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From The Guardian / Opinion


No wonder Jamie’s went bust: Brits have lost their appetite for samey chains


Stepping up into the quality restaurant sphere, no chain is going to thrive, as Jamie’s and Byron attempted to, by charging similar prices to high-quality local independents, in sophisticated provincial cities. Fundamentally, outside the capital, both patronised their target markets by attempting to trade on celebrity or residual London cool, in a way that made them look outdated.

As a nation, Britain is increasingly food literate. An explosion of street food and the spread of Instagram mean that hot dishes in London, New York or Copenhagen can cross over nationally in months. Where once Byron opening in Manchester might have been news (ridiculously, it once had three Manchester city-centre branches), now most cities have their own independents serving incredible burgers to a loyal local audience. From Dover to Dumfries, discerning foodies are enjoying the latest poké, tacos, bao, hoppers and plant-based brunch dishes, before the chain that might once have popularised them has put its initial funding together.
It is not just a timing issue. It is a generational shift. Surveys of millennials (and older food lovers, for that matter), suggest they crave new experiences, which, with their fake-indie, faux-individual interiors and sluggish menus, national chains are poor at delivering. Byron last year introduced more meat-free burgers as part of its relaunch, responding to a consumer trend which, it seems, they were the last people in Britain to notice. It is notable that, inspired by Altrincham Market House and others, a lot of money is currently pouring into “food halls”, communal canteens where diners eat from a variety of independent street food traders. So many food halls are in development, it might be the next British food concept to eat itself.

For now, though, it is connecting modern, food-savvy diners with what chains will never be able to provide: endless variety and idiosyncratic menus in interesting, unique buildings, cooked by driven individuals. At Manchester’s Mackie Mayor, Honest Crust serves one of the best wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas in Europe for £9 to £12. Or you could pay £12 to £16 for a main course at Jamie’s Italian. Is it any wonder it went bust?