Economists call the uptick in affordable luxuries during recessions the lipstick index. In the current cost-of-living crisis, the omnipresence of caviar on London’s most Instagrammable menus might be called the egg effect. Or, being less charitable, the hun trap.
If there is a hun HQ of London restaurants, it is Kensington’s Jacuzzi (94 Kensington High Street, W8, bigmammagroup.com) whose frothy name alone conjures up a fantasy of knocking back prosecco in a hot tub. There are disco balls in the loos, knickers in picture frames on the walls and, on the menu, a mozzarella and burrata pizza garnished with 10g of caviar (£34), best washed down with half a bottle of lambrusco.
If caviar-topped pizza sounds, ahem, a little fishy, Big Mamma UK’s executive chef Filippo La Gattuta says it is all part of Jacuzzi’s mission to provide affordable glamour.
“We want to make luxury ingredients accessible for every customer and to give them the best moment of their day,” he says. “So why not with caviar as well?”
Rather than the holy trinity of beluga, sevruga and oscietra caviar, Jacuzzi sells the eggs of white sturgeon from a producer near Venice. “I cannot say it is the best caviar in the world, but it is great quality for the price,” La Gattuta says. “Your first car cannot always be a Ferrari.”
So has a rare treat become an easy sell? Cut-price caviar is everywhere in London.
Cocktail bar Common Decency (28 Bow Street, WC2E, thenomadhotel.com) offers caviar on potato rosti with bonito cream for £15, while at Seabird (40 Blackfriars Road, SE1, seabirdlondon.com) atop The Hoxton hotel in Southwark, there is red prawn and sea bream ceviche with caviar for £22.
I’m as guilty to succumbing to cheap thrills as anyone else: I ordered the crab and caviar toastie (£28) at Seabird’s brunch purely to create an Insta thirst trap. Could I taste the streak of Exmoor Caviar thinly applied like black eyeliner between each slice of golden brioche?
Let’s just say that slathering my face in La Prairie Skin Caviar moisturiser would probably have mainlined as much fish roe into my system. The Insta post, though, looked as lovely as the 14th-floor view, so job done, hun.
“Caviar adds some luxury to the day,” says Exmoor’s operations director Harry Ferguson. “Plus there is a certain amount of showing off when you order a dish with a big dollop — or even a small dollop — of caviar. It’s something that people like to indulge in and take a picture of to make sure all their friends know that they are not quite as good as them.”
He’s not being entirely serious, and the sense of caviar as a sort of ironic, in-joke ingredient that signals one can appreciate the ridiculous side of life feels very hun.
Michelin-starred chef Adam Handling is known to cover KFC in caviar (hun knows no gender). MasterChef: The Professionals winner Alex Webb, meanwhile, likes to top Pringles with caviar; he insists on sour cream and chive flavour to recreate the taste sensation of a blini, which is the most hun food hack I have ever heard of.
But might we have reached peak caviar? Park Chinois (17 Berkeley Street, W1J, parkchinois.com) no longer offers its brunch, where 5g caviar bumps came in at £11; one wonders whether the glitzy Mayfair Chinese found it was attracting a rather different clientele to the one happy to fork out £210 for 50g of Kaviari Osciètre Gold to garnish the Peking duck pancakes.
Mayfair club-restaurant Miro, which opened 12 months ago in a flurry of caviar bumps and a £3,000 caviar chest illuminated with sparklers, closed quietly over the summer. How quickly #caviardreams vanish.
Perhaps the answer is found somewhere in the middle: restore caviar to its classic simple serve, but without the expense of old.
Bebé Bob (37 Golden Square, W1F, bebebob.com), a Soho offshoot of Bob Bob Ricard opening early next month, will sell Umai, a new caviar recently launched by the owners of chef favourite N25, served by the 20g (from £39) atop blinis whipped up table-side. Umai seems hun-ready: it’s half the price of N25, and comes in tins with pink lids.
“A common mistake is to have too much blini and too little caviar,” says Bob Bob’s owner Leonid Shutov. “I tend to break off a small piece of blini, add a layer of caviar that is twice as thick, spoon on a small dollop of crème fraiche and eat in one bite. That’s when the fireworks go off.” Who needs lipstick? Far better to end up with eggs on your face.