Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

New Nordic cuisine’s hyperlocal approach to food takes centre stage on the European food front, featuring local organic produce with global flavour fusions.wonderful copenhagen

The roads leading to many great food and drink trends often originate in Europe. After all, it’s home to legendary cuisines, like Spanish and Italian, one of the world’s oldest restaurants, Madrid’s Restaurante Botin, which opened in 1725, and the bulk of Michelin-starred restaurants. In short, eating well is a way of life.

“Europe has always been a trendsetter when it comes to what we’re eating,” says Mike Kostyo, vice-president of Menu Matters, a Chicago-based private consultancy specializing in analyzing food trends for industry professionals. “Even today, most restaurants around the world are organized using the French kitchen brigade system” – which originated from culinary legend Auguste Escoffier in the 19th century.

European cuisine is moving forward to keep up with modern tastes. “There’s a feeling it had stagnated a bit,” notes Kostyo. “French chefs, for example, were very protective of their cuisine and didn’t want it to change. Now, we’re seeing younger chefs who are being shaped by what’s happening worldwide and shaking things up by adopting global flavours, embracing new ideas and taking inspiration from street food trends.”

Asian influence

Open this photo in gallery:

Alejandro Saravia, head bartender at the new LuminAir hotel bar in the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station, plays with Asian flavours in his cocktail creations.

Europe’s hottest flavour trends are rooted in Asia. Chefs are incorporating ingredients, like five-spice powder, spicy XO sauce (popular in Cantonese cuisine), fermented gochujang, made with red chilies and yuzu, a fragrant tart citrus fruit mainly grown in Japan and Korea, into their dishes, while mixologists are using them in cocktails.

They’re featured front and centre at LuminAir, a newly opened hotel bar in the DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. Its food offerings, featuring shareable bites, leans heavily on Japan for inspiration. “Over the past few years, the bar industry has seen a fascinating surge in Japanese culture’s influence on flavours,” says LuminAir’s head chef Tinsun Tang. “We’re all about embracing fresh, innovative experiences. Asian flavours have surged in popularity because of their diverse, captivating and vibrant profile. They bring an entirely new spectrum of tastes to the table.”

Its signature oysters get a kick of seasoning with Tomasu, a Dutch-made soy sauce, while the karaage chicken glistens with a five-spice glaze. LuminAir’s top grade Wagyu dish is served with an oriental chimichurri sauce with rice-vinegar based sanbaizu, the aromatic herb shiso and yuzu.

We’re seeing younger chefs who are being shaped by what’s happening worldwide and shaking things up by adopting global flavours, embracing new ideas and taking inspiration from street food trends

Mike Kostyo, vice-president of Menu Matters

The drinks menu, themed around light and created by head bartender Alejandro Saravia, also plays with Asian flavours. “Take the Lightbulb cocktail, a vibrant combination of saffron liqueur and homemade jalapeno liquor. It accentuates the freshness of yuzu, Japan’s most recognized citrus fruit,” explains Saravia.

Neon, another standout from their latest lineup, draws inspiration from NeoTokyo aesthetics, featuring distinct Asian elements, like kaffir leaves infused with Midori, the Japanese muskmelon liqueur.

Open this photo in gallery:

The rustic style of a typical Catalan breakfast. 'Every day, people are becoming more interested in knowing where the products come from and who makes them, fishes them, cultivates them,' says Sergi de Meià, executive chef of Banquet Barcelona and president of Coma de Meià Foundation.Catalan Tourist Board

Getting to the heart of Spain

LuminAir’s food menu also reflects Europe’s adoption of elevated snacking, shareable plates, lighter meals and more foods with therapeutic health benefits. When it comes to grazing, Spain has been serving tapas, which originated as bar snacks, for centuries. And backed by recent research reinforcing the wellness-boosting properties of the Mediterranean diet, chefs outside of the region are being influenced by it. Their dishes celebrate vegetables, beans, olive oil and whole grains.

Sergi de Meià, executive chef of Banquet Barcelona, a restaurant specializing in Catalan cuisine, and president of Coma de Meià Foundation, which promotes regional cuisine, is happy to see the Mediterranean diet trending widely. “Exporting it seems fantastic to me,” he says. “It’s a very healthy diet but subject to lifestyle, culture and adapted to local products of each region.”

