The Kitchin, Edinburgh
Slowly but surely, Britain is mustering a phalanx of restaurants with a genuine nose-to-tail ethos. James Lowe’s Lyle’s is the latest hip proponent of offal and unusual cuts, but the influence of Fergus Henderson’s St. John isn’t confined to London. That you can eat tripe and beef marrow at Manchester’s Beef & Pudding or brawn and ox tongue at Chester’s Brewery Tap, is indicative of how far its message has travelled.
In Edinburgh, Tom Kitchin, at his Michelin-starred Leith restaurant, is a long-term proponent of unfashionable, squidgy cuts. Tom trained under Pierre Koffmann at London’s legendary La Tante Claire, where nose-to-tail cooking was standard. “Cooking offal is something you have to immerse yourself in to learn. No cookbook will teach you. But Pierre had grown up with his grandmother killing chickens in the yard and confiting the gizzards as part of their way of life. When we opened in Leith, I really fell back on my years with Koffmann. It’s what really set this restaurant off on its course.”
Over the last decade, offal has been central to the Kitchin menu, in dishes such as langoustine and pig’s head, crispy pig’s ear salad and gribiche cream or crispy veal sweetbreads and ox tongue with confit onion, hazelnuts, peas and broad beans. “It’s important that we utilise the whole animal,” says Tom. “That’s the beauty of cooking, bringing together humble and prime cuts – pig’s head that costs me a couple of quid and £25-a-kilo langoustines – and blowing people away.”
To Tom, the ongoing unpopularity of ox tongue is mystifying. “It’s the most underrated ingredient going. I’ve got it on my menu all the time. I absolutely love it.” Three courses, £70; thekitchin.com
Bringing home the bacon
The Reliance, Leeds
In the day-to-day grind of the kitchen, it is easy for chefs to lose sight of how fascinating their ingredients are. “Too many chefs see cooking as an obstacle, whereas my interest is in eating. I’m a big believer in eating well,” says Reliance head chef Tom Hunter.
Consequently, when Tom can’t find an ingredient that wows him, he makes it himself. That’s why he started making bacon – “Very easy: salt and sugar on belly pork for two days, hang it and that’s bacon” – and later, curing charcuterie at the Reliance, “It was more for our enjoyment than to make a big fuss. I was disappointed with the charcuterie I was eating in this country.”
Seven years later, Tom’s hobby has become a defining characteristic of this boho café-bar and restaurant. Using rare breed pork from Yorkshire’s excellent Taste Tradition, the Reliance produces its own bacons, coppa, bresaola and various chilli, fennel seed and hazelnut salamis. These are served as sharing boards, used in dishes such as queenie scallops with fresh peas and homemade guanciale (cured pork jowl), and sold to Leeds restaurants including the renowned Friends Of Ham.
Tom started out curing in an old cheese-safe but he now has a bespoke walk-in curing room, set at a constant 13C and 65% humidity, and he is fully-absorbed in this complex science. He says, “the lactic fermentation that happens in salami is part of a very complex world. It can be quite geeky.”
A small but growing band of UK chefs are similarly obsessed. London’s Clove Club serves its own prosciutto and homemade coppa (as does Oxfordshire’s Kingham Plough), while, in Hampshire, Hartnett Holder & Co. cures and smokes everything from parma-style ham to chorizo. “When I started out, you’d have been laughed at for making your own bacon,” says Tom. “It’s definitely changing.” Starters from £4.50, mains £11.25; the-reliance.co.uk
From piggery to plate
Pitt Cue, London
A significant minority of UK pubs and restaurants now rear their own meat. You might have eaten the Longhorn beef from owner David Howden’s farm at Buckinghamshire’s The Pointer or the lamb and pork reared at Lincolnshire’s Winteringham Fields. The family-friendly Royal Oak pub in Wiltshire is actually on Helen Browning’s organic farm.
