My other great beef with foraging is that for so many restaurants it is seen as a licence to charge ridiculous prices for something that is, bar the cost of the time spent actually foraging (or 'picking stuff' as I call it), entirely free. On various eighty-quid-a-head-ish tasting menus I've seen 'foraged salads' which diners too rich or stupid or both to realise that the ingredients cost exactly £0.00 wolf down with the gusto they would usually reserve for luxury foodstuffs which, while still swingeingly marked-up, have at least actually cost the restaurant something to buy in the first place.
And yet something grabbed me about the menu at The Dead Dolls Club, a cute little place in Haggerston (it's the new Dalston - possibly) where the food is provided by The Foragers, a collective who, their website says, 'believe in collecting, preserving, and rummaging through hedgerows like a child in a sweet shop, but respectfully and gratefully making something simply found into something spectacular'. Which sounded nice. So taking with me a young East London-dwelling trendy, Matt Bramford, so as not to feel too conspicuous in my late-thirties uncoolness, I went along to see if The Foragers could make me eat my ranty words.
I'll say this much for them: they're certainly turning out some bloody good food. The 'Grazing Menu' of small plates is concise at just seven dishes and three sides, and if what we ate wasn't quite 'spectacular' it was at least near impossible to fault.
In no particular order we tried marinated wood pigeon breasts, served daringly rare with a moreish, sticky rosehip barbecue sauce; venison Scotch quails' eggs, which if rather heavy on the meat-to-ovum ratio were made with piquant, peppery mince of patently good game; and lovely firm chunks of heady Jerusalem artichoke cleverly paired with a tart herb dressing.
Best of all was air-dried mutton - a sort of glorious ovine jerky - with leeks, hazelnuts and a mercifully-not-overpowering truffle vinaigrette, and thick slices of hedgerow berry-cured trout with wholemeal crisps and punchy wild horseradish. Wild horseradish root, freshly grated, is to the creamed sauce we're used to buying in jars what Iranian caviar is to chip-shop cod roe; related, but immeasurably superior in flavour. It served as a one-ingredient advertisement in favour of foraging.
A dessert of goat's cheese with Hertfordshire honey, fennel and hairy bittercress - a herb I thought sounded like a resident of Middle-earth - was an innovative and successful exercise in using traditionally savoury ingredients in a sweet, although there was an unpleasantly waxy residue of some sort which despite our lovely waitress's protestations to the contrary I remain convinced was, in fact, wax, from the honeycomb which formed part of the dish. Lemon posset with wild crab apple jelly and dried blackberries however was flawless, the blackberries particularly bringing back very happy memories of those childhood Dorset days spent picking stuff.
Matt enjoyed a couple of the incredibly potent cocktails, whimsically named after characters from an imagined country house drama, including The Game Keeper - lager-based with rum, amaretto and Angostura bitters - and a special with violet liqueur and absinthe after which it's a miracle the boy could speak let alone walk. Still off booze, I was thoroughly spoiled with some well-crafted mocktails including one with hibiscus syrup in which a hibiscus flower prettily floated. Glassware, when used, was of the exquisite, heavy, etched crystal variety, although tap water and some cocktails were served to my great chagrin in jam jars - quite the most irritating affectation of the last couple of years and one I can't wait to see the back of.
|Goat's cheese with honey and fennel by Pete Stean|
I remain of the view that some foragers are leading diners up the garden path, but I like what The Foragers are doing very much. Like hairy bittercress and wild horeseradish, The Dead Dolls Club is worth making the effort to seek out.
The Dead Dolls Club, 428 Kingsland Road, London E8 4AA www.thedeaddollsclub.com / www.the-foragers.com @deaddollsclub @weforagers
Posted by +Hugh Wright