Obsessive 'Foodies' Ripe for Teasing but London's Restaurant Scene Is certainly Hopping

04/10/2013 17:05 BST | Updated 04/12/2013 10:12 GMT

A well-attended debate at the Soho Literary Festival in London last week raised the motion that so-called "Foodies" have taken all the fun out of eating in restaurants; that a gravy of gravitas had been poured over something that should be one of life's simple pleasures. Gourmet geekery is out of control we heard.

"Foodies" was coined by the journalist Paul Levy and, as with all words born of faddishness, is rather nebulous. While clearly irritating - like "fashionista" or "petrol head" - nevertheless the word "Foodie" does acknowledge the shift in most people's attitude towards food, cooking and restaurants.

It is now a cultural priority as well as a physical necessity. People have always name-dropped books they have read, films seen, places travelled, galleries visited and plays endured; to this we now add restaurants enjoyed, recipes cooked and chefs met.

Apart from the fact that any word with 'ies' tacked onto the end is wretched (drinkies, panties, hankies, hoodies) there is some truth to the motion. Jovial panelists Tom Parker-Bowles, Russell Norman and Matthew Fort were rightly swift to lambast the 'Foodie' despite being 'Foodies' themselves and earning a decent crust from being so.

Cutting through, the point (not made during the debate sadly) is that anybody who sanctimoniously drones on about any subject - particularly in a preachy and superior way - is dreary. Foodies are simply trainspotters with an appetite. Instagramming every morsel tried in a Latvian Pop-Up is deflating, as are sneering comments about chain restaurants.

Tease self-styled "Foodies" mercilessly but do not disparage the passion. There's nothing wrong with being learned and adventurous about food and restaurants and occasionally sharing your lasciviousness with others particularly at a time when London is in such culinary clover. Exciting times should be lapped up.

This month there are 23 significant new restaurant openings in the capital and the other day the voguish steak restaurant Hawksmoor sold its four restaurants for a reputed £35m to a Private Equity outfit. It was only founded seven years ago.

Some five years ago I was involved is setting up the London Restaurant Festival. (Memo to self: Should have set up Hawksmoor). Actually, the restaurant festival project was not really about making stacks of money as anyone who has ever got involved in a festival will vouch, they are notoriously tricky things to monetize.

No, we felt that London deserved a restaurant festival. It has festivals for film, fashion, art and literature so why not one for our other great cultural cornerstone?

We arranged some pretty spanking things from the outset, notably bringing Pierre Koffmann out of retirement and working with Selfridges to create arguably London's most memorable Pop-Up restaurant with Pierre on the roof of the Selfridges. From memory he served something like 900 of his celebrated pig's trotters over ten days.

There were one-night-only ten-seater 'restaurants' created in the capsules of the London Eye with Mark Hix, Angela Hartnett and Richard Corrigan taking turns to cook in a field kitchen we constructed in the ticket office. It was a different course each revolution.

But something felt a bit off kilter. They were certainly fun occasions but they were jolly expensive to both create and therefore, for the very small numbers who could attend, very pricey. The London Eye evening was £1000 a head. Unseemly and slightly irrelevent really, particularly after the financial downturn.

Here we were in a city whose restaurant scene had gone from laughing stock to bouillabaisse - feted alongside Tokyo and New York as one of the world's greatest cities for eating out - and yet we had a festival that felt too niche, too riche and too bloody "Foodie".

So we changed.

Firstly, it suddenly struck me as odd to do these Pop-Up restaurants in London when you have an endless supply of fabulous permanent ones to discover.

Why would you try and make ice if you were already sitting on an iceberg? So, this year all the events take place inside restaurants and largely involve Restaurant-Hopping rather than Pop-Up Popping.

Hopefully people can then get the opportunity to visit as many restaurants as possible over the festival and it won't cost them a fortune.

Next year's motion at the Soho Literary Festival debate? "Has Restaurant-Hopping put the fun back into going to restaurants?"

We hope so.

The London Restaurant Festival takes place across the capital from October 3-21. For more information visit