Above: Chef James Lowe searing mackeral
A couple of weekends back I had different groups of foodie friends visiting London at the same time. As part of taking my mates round to my favourite eats around the city, I asked Chef James Lowe if he would make an omakase (Chef's choice) dinner for 11 of us at £40 per person, on a BYOB basis. He graciously agreed. Sidenote: It's amazing how many time you can squeeze the world "pleeeeease" into an email.
James Lowe is an alum of The Fat Duck and was most recently the head chef at St John Bread and Wine. While hunting for his own restaurant site, he and The Ledbury development chef Isaac McHale have teamed up to form the Young Turks, cooking at supperclubs and pop ups around London (and soon abroad), with a commitment to small local producers, a fresh approach to British cooking and a spirit of collaboration rather than secrecy. On the side, James goes on quite a bit about his belief in good food at accessible prices. All philosophies I can get behind. But what of the food itself? After having attended their Burger Monday and Loft Project events, my gut is in full agreement with my head.
We started the evening with some baby veggies from Chegworth Valley. Babs is quite a fan of the airy anchovy cream foam dip. (Thanks to James also for foraging for the flowers. Nice rustic touch.)
Green strawberries, fried cheese bits, raw almonds and I think... rocket. Very light and green.
Tis the season to gorge on freshly picked sugarsnap peas. We'd been eating them all week around town any time we saw them on the menu. Here they're paired with wild pea shoots and flowers and ticklemore, a kind of goat's cheese. The wild pea here was possibly a bit too freshly foraged -- one of our diners found a live caterpillar amid the leaves (well the gorging season isn't just for humans, is it). It was hard to gauge the reaction at the table. One the one hand there were murmurings afterwards about why wasn't the plate immediately cleared. On the other hand, the diners (mostly Chinese) immediately started a surprisingly long conversation about what insects each of us had eaten, on purpose, while traveling in China. Also, these same diners were shockingly keen to nibble on some moss right off the surface of a tree that had been sawed off by a foraging chef dinner guest!
Next up: Cured mackeral, seared, with tomatoes. Simple, but yum.
The last 2 savory dishes were the superstars of the night. Here we have raw beef rib (look at that marbling!) made into a tartare with elderberry capers, wild watercress and oyster emulsion. Warning: it tends to be explosive on one's brains and senses when eaten for the first time.
But this next dish amazingly managed to outdo the last, and was my favourite dish of the evening. Very gently cooked wild sea trout, with sea beet and mussels in mussel muddle and broth. My friends and I were talking about this dish for days afterwards. The sea beet (also known as wild spinach) tasted like the essence of green and felt like silk. I need to get more. The mussels were really sweet and that sea trout! I'm still struggling to describe it. It looks like sashimi, but the oh so gentle cooking means that it has none of the stringiness or fibre of sashimi, but neither does it flake off in dry chunks of a larger fish. Incredibly delicate in the mouth, both in flavour and texture. Still not happy with this description, though. I need to eat this again and work on my words, clearly!
Finally, for dessert, goats curd ice-cream with luscious strawberries and powdered berries. A light twist to the very British strawberries and cream.
Many thanks are in order: To the chef for a lovely dinner, his delightful sous chef for the evening Rory Sheehan, on loan from James Knappett and Marcus Wareing (a young talent to watch, clearly!), and also my fabulous foodie friends, who were game to come along to a dinner where none of us knew what was going to be served beforehand.
If you're keen to taste James Lowe and Isaac Machale's work for yourself, the Young Turks and their front of house partners The Clove Club will be tearing up Canary Wharf for a week starting tomorrow (Saturday 25 June) as part of the month-long Restaurants in Residence pop up. Go!