With Harry and Meghan’s big day a week away, we discover how noble nuptials influence food and wedding trends
The role royal weddings play in influencing food trends
You may well be familiar with the Kate Middleton effect – otherwise known as the Kate effect or the Duchess effect – a fashion phenomenon that sees sales of certain clothing soar after Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, steps out in them. Her daughter, 3-year-old princess Charlotte, wields the same power when it comes to toddler outfits, and in the build-up to next week’s royal wedding, Prince Harry’s bride-to-be Meghan Markle has been creating similar sartorial waves.
It’s not just in the world of fashion that the choices made by the British royals influence the wider public though – it happens with food too.
Creating signature dishes for royalty
When Prince William reintroduced the Victorian tradition of the groom’s cake at his wedding in 2011, he did so with a chocolate fridge cake, a no-bake delight he apparently enjoyed as a young boy when having afternoon tea with his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. As a result of William’s endorsement, the Rich Tea biscuit – never the most popular treat in the tin – garnered a whole host of new fans and a slew of recipes appeared online and in cookery books and magazines alike.
William’s younger brother’s nuptials on May 19 are already sparking similar food trends. As excited royalists plan garden parties galore, the website Pinterest has reported that quintessentially British recipes are trending like never before, with cucumber sandwiches being the most popular item of all.
While the humble sandwich might seem like a far-fetched choice for the royal menu itself, it’s worth noting that when Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005, rather than a formal sit-down meal, guests were treated to a canapé-style spread with delights such as mini egg and cress sandwiches, as well as bite-sized Cornish pasties and dainty scones with jam.
This marked a significant departure from the pomp and ceremony that had surrounded the meal served at the Prince’s first wedding to Princess Diana back in 1981, which featured 27 wedding cakes (the crowning glory being an ornately decorated five-tier fruit cake), along with brill in lobster sauce and a dish that went by the name of Princess of Wales chicken (a not altogether appetising-sounding chicken stuffed with fine lamb mousse).
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The tradition for royal caterers being called upon to create signature dishes named in honour of the bride and groom is a long-held one. In 1923, when Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the late Queen Mother) married Prince Albert, Duke of York (who later became King George VI), the extravagant nine-course feast began with consommé à la Windsor (a clear soup flavoured with calves feet and garnished with quenelles of chicken and chopped boiled egg) and also included Côtelettes d’agneau Prince Albert (Prince Albert lamb cutlets).
Queen Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip took place in November 1947 when rationing was still in place in post-war Britain, and the five-course luncheon was conceived with austerity in mind. Bombe glacée Princesse Elizabeth, an ice-cream dish showcasing out-of-season strawberries was touted as being the only overt concession to luxury, although many would argue that their famous, almost 3-metre tall, hand-painted wedding cake depicting scenes from the couple’s life, also veered into the realm of the grandiose.
What's going to be on the wedding menu?
There has already been plenty of speculation that the latest royal wedding menu will follow suit and include a dish offering a nod to Markle’s American heritage, and yet from what we’ve seen so far, the couple don’t seem to be sticklers for convention.
They do have a keen interest in food though, and are likely to have been heavily involved in the planning process – the proposal famously took place while they were cooking a roast chicken after all and the tagline for Markle’s now discontinued blog, The Tig, describes the site as “a hub for the discerning palate – those with a hunger for food, travel, fashion & beauty”.
This increased attention to wedding menu detail is by no means limited to Britain’s royal family. Thanks to the food-obsessed landscape we now live in, populated as it is by hip ingredients, in vogue dishes and the compulsion to Instagram every meal, the wedding breakfast is no longer just about satiating hunger, it’s about making a statement.
Mansour Memarian, the Director of Culinary and F&B at the Palazzo Versace Dubai, says that whether the luxury hotel is hosting an intimate blessing for a select number of attendees or a celebration for upwards of 600 guests, there has been a marked shift in how involved customers want to be in deciding upon the dishes that will be served.
“Before we create the wedding menu, we meet the couple and their planners several times for food tasting sessions,” he explains. “We tailor the menus to fit our guests’ preferences and spend time discussing and trying things out until we have created the perfect plate for their big day,” he says.
Memarian also notes that, particularly at destination weddings, which frequently last several days, matching the menu to the experience has become ever more popular. Couples tend to request street food-style eats at the more relaxed early meals, with the dishes and execution becoming increasingly fine dining-esque as time goes on, culminating in a lavish plated wedding breakfast.
The details of the wedding cake
Although the specific components of the royal wedding feast are likely to remain as closely guarded as the secret to a perfect cucumber sandwich (clue: thinly slicing the cucumber and sprinkling it with a little salt to draw out the moisture is a game-changer), we do know about the cake.
Created by American-born pastry chef and food stylist Claire Ptak who lives and works in London, the lemon elderflower showstopper will, according to a Tweet sent out by Kensington Palace, “incorporate the bright flavours of spring” and be covered with buttercream and decorated with fresh flowers.
Yasmine Idriss Tannir, a Dubai-based graphic designer with a keen interest in cake design (check out @petites_choses to view her masterpieces), favours a similarly pared-back, contemporary aesthetic to Ptake’s and also works hard to ensure that each of her creations is unique. “For me, it’s mainly about the colour scheme and the spirit of the wedding. I work on my cakes as design projects: it always starts with brainstorming, lots of sketching and sometimes mood boards, and I pay a huge amount of attention to the style of the bride and groom,” she explains.
Idriss Tannir says that because of the mix of nationalities in the UAE, specific trends are difficult to identify, but traditionally elaborate fondant cakes with several tiers and detailed sugar work have always proved popular. In what could be good news for marzipan-haters and fruit cake avoiders, she predicts that things could be about to change. “We’ve reached a time where life has become so fast paced that people are finding solace and comfort in going back to basics and in appreciating the simpler things in life, and this is reflected in their choice of a natural looking cake. With Prince Harry and Ms Markles wedding cake being in a similar style to this, the craze promises to stay around for a while.
Reform Social & Grill The Lakes, Dubai
Guests at Reform’s royal wedding party might just have access to something attendees at the actual event don’t: the chance to view the FA Cup Final once the vows have been exchanged. Before that though you can tuck into a three course family-friendly brunch while watching the day unfold. There will also be prizes awarded for the best hat and a chance to sample Reform’s version of that all-important lemon and elderflower cake. For more got to www.reformsocialgrill.ae
Bread Street Kitchen & Bar at Atlantis, The Palm
Put your glad rags on, secure that statement fascinator and head to Bread Street Kitchen for a properly patriotic day on the 19th. Once there you can feast on British-themed food (think mini roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, fish and chips and Eton Mess) while multiple television screens show the build-up to the wedding and the ceremony itself. For more go to www.atlantisthepalm.com/restaurants/bread-street-kitchen
The Scene by Simon Rimmer, Pier 7, Dubai
With an abundance of red, white and blue bunting and flags, face painting for the kids, a quintessentially British afternoon tea tower, live screening of the wedding and food and drinks deals a plenty (including a Dh125 roast dinner and two starters and a beef Wellington to share for Dh249 per couple), The Scene promises to bring a party atmosphere to the royal wedding weekend. For more go to www.thescenedubai.com