However, before you call in those style-skips Ikea has rumbling around the land, here are a few things Eat Soup neglected to mention. The proponent of what it calls "retro-cuisine" is none other than Alan Crompton-Batt, who must be pleased at being fashioned as a "restaurant guru". In plainer English this means public relations agent. This is the same Alan Crompton- Batt who five years ago was telling reporters that no self-respecting restaurant, even a Chinese one, could do without a cappuccino machine.
As for "retro cuisine", he says: "Nico Ladenis does tournedos Rossini, Marco Pierre White has done chicken Kiev and yesterday I enjoyed prawn cocktail at the Halcyon." It is not mentioned that tournedos Rossini never left Michelin-league menus or, more pointedly, that Mr Crompton-Batt's clients have included Nico and the Halcyon. Nor does it tread upon the delicate territory of this particular guru's reputation. The quality of Mr Crompton-Batt's counsel to less celebrated establishments in the late Eighties and early Nineties earned him the rare distinction of becoming the subject of an expose on Face the Facts.
Yet it should be admitted that retro-cuisine is here, if not exactly new. In more civilised countries it is known as tradition. Imagine, if you will, the Chinese rediscovering the egg noodle or the people of Marseilles opening their morning paper to read "bouillabaisse is back". Would the rich industrialists of Turin ever need to be told "risotto has returned"? Paella will never need reviving in Spain. Fondue never went out in Switzerland, Germany and Alsace, where it marries the best of the local cheese and wine into a dish that suits the climate. Presumably, in spite of gimmicks, at least one Briton had egg on toast today.
It is no good blaming the British proclivity for food fads on the States. Yes, the US has its trends. A good example of this is a brave joke among New York's gays in the late Eighties that Aids was spread by quiche and track lighting. Yet that country would not, for example, need magazine articles to rediscover its passion for the hamburger, while here in Blighty, only three years ago, the restaurant industry was abuzz with the return of sturdy English classics, from toad in the hole to bangers and mash. Half pints of ale briefly supplanted shots of flavoured vodka in West End bars. Fashion is so strongly twinned with appetite in London that a newcomer could be forgiven for thinking the fishcake was invented at Le Caprice.
"The notion that certain foods, certain dishes should come in and out of fashion is abhorrent," says Lindsey Bareham. She and Simon Hopkinson co-wrote the award-winning cookery book Roast Chicken and Other Stories, whose title alone speaks for the book's rather European sense of timelessness to good food. However, their new project may be mistaken for "retro-cuisine". They are fast at work on The Prawn Cocktain Years, celebrating classic dishes from the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. "It's not `retro'," says Hopkinson. "It's about food that Lindsey and I grew up with and love eating." You will not find Hopkinson jeering at Marie Rose sauce, merely concluding it's probably better made with ketchup than fresh tomatoes.
It would merit leaving food fads to the gurus if they didn't have such ghastly repercussions. British farmers are three times more likely to kill themselves than the average citizen. Look at what is expected of them and it is no wonder. We want one thing one minute and another thing the next. Pity the farmer who switched to beef in 1993 when it was the height of chic to eat oxtail as prepared by Gary Rhodes. Three years later this skittish country equates it with BSE stew. We stubbornly ignore that only consistency brings care. It is hard to imagine the French allowing boeuf bourguignon to become synonymous with a death sentence, or abandoning Roquefort because Richard Lacey was on the radio.
Fads may be disastrous for British farmers but supermarkets don't care. They don't have to. Their purchasers can pick up one supplier and drop another every time some pundit or another informs us that sun-dried tomatoes are out, olive oil is out, butter is in, saffron is in, no-salt bread is out and in at the same time and we no longer care about free range chickens. There is little danger of contradiction by sales statistics. Sainsbury's, in common with most major food retailers, no longer releases these. It is regarded as commercially sensitive information.
Let us examine what Sainsbury's will admit: first, surprise, surprise, that sales of cranberries more or less trebled last year before Christmas in connection with Delia Smith broadcasts. One cannot help but wonder what producer, geared up to supply supermarkets, got dumped to make way for all those North American berries. Or if this year Delia will reinvent Cumberland sauce.
Before Delia's twin alliance with the BBC and Sainsbury's invented the food fad from hell, trends still left their marks. Fancy food in the Seventies was characterised by nouvelle cuisine and raspberry vinegar, during the Eighties the height of chic was a Thai takeaway. The upshot is that it is now easier to buy lemongrass in Middlesbrough than fresh chicken livers, an ambitious Cumbrian baker feels compelled to produce a sun-dried tomato loaf, the best organic miller in Gloucestershire produces a special ciabatta flour and Black Forest gateau is considered a really cool joke by the editors of Eat Soup.
Then again it is difficult to separate fads from notable improvements in the British kitchen. It would be churlish to complain olive oil now occupies equal shelf space with butter in British supermarkets, that pesto is now something of a staple and there is as much creme fraiche and fromage frais around as yoghurt and cream. This is no bad thing. Kept in proportion, imported ideas and ingredients can act as spice to a local culinary tradition.
Yet a country that equates coq au vin with flared trousers is in danger of being all spice, no content. The one trend doing brilliantly in Germany, America and Australia that we can't seem to get our head around is the move towards organic food and the celebration of local, seasonal produce. Nah, where's the fun in that? Pass the gammon and pineapple chunksReuse content