Peter Morrell goes on a culinary journey and enjoys some unique dishes featuring natural products from the UK
Neal’s Yard in London’s Covent Garden has always hosted people providing good quality food in a tradition that stretches back to 1976 when Nick Saunders opened the Whole Food Warehouse followed soon after by Neal’s Yard Dairy.
This reputation of Neal’s Yard for the supply of good food with a pedigree provenance has recently been further enhanced by the opening of a new and unique restaurant, Native. It is the creation of Imogen Davis and Ivan Tisdall-Downes who are both passionate about wild and foraged food.
Ivan refined his cooking skills at River Cottage and Imogen ran her family’s falconry business in Northamptonshire, so they have been immersed in the all that the natural environment can offer. Together they have been on the street food scene, run pop-ups and have now found home in the charming Neal’s Yard.
The restaurant itself has an open front looking out onto the Yard. There is limited table and bar seating on the ground floor and if you do sit on this level you can watch the team working their culinary magic in the open kitchen. The main dining space is downstairs and has a simple warmth about it. As you would expect it has a rustic feel and a very relaxed atmosphere.
My wife and I recently dined at Native, a warm night required a beer to start and the selection of English craft ales and lagers to choose from was welcome. My wife’s Fourpure Pilsner lager from London was crisp and clean and my Bibble pale ale malty with aromatic notes from the mosaic hops.
We nibbled on tasty home-made bread as we perused the menu which was a real culinary romp around British cuisine. To give you an idea of how creative the food is a vegetarian option in the starter section was courgette with Lincolnshire poacher cheese, wild fennel and English quinoa. Our choices were no less adventurous. My wife’s starter was wood pigeon kebab with beetroot hummus, pickled cabbage and harissa on flatbread. It was delicious, the pigeon had great depth of flavour and was complemented by the tastes and textures of the other ingredients and the spicy tingle of the harissa.
My starter was just as exciting Lyme Bay scallops with sobrasada, IOW tomatoes and wild fennel. Scallops are my favourite dish and these were plump and tender, and worked well with an English produced sobrasada (a spreading chorizo), the foraged fennel and the famed tomatoes from the Isle of Wight.
The mains were equally interesting, my wife’s Dorset plaice was sea fresh and it was served with burnt cucumber, seaweed, radish tempura and mayo, Ivan was pushing the boundaries of taste, flavour and texture combinations to the limit.
My grouse was a little more sedate, but just as good, it had been cooking in buttermilk and was served with some lovely heritage beets and berries. The meat was moist and flavoursome and the beets brought a profound earthy character. Although we didn’t indulge sides were available and included heritage carrots, Sussex chard and pink fir potatoes.
The wine list had a more international theme and they are all from the old world. It was encouraging to see both sparkling and still wines from the Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire and from the Bolney winery in West Sussex, both well respected vintners.
Our wine pairing for the evening was produced from the highly popular albarino grape, made by Charguino in the Rias Biaxas region of northern Spain. It was a good match for the food with a fresh fruity nose which developed into apricot and citrus flavours on the palate and left a clean and bright finish.
We were tempted by the desserts, the sea buckthorn and cider brandy syllabub and the prune loaf both looked attractive but we finished with an ice cream affogato for me and a decaf cappuccino for my insomniac wife.
This had been an extremely satisfying meal and I’m not surprised that Native is ranked number14 in Time Out’s recent listing of London’s top 100 restaurants. Great credit is due to Imogen and Ivan for their drive and energy in making the restaurant such a success.
I loved the interplay of the ingredients and the sheer inventiveness of the dishes. Add to this the relaxed atmosphere, friendly and unhurried service and at £40 pp inclusive the remarkable value for money which all combined to make a unique dining experience.
3 Neal’s Yard