This week, Tom goes wild and freshly foraged at a newly opened Central London restaurant.
It didn’t start well. The place was covered in dust sheets, and silent as a morgue. I mean, I’m all for ironically disguised pop-ups and artfully hidden speakeasies, but as I wandered through Brown’s hotel, my footsteps echoing balefully in the empty gloom, the joke began to wear a little thin.
‘Can I help you, sir?’ A smartly dressed man materialises from nowhere, his clipped, polite tone barely disguising the fact that no, the new Native, formerly of Southwark Street and Osea Island, Maldon – the place where the hyper-seasonal and freshly foraged meets the splendidly sustainable – was very much not to be found within Brown’s Hotel Mayfair and no, sir, he had no idea where it may be.
So I call my friend Grace who shrieks with laughter and tells me to trot across Mayfair to Browns, the clothes place. A few minutes later, I find myself in a rus in urbe courtyard, armed with a glass of rosé, and thrown into a merry discussion of life, death and Lidl ham. The food, which I’d expected to be hair-shirted and worthy, is anything but. Flavours sashay and swagger, bold and confident as a Regency dandy, but stop short of showing off. Chef and co-proprietor Ivan Tisdall-Downes understands the importance of acidity and balance.
Briny Maldon oysters come with the most sharply elegant of elderflower vinegars. And a burnished waffle, made from fermented potato (and yes, fermentation is big here, but always subtle rather than bullishly minging), is spread lasciviously with a lustrous parfait, topped with a tart film of apple jelly. Smacked cucumbers, flecked with specks of chilli, throb with the low, vinegared hum of fermented brown crab. Cob nuts provide a particularly English crunch.
There’s a blissfully inspired take on a Filet-O-Fish, all batter-encased sweet, white virginal flesh, soft brioche and bosky crustacean rarebit. Oh, and the mutton, spiced with hogseed, whatever that may be, is truly magnificent. Then, for pudding, a ‘marrowmel’ made with bone marrow and white chocolate, that should be vile and is, in fact, rich and resplendently lovely. Some of the ingredients may be a little obscure (although none the worse for it), but this is cooking to make the sap rise, the soul sing and flood the heart with spring-foraged joy.
About £50 per head. Native at Browns, 39 Brook Street, London W1; brownsfashion.com/uk.
DRINKS: Olly’s Italian whites
Almost every corner of Italy has a wine style. Why stick with Prosecco and Pinot Grigio when there are so many unique gems to choose? From Alpine vineyards to the coast, the landscape reflects diverse local grape varieties such as Falanghina and little-known Ribolla Gialla. Both should be top of your shopping list for summery apéritifs. With a staggering number of local grape varieties, Italy’s white wine range is epic.
GAVI DI GAVI BY ROBERTO SAROTTO 2019 (12.5%), £13.95, bbr.com. Citrus sherbet! Pristine and perfect, a classy, lively and mineral- pure drop.
TIBALDI FAVORITA LANGHE 2019 (13%), £14.70, tanners-wines.co.uk. Peach-blossom scent, dazzling and delicious full-flavoured white with finesse.
FALANGHINA FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO (13%), £15.95, winedirect.co.uk. Lightly exotic and scented with lean purity: a lemon chiselled from a diamond.
FRIULANO LIVIO FELLUGA 2019 (13%), £28, highburyvintners.co.uk. Top-notch peachy white with brilliant freshness and gorgeous layers. A delicious treat.
WINE OF THE WEEK: FOUND RIBOLLA GIALLA 2020 (12%), £7, M&S. Lovely lemon- blossom aroma with citrussy flair. This is beautiful and a total bargain.