What lucky Bears we were – going to two fun food events in two nights. Just 24 hours after enjoying an amazing evening of food and hospitality at Yuki’s supperclub, we headed back up to London to go to FoodCycle’s Forgotten Feast, cooked by Tom Hunt.
I’m always happy to be greeted by a smiling face and a glass of something fizzy. Even happier to be greeted by girl who had volunteered to help a good cause for the evening and a Bellini – my absolute favourite. I have to say, although tasty, it would really have benefited by being mixed slightly – the sweet peach puree rested at the bottom and didn’t really flavour the drink until the very end.
Not to fret too much, because after a little bit of people watching and cocktail sipping, trays of hor d’eouvres were upon us. A delicately flavoured beetroot dip, much more subtle than the colour would suggest. Piles of fresh and crisp veggies to dip in – the highlight was the courgette. It made me realise that we should really eat raw courgette more often. Laughably, these veggies were the Raggy Dolls of the vegetable world; ugly, unwanted and unloved. Either due to overproduction or plain ol’ aesthetics, these were veggies that no-one else wanted. It’s barely worth mentioning how stupid that is, and it’s my belly’s gain.
Then another friendly, smiley girl walked past, brandishing a board of delicious sourdough croutons. Awesome bread, drizzled with oil and toasted, and topped with a summery peperonata. The third canape was so good that we didn’t even get a picture of it – courgette and feta fritters with spiced labneh. So delicious, one of my all-time favourite nibbles, these fritters were light and heady with cumin and lemon thyme. My own courgette and feta fritter recipe may just have got pimped.As we stood, drinking and nibbling, our chef for the evening came out to introduce the menu. Tom Hunt is an eco-chef committed to sustainability and campaigning against food waste. He spoke with real passion about the food, about where the food was sourced from, and about the generosity of the suppliers; 90% of the food for this evening was donated. It was inspiring stuff, and was swiftly followed by a quick chat from Eloise, from FoodCycle. She spoke with equal passion about the work the charity does – reappropriating surplus food from supermarkets and farmers markets, using teams of volunteers to make tasty and nutritious food, tackling food poverty and social isolation. Again, inspiring stuff, and worth supporting.
So, with food for thought it was time for food for our bellies. We were shown to the dining rooms downstairs. Like at Yuki’s, we were some of the last people to be seated but, again like at Yuki’s, we were lucky to sit with a really lovely group of people. Six people that had all come to the event together, so we could have been little gooseberries perched on the end of the table, but they were welcoming and friendly, chatting with us all evening. We all rubbernecked around the room, seeing who else was around and glancing longingly at the kitchen door, waiting for food. Then a girl came out and plonked two raw potatoes on our table.
Hmmm, this may be taking things a bit too far – the least they could do would be to cook this surplus potato! Turns out, it was just to mark out the Nut Allergy Person and Shellfish Allergy Person on our table.
Thank goodness the starter arrived! Waaay tastier than a raw potato, mackerel escabeche with a foraged salad. Pleasingly for a girl from Kent, the salad was donated by a forager from the county, and had been gathered from fields and hedgerows, and the Kentish coastline. The mackerel was leftover from some cooking that Tom had done at Loveboxx last weekend. Finding himself with surplus, what’s a boy to do but preserve it? Good thinking, as this was delicious. And the pickled carrot and courgette were wonderful.
As wonderful as the starter was, nothing could prepare us for the main course. Each table was presented with eleven dishes. ELEVEN. Wordy, wordy descriptions will have to take a backseat, for fear we’ll never get to the end of this post: we’ll let the photos do most of the talking.
Top billing: the pig’s head porchetta. A labour of love, it took days to prepare. Tom boned out four pigs heads until he was left with a narrow strip of charcuterie. It was then rolled, cooked, pressed and thinly sliced. It was almost inexplicably textural: meltingly soft, tender, gelatinous, but with the occasional firmness from a tendon, a strand of muscle, a… I know not what. All I can say is: it was something that I would order again. It was real talent, truly skilled cooking, extraordinary creativity. I was sold.
The next dish was was home-salted sole, apparently abundant off the Cornish coast at the moment; sustainable and perfectly in season. It was deliciously firm, roasted with butter, mussels, sorrel, purslane and rock samphire. Bear wasn’t so convinced by this but I was seduced by the delicate texture of the fish, the richness of the butter sauce and the salty, vibrant flavour of the sea vegetables.
Ovale tomatoes with a vividly fresh salsa verde. They looked perfect to us, but they were obviously considered not uniform enough for public consumption. What they lacked in absolute symmetry they more than made up for in true tomatoey taste, and were paired sublimely with the spiky sauce. Look at those colours!
It’s not a particularly beautiful photo, but this was the the mushroom dish. Earthy, meaty mushrooms sautéed with oloroso sherry and breadcrumbs. The rustic breadcrumbs had turned into incredible nuggets of chewy toast that had soaked up the delicious flavours of the mushroom.
It’s not the best picture ever (we were at the best end of a bottle of prosecco) but the grilled courgettes and radicchio with garlic flowers, sesame seeds, labneh and cumin were tasty. Tom had obviously received a job lot of courgettes, as they featured three times in this menu. But, again, it was an indication of this creative evening, that they were used in three such different ways. Different, and flavourful. Their sweetness shone through when paired with bitter raddichio, and the Middle Eastern seasonings worked brilliantly.
These lentils weren’t on the menu, so they were obviously an afterthought, but they were creamy, earthy, well-cooked. Along with a green salad and a beautiful sourdough bread (that Tom had named Cleo), this completed our epic feast.
It was a pleasant surprise that with so many dishes there wasn’t a duff one on the table. It was intelligent to serve many of the dishes at room temperature, when serving so much food to so many people. They were all served on big platters so they could be shared around the table, which was perfect to draw strangers together. To share food and to share conversation: the evening felt like a real celebration.
Every celebration needs some cake, and this was a really good one! I was worried when it arrived in front of me, not being the world’s biggest dessert fan, and feeling pretty stuffed from all the food that had been placed before me in the last two hours. But this was unexpectedly light, mousse-light but intensely chocolately, served with a wonderful disc of chewy caramelised beetroot, a sweet beetroot syrup and a light whisked cream. There was a vague touch of salt in the chocolate, so popular, but for good reason. It does exactly what it does in savoury dishes: seasons and emphasises flavours. Well played.
We’d come to the end of our bottle so there was time enough for a leisurely walk down Aldwych and the Charing Cross Road, a quick drink in Gordons, and then a train home to Kent. On the train home I looked over the menu and chatted to Bear about the food over the last two evenings. Incredible different – one precise, one more rustic; one gathering was elegant and intimate, the other relaxed and celebratory. But what they had in common was that they both had soul. They both made you feel relaxed and secure in the knowledge that the chef in charge had the best of intentions, and was here to look after you. I’m so tired of food that is about the ego of the chef, about the glory of the kitchen. Both Yuki and Tom are good at what they do simply because they don’t fall into the ego-trap; it was clear from the food in front of us that this was about the glory of the food, and it tasted all the better for it.
We bought earlybird tickets for £30 through Event Brite. The event is now over but keep an eye on Event Brite or Edible Experiences for more events. You can also follow Tom Hunt and Food Cycle on Twitter for more information and updates on their brilliant work.