The concept of wild food is simply food that is grown in the wild, without human intervention. Restaurants and chefs who embrace the concept have become increasingly popular, particularly as sustainably-minded consumers are placing the provenance, locality and seasonality of their foods at higher value.
Old-fashioned or long-forgotten ingredients such as quince, rosehip, medlar and nettle are appearing on menus in restaurants and cocktail bars and according to Soil Association’s 2021 Organic Market Report, we’ve seen “the highest year-on-year growth in 15 years in the organic market, at +12.6% with the market now worth £2.79B”.
Native, a restaurant founded by Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis, is somewhat of a pioneer within the wild food movement in the UK. Their history is somewhat nomadic; after several successful years as market stalls and pop-ups, they launched a permanent site in Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard in early 2016 to much acclaim. In Autumn 2018, the restaurant relocated to 34 Southwark Street in London’s foodie hotspot Borough and come October of last year, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Ivan and Imogen said goodbye to the city and hello to the shores of Osea Island on the Essex Coast. Here, everything from the menu to dining times are dictated by nature (guests travel to the island via a boat or causeway, so much is dependent on the sea levels). Native food has remained available to Londoners as the company adapted to offer a ‘Native At Home’ à la carte dining kits delivery which changes fortnightly and is available UK wide.
What’s most exciting though (and telling of the times), is that they have now partnered with Browns Fashion to open an urban garden nestled within the luxury fashion retailer’s new flagship site in Mayfair’s Brook Street. This is Browns’ first foray into food and dining, making the pairing all the more exciting. Shoppers will be able to indulge in some al fresco food, natural wine and foraged cocktails amongst ferns and birch trees when the store and restaurant opens in Spring 2021.
Seasonal, ethical and local produce will remain firmly weaved into Native’s food philosophy at Browns, as well as their steadfast zero-waste mentality. While provenance of ingredients is key, there’s much to be said for the dishes themselves. Expect casual sharing plates of typically unpopular offcuts of fruit, vegetables, seasonal game and sustainably-caught fish. The creations are bold and brave, with unexpected combinations and refreshing ways of interpreting nose-to-tail and root-to-fruit cooking principles. Native’s kitchen will be led by Head Chef Joe Knowlden, previously of Hide Mayfair, who will work alongside Ivan and Imogen to bring forth the innovative offering.
The menu will feature starters such as Dorset brown crab with cacklebean duck egg and foraged sea herbs. To follow, plates such as roast cauliflower, nasturtium (a herbaceous flowering plant) and brown butter will be on offer and for dessert, there’s a clever take on millionaire’s shortbread which is seaweed infused and topped with white chocolate and bone marrow caramel.
“We are excited to be embarking on this new chapter of Native in partnership with Browns and it’s been a delight to see our vision for a closed-loop restaurant supported at every step” says Imogen.
“Our ethos is reflected not only through the menu, but also through the thoughtful, sustainable design which reflects our ideals whilst harnessing the talents of innovative producers across the UK.” Adds Ivan.
Foraging is typically more common across Europe but a recent revival here in the UK has spurred an increase in the practice. The pandemic has also seen many of us deepen our connection with nature. Daily walks and exploration of different local green areas, coupled with an increased sense of mindfulness means many have begun taking more notice of what’s growing around them. While you can find wild herbs and fungi growing in parks, woodlands and even roadside in certain places, it’s best to get some guidance from an expert before deciding to consume foods you’ve foraged yourself. This is not only for your own health and safety in order to avoid potentially poisonous and inedible plants, but also because there are some laws around foraging in public areas and the preservation of plant populations – certain rare or endangered plant species are protected by law. Learning from someone who is well-versed on the subject, whether it’s a one-on-one foraging trip, an online course or a group excursion, will enable you to learn about wild food in a safe way.
Here in the UK, hedgerow fruits and berries such as elderberries and crab apples are amongst the most easy to find and forage foods. They’re easily identifiable too. Away from the city, foraging along the coast will also prove fruitful. Samphire, purslane and seaweeds such as dulse and kelp are all highly nutritious and delicious finds. A diet which includes wild foods is naturally more diverse, and eating a variety of foods means your body is receiving a variety of nutrients. Wild foods often have greater health benefits than their cultivated counterparts too. Wild blueberries for example are known to contain around 30% more anthocyanins (the flavonoid which gives them a purplish blue colour) than regular blueberries. These anthocyanins improve blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar metabolism.
If you’re keen to expand your knowledge of wild food and foraging before Native opens, books such as ‘Forage: Wild Plants to Gather, Cook and Eat’ by Liz Knight and ‘The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food’ by John Rensten are great reads.
Native at Browns opens spring 2021. Native at Home is available from Friday 19th February.
For details and to order, please visit www.nativerestaurant.co.uk