If you have not yet heard of the Young Turks -- James Lowe (St Johns Bread and Wine; Fat Duck), Isaac McHale (The Ledbury; Tom Aikens), and Ben Greeno (Momofuko; Noma; Sat Bains) -- you have now. And if you do some news trawling, you will probably hear that they are London's next big dining scene thing.
I see your "flavour of next month", and I raise you a "They're going to rock British food to the next level". My bet is that they're going to do so by calling a few bluffs many of us London diners have until now put up with:
- A fabulous meal has to cost a fortune
- A chef needs a few secrets and be an asshole to get ahead
- Customers want what they want, when they want, and will never trust the chef to choose for them
It's early in the game for them still, so any skepticism out there is understandable. But having now tasted 2 of their collaborative events (my first being their opening Burger Monday act for Young and Foodish) and tried grub ala Greeno, I've decided that I'd rather be wrong betting on these lads than be wrong not betting on them.
My 2nd Young Turks evening was last week at The Loft Project run by Viajante chef Nuno Mendes. The supper club space to end all supper club spaces in Dalston hosts a rotation of up and coming chefs.
The boys were also supported in the kitchen by comrades looking for plating practice.
A rather softspoken but smiley Nicholas painstakingly sculpts us some canapes:
Gem lettuce, curd and anchovy. A mouthful of creamy uber savouriness, kept refreshing by its crispy green canvas.
Smoked cod's roe, oats and kohlrabi. You've heard of jumbo rolled oats, yes? These ones were rolled into cardboard-thick sheet crisps. The cod roe had been moussed, and the kohlrabi was evidently diced by elves.
And now, if you'll indulge me, a triptych tribute to fat. Middle white fat and cured lop. Home-cured by James Lowe, for... 3 months? 4 months? 14 months? Did I hear right? The number kept climbing. Some people have wine cellars. I'm starting to think he's got a fat cellar, with an array of lardy vintages.
Drink pairings for the evening (or at least the wines) were paired by Jade Koch of HG Wines. The evening opened with a delightful rhubarb prosecco fizz.
A luxuriant runny-yolked duck egg, with snails and ramson (aka wild garlic). I've loved eating snails since I was a kid but I'd never had them in an English cuisine setting until now. The French usually drown them in a very garlicky butter, so I thought using wild garlic here was a very clever and refined riff. And especially entertaining because the liquidised wild garlic looked like the snail's slime trail. What are little boys made of, eh.
Wine pairing: A 2010 Chateau de Roquefort "Petit Sale".
There is a lovely bit in a recent interview of James Lowe by Eating East where he says he got to a certain point of his career at St John Bread and Wine where nose-to-tail boss Fergus Henderson felt some of his dishes were getting "a bit racy" -- a prompt for James that it was time to strike out on his own and make a push for his own style.
I am convinced that the raw beef rib with oyster mousse and chickweed is one of those "racy" dishes.
I mean, bloody hell, raw beef and oysters? It already sounds like sex on a plate.
And then you taste it.
And then it's worth clarifying that by sex on a plate I mean the rough, messy kind, with a backstory full of exquisite tension, twists and turns, where the walk of shame the next morning a very heady cocktail of afterglow and a mild gnawing guilt and a half conscious smirk at the surreal-ness of it all.
The dish made me blush, is what I'm saying.
And now it might make James blush too.
I realise all conversations with James from now on may be a bit awkward. I'll risk it, as long as I get the message across that he needs to keep making this dish, at his future gigs and in his future eventually world famous restaurant. Because I reckon all the world could do with this endorphin rush. Possibly even the vegetarians and vegans. No? Oh all right. I respect your principles. More for me then.
Wine pairing: A 2008 Vignobles Guillaume Pinot Noir
Here's Isaac prepping some very beautiful beetroot, to be combined with goats milk granita and pickled elderberries.
The end result was subtle, beautiful and delicate, a wonderful yin to the raw beef and oyster's yang. Why can't vegetarian restaurants put forward more dishes like that, celebrating the vegetable, rather than forcing the vegetable into the mould of a meat substitute that will never meet the mark?
Wine pairing: A 2009 Domaine Gerard Metz "Eldelzwicker".
Next up, another dish that sounded great on paper and tasted even better in real life: Jersey Royal potatoes, with monks beard and crab.
The intense sweet-saltiness of the sea in the crab, the slightly crunchy seaweed and the bisque damn near knocked me off my chair. I'm not usually the biggest fan of potatoes, but here it was an integral part of... not a deconstructed, but rather, a yet-to-be-constructed chowder for the gods. It was lick-the-bowl-clean good. I've long loved seaweeds of different kinds in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, and absolutely loved the taste of same-day harvested seaweed in Zanzibar, so I'm really hoping the guys find more ways to incorporate fresh seaweed into future dishes.
Wine pairing: A 2010 Pierre Cros Minervois Blanc
The last dish before dessert was "Chicken, rye, hop shoots and green onions". Except for the roast chicken leg at Le Cafe Anglais, I never order the chicken dish in a Western restaurant, because it's almost always an unimaginative, horribly bland, over dry breast.
Even at home, even when we buy properly raised chickeny-tasting chickens from the farmers markets, I usually end up shredding and salting the breast meat to bulk up a brothy soup, rather than eat it on its own.
But tonight The Young Turks reclaimed chicken breast and put it on back on the high cuisine map. It was moist and had a beautiful flavour, served with a very unusual but oddly comforting rye porridge studded with carrots, mushrooms and other savoury bits.
There was debate about whether there were too many things going on with this dish. Mostly I think there was too much talking going on while I was trying to focus on making this dish last longer.
Wine pairing: A 2010 Domaine Boudau "Le Clos"
We couldn't quite identify the hop shoots in the dish, and most of us had never seen it before in its original form, so Isaac brought out their ziploc stash and we all had a good ol' inhale. It was spring on a string.
For dessert: chocolate malt ice-cream and cascara jelly. Cascara is the dried skin and pulp from the coffee berry, and tastes curiously like tea. Again, there was some debate about the appropriateness of pairing jelly and ice-cream. I've now been educated that it's a traditional dessert pairing from many British childhoods. *Shrug* I didn't grow up here, so it's lost on me I think. Personally I don't like mixing my ice-creams with much. Malt makes the short list. Jelly does not.
I forget the details of what went into the biscuits that went with coffee and tea, but I think it involved oats, orange and thyme?
I'll close out with a toast (of Imperial Brown Stout from my very own neighbourhood Kernel Brewery).
To the Young Turks and their bitchin kitchen team, thank you for an utterly fabulous night. It's a real delight to be part of this very early phase of your grand adventure. Yes I trust there is so much more to come, and that it will be grand and then some.
To Dan and Chris, thank you for taking such good care of us and I look forward to coming to one of your gigs soon.
It's always worth saying -- thanks to all of you for being so patient with me and my camera getting underfoot!
Finally to the many sparks in the room -- Momma McHale, Simon, Shanaz, Xiaohan, Frieda, Miguel, Jade of Bocca di Lupo and Chef Rachel of Spuntino, it was lovely to meet you / break bread with you. I look forward to seeing you all again soon!
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Disclosure: I'm the founder of Edible Experiences. Unless otherwise mentioned, I attend events as a paying guest.