Miner striker. Margaret Thatcher.
Berlin Wall. Maradona’s handball.
Kylie and Jason. Rampant inflation.
Postman Pat. Roland Rat.
Virgin Atlantic. Water that’s volcanic.
HP sauce. Inspector Morse.
Wall Street traders. Space Invaders.
Arcade dreams. Custard creams.
Moscow Olympics. Falklands conflict.
Indiana Jones. Very large phones.
Del Boy and Rodney. Deirdre on Corrie.
Marty McFly. Michael Fish.
Band Aid. Live Aid. Cherry-ade. Kwik Save.
HIV, MTV, TUC, SDP.
Dangermouse. Dogtanian. Dungeons & Dragons.
Baywatch beach. Papa Don’t Preach.
Big hair. Polo necks. BHS. VHS.
ET. BT. Mr T. Ford Capri.
Donkey Kong and Pac Man. Now it’s Captain Caveman!
Scooby Dooby Doo, Where are you?
Ahh, the ‘80s.. For me, the ‘80s were smack-bang in the middle of my childhood: memories of a decade through the eyes of a child. In came the latest school playground crazes – the strange twisty world of Rubik’s Magic, never-ending games of ‘horror cards’ Top Trumps, and running about wildly with coats on our heads enacting the latest scene from Battle of the Planets.
We were also the original computer generation. Way before X-Box and Playstation, even before Sega and Nintendo, was the ZX Spectrum. For hours on end, I’d joyously hammer away on its flimsy rubber-keyboard, often trying to get a figure who tenuously resembled Daley Thompson home across the finish-line in record time; only stopping until the ‘Z’ key actually fell off and need sticking down with sellotape.
We’d endlessly engage in playground debates on why the ZX Spectrum was superior to the Commodore 64, which of course it was, except maybe for the graphics, and the strange sounds it made during the seven minutes it took to load up a game, like a swarm of locusts trying to karaoke to Eye of the Tiger.
And of course there’s the food, the food of my childhood. The food I remember so fondly, despite all its flaws. Flaws which essentially boiled down to prioritising convenience over just about anything else.
So, in the form of a mega ‘80s mash-up, here’s a nostalgic ‘Top Trumps’ take on my childhood fave foods, including scores with quite arbitrary ranges just to confuse you..
Flavour factor – 8. Who knew you could put chips in the microwave and they’d come out all crispy! What surely-now-prohibited substance did they coat them with? However they did it, crispy those fries were, and a perfect late-night quick fix for my teenage years.
Scarred by experience factor – 16. From the genius pun to the dinky paper boxes they came in, I have nothing but happy memories of these chips. (But wouldn’t touch them now with a barge pole, just in case my nostalgia bubble bursts..)
‘But can one buy it at Waitrose?’ factor – £1.80 for four.
Flavour factor – 7. The confectionery of angels – a heavenly melange of E-numbers, sugar, and fat. Of course, it always had to be butterscotch..
Scarred by experience factor – 14. Couldn’t get enough of it at the time. But there’s no getting away from it – it looked like dog turd. Not that that deterred my 9 year-old self; if anything, it only enhanced the experience.
‘But can one buy it at Waitrose?’ factor – guess what, it’s only 50p! It’s literally like being back in the ‘80s! These days the packet proudly advertises it’s “made with real butter” – yes, truly shocking folks – but no need to fret: at only 1%, it’s way behind more wholesome ‘80s ingredients like modified starch, sodium phosphates, and propylene glycol.
Flavour factor – 9. Ah Vimto, the Northerner’s Ribena. Bit disingenuous of me to classify it as ‘80s, when it actually originated in the ‘08s as a bona fide medicine (- well, it was the era when arsenic and mercury were also health supplements). Jazzed up with SodaStream, this cordial kept dentists in business throughout the decade.
Scarred by experience factor – 52. My teeth may’ve been permanently scarred by this sugary carbonated cordial, but my hippocampus contains nothing but the sweetest of memories.
‘But can one buy it at Waitrose?’ factor – £1.39 a bottle. This one’s timeless.
Flavour factor – 4. Before sprinkling dehydrated fruit or vegetables all over the place became Heston-esque de rigeur, there was Smash. Yes, today’s epitome of cool was the supper side of choice back in the ‘80s.