As a promoter of the local slow food movement, it was important for de Meià to create a menu that showcases regional producers in his Catalan comfort food. Dishes, such as endive fritters in romesco sauce, trout tartare and smoked eggplant with yogurt, walnuts and marinated mackerel, allow local ingredients to shine.

They also represent a growing trend among European restaurants – a more rustic style of cooking coupled with stories about the people behind ingredients.

“Every day, people are becoming more interested in knowing where the products come from and who makes them, fishes them, cultivates them,” he says. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. We live in a world where almost everything is uncertain. Ultimately, customers are looking for the truth and this only comes when you go straight to the heart of the product.”

He believes a meaningful relationship is created that transcends the plate or a visit to the restaurant. “You are part of the local economy, the defence of the rural world and a lifestyle.”

Open this photo in gallery:

In keeping with the sleek sophistication of Le Bar in the recently opened Hotel des Grand Voyageurs in Paris, classic cocktails like the Lemon Drop Martini and Long Island Iced Tea are leveled up with surprising notes and flavours.Kathryn Devine @DearEverest/Handout

Scandinavian cuisine: more than gravlax

Looking ahead, watch for New Nordic cuisine, which also takes a hyperlocal approach to food, to take centre stage. Eyes are on Scandinavia with Bodø, Norway, selected as one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2024, while Malmö, Sweden, will host the hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest in May and buzz increases over the impending closing of Noma, one of the most lauded restaurants in the world, at the end of the year. And the region’s foraging, roasting and fermentation techniques are spot on in what’s trending.

Copenhagen’s rise as a culinary destination has been nothing short of spectacular. Local chef Kamilla Seidler, director of Restaurant Lola and Hahnemanns Køkken, credits the 10-point New Nordic Manifesto of 2004, which outlined a philosophy around sustainability, quality and health, for jump-starting the movement.

“The food scene has grown explosively since its introduction,” she explains. “It helped attract a lot of talented people from all over the world. Many of them decided to stay in Copenhagen and Denmark. This has shown that a small city can have an excellent selection of world cuisine all within a few blocks.”

Seidler says it has made the Nordic and Danish cuisine “limitless,” and avoided what she describes as “grandmother” syndrome. “Most top restaurants 20 years ago were French or Italian and not Danish. With the reviving of the manifesto, we started believing in ourselves and the local produce but without having a lot of rules, which has led to great creativity.”

At her restaurant, Lola, she spotlights Danish organic produce mixed with spices, techniques and a playful interpretation of world cuisine. Her lunch menu includes the most traditional meal you can have in Denmark – Smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches) – but brings in global touches, like sprinkles of kaffir lime salt and pico de gallo.

On the cocktail front, blink and you could miss what’s hot. “In the cocktail space, trend will move through it in a year or two,” notes trend spotter Mike Kostyo. “In other categories, it takes a good six to eight years.”

European mixologists have been taking North American drink classics and putting their own spin on them with impressive results. Greek bartenders at The Clumsies in Athens concocted the aqua blue Aegean Negroni, inspired by the sea. Time Out magazine voted it the No. 1 mixed drink in the world.

At Le Bar in the recently opened Hotel des Grand Voyageurs in Paris, bar manager Sacha Zunic reinvented the Lemon Drop Martini, which originated in San Francisco in the 1970s. “The challenge in doing this is keeping the same aromatics that people love, whilst still creating something fresh and original,” he says. “You want the guest to recognize the classic that they know and love [but still] discover something completely new.”

Zunic’s tasty version – the bar’s best-selling cocktail – strikes a perfect balance between bitter, sweet and sourness with unexpected notes from banana liqueur. He also revamped the Long Island Iced Tea by dialling back the booziness while amping up the flavour with bitters and Chinotto, an orange-infused carbonated soft drink. And in keeping with current trends toward no and low booze, he offers mocktail swaps for these classics.

What will you find in your glass and on your plate in the days and months ahead? If European food trends are any indication, it will be delicious.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe