London’s summer food trends are promising to be wild — literally. From the forests of Wales to some more surprising locations, foraged foods have found their way onto summer menus with an innovative mix of flavors and ingredients.
The Wild Harvest
One typically thinks of wild mushrooms when foraging, but wild-harvested foraged food goes well beyond the usual cliché.
The list of ingredients growing wild in Wales offers a wide range of options for summer menus. Among the discoveries on the treks of Mountain Food Company (who supplies many London restaurants): alexanders, birch sap, chamomile, dandelion leaves, elder flower, elderberries, hog weed, nettles, plantain, primrose, red clover flowers, rosehips, rosebay willowherb, rock samphire, sorrel, sloe berries, hairy bittercress, hedge garlic, pennywort, rowan berries, spear leaved orache, sycamore sap, wild garlic, wild rose, and spruce needles.
London’s Wild Food Café is described as “raw-centric,” “plant passionate,” and all about “wild, fresh, colourful gourmet ingredients.” Some of those recipes include Romano peppers with wild samphire, lambs lettuce salad with wild rocket and wild garlic aioli, a smoothie made with wild dandelion leaves, and a coconut matcha latte made with wild-harvest chaga powder.
At the Gladwin brothers’ restaurants, Shed and Rabbit, the menus are heavy with wild recipes, ingredients ranging from chickweed and mallow to chervil and meadow sweet. The three brothers were brought up on a vineyard and farm in West Sussex. Combining their experience in farming, culinary, and hospitality, they went into business together to form the “perfect food cycle.” Today, much of the food on their restaurants’ menus comes directly from their farm in Nutbourne, Sussex.
Indigo Restaurant at One Aldwych in Covent Garden takes innovation a step further. In fact, Indigo Executive Chef Dominic Teague sources seasonal ingredients from the British Isles and incorporates them into dishes that are entirely gluten and dairy-free — using an array of foraged foods and unique flavors, including sea beet, wood sorrel, sea purslane, sea aster, and marsh samphire.
Root to Stem
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of the food produced worldwide goes uneaten. Further, an estimated 40 million tons of food ends up in U.S. landfills each year, according to the Food Waste Reduction Alliance.
Native restaurant is one of a handful of establishments raising the profile on London’s root-to-stem (also called root to stalk) movement — a no-waste approach to food where no part of the plant is spared; everything is used for cooking whether roots, flowers, leaves, stems, skins, or seeds.
Native’s menu encapsulates the country’s best wild food that is native to the UK — both foraged foods and game. Before opening Native, chef/co-owner Ivan Tisdall-Downes honed his skills at River Cottage HQ where he also developed his passion for all things foraged. Co-owner Imogen Davis is no stranger to foraging either. In fact, it is in her blood, having grown up in rural Northamptonshire, running her family’s falconry business, and learning how to pluck, skin, and forage.
Since the ingredients used by Native are sourced fresh seasonally, the menu is likely to change. But common foraged ingredients might include wild fennel, brambles, beetroot, berries, mint, and basil in dishes like wild rabbit, pigeon breast, venison, or bream.
Tiny Leaf takes foraged food further than anyone in London has thus far. It may not sound sexy, but executive chef and co-owner Justin Horne has taken the no-waste philosophy to a new level by actually using waste food in his cooking, which is both organic and vegetarian. His menus are created around whatever is available or donated on a given day.
As what is believed to be the city’s first and only organic, zero waste, vegetarian restaurant, Tiny Leaf utilizes organic surplus food stock supplied by local food suppliers and supermarkets, farms, distributors, plant breeders, and retailers like Langridge, Abel & Cole, Planet Organic, Cocoface, and G’s Fresh. The best part is, Horne pays it forward: Any surplus he has left over is donated to a nearby community kitchen.
Former restaurateur John Rensten is hailed as one of the first in London to use foraged food on his menus. He has been foraging for more than a decade. But since opening The Green gastropub in 2004, he has dropped out of the restaurant scene to focus on foraging full time — and educating the public on where to find local foraged food.
One doesn’t have to go very far to find wild food in London. Some surprising places the food has been found: Stratford Olympic park (mugwort); Euston station (wild garlic); and Tower bridge (elderflower). Common native weeds that can be found year-round include cleavers, chickweed, garlic mustard, nettles, and plantain. Fruits and blossoms can also be found, such as lime blossoms, rowan berries and elder trees.