings in Dublin city centre, with more to come in 2021. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Nannetti’s, on Dawson Street, is one of the most recent new restaurant openings in Dublin city centre, with more to come in 2021. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

New openings

Quite a few new Dublin openings slipped in at the end of the year, including Nannetti’s, the Italian restaurant in Dawson Street from James Cirillo of Cirillo’s; Sprezzatura in Rathmines; Rotana City in Parnell Street; Southbank Café in Harold’s Cross; Brother Hubbard at Arnotts; The Orange Goat in Killester; Monck’s Green, an update to Woodstock, in Phibsborough; Yoi Ramen in Barrow Street, and Soup 2, a ramen and cocktail bar in Smithfield.

And a few more are coming our way in 2021. There’s talk that Clanbrassil House will launch Clanbrassil Hash in the New Year. Featuring their much-loved loaded hash brown chips, it will possibly be an outdoor venue. There are plans to open upstairs in Bread 41, which can only be a good thing. Watch out for Spatched, yet another chicken joint due to open in Dublin, and rumour has it that they’ll be using free range chickens from Ring’s Family Farm. Meanwhile, in Donegal, all eyes are on Ciaran Sweeney, the former chef at Forest and Marcy who is working at the Lemon Tree in Letterkenny and is planning to open his own place when he finds the right spot. We can’t wait!