Scarred by experience factor – 96. Never really liked the stuff. But do have fond memories of those Smash TV-ad aliens chortling away to themselves at the stupidity of Earthlings having the temerity to actually cook a real vegetable rather than reconstitute a dehydrated product. These days those aliens have other things to chortle over – like Brexit, Trump and climate change. Losers!
‘But can one buy it at Waitrose?’ factor – £1.25 a packet. But lags behind ‘avocado smash’ in the in-house supermarket search engine ( – yes, avo that’s been pre-smashed for you. Surely the food crime of our decade.. )
Monster Munch (pickled-onion flavour)
Flavour factor – 10. Now we’re talking. Never has the corner shop been graced by a savoury snack of such veritable potato perfection. It had everything, including a punchy flavour tasting like nothing else at the time. Or even of pickled onion. Always liked the unpredictability of whether you’ll draw out an intact 4-clawed specimen – and when you did, inner fist-pump ahoy!
Scarred by experience factor – 186. The snack may have filled me with sheer joy, but those Monster Munch monsters filled me with mortal terror – particularly the yellow one-eyed one. Well, they did feature in my first ever nightmare: circling our house with torches of fire whilst ominously chanting the Play Away theme tune. Analyse that!
‘But can one buy it at Waitrose?’ factor – £1.60 for 6. [I stare off wistfully into the distance, wondering how I’ve managed to go through life without realising they STILL exist. Those wasted years..]
Oh happy days. But if you really wanted to push the (Love-) boat out in the ‘80s – you know, like to woo the partner of your dreams – then there was one dish that couldn’t fail to impress: Walls Viennetta. Countless ‘80s marriage proposals were made over rippled layers of non-descript ice-cream sandwiched between plasticky sheets of frozen chocolate. It was the height of ‘80s sophistication in a box, and lay the foundations to the epoch-defining ambassadorial glitz of the ‘90s Ferrero Rocher.
And I mention all this because, earlier this year, I had my very first Viennetta since the ‘80s. Except when I say ‘Viennetta’, what I really mean is something quite different, even if it tilted a cheeky knowing nod to this retro food icon.
Chez Bruce is in fact iconic in its own way. Stretching back, if not to the ‘80s, at least back to the last century; it’s the sort of restaurant that top chefs classically say they go to on their night off. Far away from London’s on-trend foodie haunts – Soho, Shoreditch, Hackney, Brixton – Chez Bruce overlooks the green expanse of Wandsworth Common and its well-heeled environs.
We’re certainly not in small plates, no bookings, hipster-beard territory. Round here it’s old skool – crisp white tablecloths, magnolia walls, an island cheeseboard, sommelier service and immaculate hospitality.
But chef Matt Christmas sure knows how to rock when it comes to food. Just take his version of Viennetta – instead of the conventional black and white, here we have a Technicolor riot. Luminous layers of pink rhubarb alternate with white chocolate thins, all rolled up in dayglo-green pistachio crumb. Beside this psychedelic accordion dot little lurid sherbet-yellow spheres, which intersperse with squares of poached pink rhubarb – the overall effect like a game of Noughts & Crosses as played by Alice in Wonderland.
Taste-wise there’s sweet and sour, the white chocolate mellowing the sharp notes. The slivers of chocolate yield a satisfying bite, whilst the pistachios offer a delightful crunch – the combination beautifully balances the smooth texture of the rhubarb and the curd.
It’s racy and playful and imaginative and fun and even a bit sexy. Yes sexy – and this is Wandsworth! (This is my borough, so I’m allowed to say that. Otherwise I won’t hear a bad word against it..) The rest of the ever-changing menu is just as good, with the velvety hot chocolate pudding being the one ever-present thanks to a petition allegedly submitted to Parliament.
The ‘80s may not go down in the history books for its food. But it’s amazing what nostalgia can do. And if this decade somehow contributed to this wondrous dessert at Chez Bruce, then I just wonder what else can be done to the decade’s other iconic products. Crab-flavoured Angel Delight cronuts anyone?..
What are your food memories of the ‘80s? Or, if you’re lucky enough to be too young for all that, any others from childhood? Which do you look back with fondness, and which have totally scarred you for life?.. (And if you’re really feeling nostalgic for the ‘80s, I highly recommend Notting Hill’s Museum of Brands, where you can go back in time and view some actual ‘relics’ of the era..) And if you enjoyed this post, you may like another piece I’ve written full of childhood nostalgia: Winter has Come; Where There’s Light There’s Hoppers.
Back to the ’80s (at The Museum of Brands)