Mike goes native with the godfather of Slow
Since writing the best-selling book In Praise of Slow, which heralded the movement, my lunch companion Carl Honore is now considered it’s’godfather’. He’s late and sends me a picture of roadworks with the message: Aaargh! I feel he needs to reconnect with the core values of his brand.
I arrive slightly early at Native, a wild food restaurant that began as a pop up concocted by chef Ivan and partner Imogen after he left the River Cottage HQ and she quit the family falconry business. Today, however, their highly successful compact venue has been taken over by’Madame St-Germain’.
It’s a formidable title but I find her to be a petite French lady named Camille who is hastily pouring cocktails. Although warmly greeted, I sense they need ten minutes more prep time and I’m just in the way so I retreat to find Carl.
He arrives slightly flustered and we head back to the venue, now transformed into a calm and casually sophisticated space, with The St-Germain cocktails being handed out as we enter. It’s a French liqueur flavoured with fresh elderflower blossoms, here mixed with Martini prosecco and sparkling water with a lemon twist.
The refreshing aromatic drink has Carl back to his relaxed’on message’ self as we descend into the basement dining space. Long tables have beautiful central linear garlands of greenery, the work of florist and Camille’s friend Emily, who has also decorated the white walls and low ceiling to resemble a lush cave.
It has a lower sugar content for a subtle yet complex flavour and can be used in a variety of cocktails – as we are about to find out judging from the fact that a St-Germain infused G+T is now delivered.
The first course is carrots, not just boiled and bare but’sand carrots’ (presumably their growing medium). These super straight heritage specimens are bisected lengthways and prepared with’Hogseed Vadouven’ (not an alien race but a spicy foraged plant) as well as Labneh, Hay Ash honey, redcurrants and coriander. Delectably flavoursome – best plate of carrots ever.
We discuss the G+T with Peter sat opposite who reviews booze for his website The Drinker, all agreeing it just tastes ordinary. Peter notices the empty seat next to him has still had the first course placed and all the drinks laid out. He necks our phantom guests gin having polished off his own saying the elderflower was all at the bottom.
We decide to name our absent guest Barry St-Germain and as Peter biros him a place name setting we use his knife to stir our gins – they now taste lovely. I thought Carl was supposed to eat slowly for’mindfulness’ reasons but he now helps himself to Barry’s carrots having demolished his own.
As the main courses arrive we maintain our scam saying Baz is in the loo but ordered the fish option as he’s a staunch pescatarian. We swoon over our perfectly slow cooked Saddleback pork cheek with English peas, pickled walnut and cured yolk before Barry’s fish duly arrives looking pink and sumptuous adorned with delicate foliage. We giggle in the knowledge we will shortly be able to sample that too.
The next drink is La PiÃƒÂ±a, Leblon Cachaca with pineapple weed infused St-Germain and fresh lime juice. Barry somehow gets two – excellent news as these are sugary and really flavoursome.
Pineapple weed is wild chamomile and Camille now tells the group she infused it for two days before mixing this. Peter nabs one of Barry’s and Carl and I split the other. Generous to a fault, Baz is the phantom friend who keeps on giving.
We are just about to tuck into Barry’s fish as the waitress whisks it away with a’Sorry the fish is not here’, fair enough of course as Barry isn’t either. We are denied the fish but maybe he will get desert.
We soon hope so as a very moorish cherry and lemon verbena sorbet with woodruff cream, pumpkin seed granola, basil and macerated cherries arrives.
The final paired specimen in this cocktailathon is The Cerise St-Germain, poire cider and Somerset royal cider brandy with wild cherries. Nothing for Barry who’s clearly been rumbled – just as well as he’s half cocked. Peter downs the last of his before dashing off for a train.
After thanks to Camille, the staff and chefs, myself and Carl emerge blinking into the daylight. We’ve enjoyed wonderful food and become thoroughly acquainted with the pleasant taste of elderflower.
Carl has to rush off to a meeting. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Always a fast paced lifestyle for you.Ã¢â‚¬Â I quip Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a three hour lunch!Ã¢â‚¬Â he retorts. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Was it?Ã¢â‚¬Â Point taken, maybe I need to speed up a bit.