Finding such commitment to sourcing and animal husbandry in London, is almost unknown, for obvious reasons. Where will you keep the cows? Not that such obstacles of geography were going to stop Pitt Cue co-founder, Tom Adams, from securing the finest pork for his restaurant. In 2012, he began to raise rare breed Mangalitzas – “old-school pigs with an amazing ability to put on fat” – on his parents’ farm near Winchester, even taking time out from the kitchen to transport them to the abattoir.
“Logistically, it was a nightmare,” he says. But it was worth it for the meat, “There’s something a little wild about them, they forage well, the meat’s incredibly dark and you get this amazing meat-fat ratio. It’s just incredibly tasty.” At Pitt Cue’s new Devonshire Square restaurant in the capital – where its food has evolved away from US BBQ into something more serious, rustic and ingredient-led – that nutty, moist pork is used in many ways. There are plates of air-dried ham, smoked eel and pork sausages with kohlrabi purée and sauerkraut and a hefty pork chop (cooked on a £60,000, bespoke, hardwood grill) served with, say, grilled onions and anchovy emulsion.
Tom is no longer looking after the Mangalitzas himself, they’re reared on a mate’s farm in Cornwall, but he’s proud of what Pitt Cue has achieved, “It’s about doing something that works for you and the farmer and not conforming to
a system that wants lean, high-yield, fast-growing animals.” Small plates from £3.50, large from £12.50; pittcue.co.uk
The Patty Perfectionists
Troll’s Pantry, Brighton
From London’s Patty & Bun to Scotland’s Bread Meats Bread via Leeds’ Patty Smith’s, Britain hardly lacks for people who take burgers seriously. This is the age of the patty perfectionists. But even in this rarefied company, Troll’s Pantry stands-out.
Not only has its owner, Paul Clark, made ethical trading central to his business, but, in a virtuous circle, his determination to use local organic grass-fed beef from Knepp Castle Estate, brioche buns made in Lewes by Flint Owl bakery and High Weald Dairy’s St Giles cheese (“Because it’s the best ethical burger cheese I can find; it just melts beautifully”), has helped turn his burgers into, arguably, Britain’s best.
Paul is “incredibly anal” about every detail of the process. The meat for his burgers (60% chuck, 20% short rib, 20% brisket) is ground, once, at 8mm. The patties are fried in beef dripping, briefly cloché-steamed and dressed with fresh, seasonal sauces. The resulting burgers, such as The Legend of Smoky Mountain, topped with rum BBQ sauce and free-range smoked bacon, are phenomenal.
“I wanted to stick two fingers up to corner-cutting, paying staff badly, high wastage – all of these things,” says Paul. “But I felt the only way I could demonstrate the importance of local, organic, ethical ingredients was through peoples’ tastebuds. People who whack organic on their labels and produce a rubbish product are selling the cause short. It just makes people think, ‘that was overpriced, pretentious nonsense’. To be part of the solution, I had to produce an exceptional burger.”
Troll’s Pantry is at the Hobgoblin pub until late summer, when Paul will launch a new currently hush-hush project. In the meantime, he is also taking Troll’s back to the streets of Brighton every Saturday at Yardy (@yardybn1). “That’s what I got into the business for,” he says. “I miss cooking outside.” Burgers from £7.50; thetrollspantry.co.uk
Upping their game
Pot Kiln, Frilsham, Berkshire
An idyllic country pub built in 1780, the Pot Kiln may not look radical, but its menu, where you’ll find venison used in scotch eggs, pies, sausage rolls and burgers, makes it clear that it’s unique. “I set it up to cook wild food,” says chef-owner Mike Robinson. “We have a huge resource in the game of this country.”
Head chef Wolf Chodurski cooks the char-grilled pavés of fallow venison with pomme purée, spinach, bone marrow, crispy shallots and peppercorn sauce, while Mike develops Downland Deer, a company that supplies venison to many Michelin-starred London restaurants.
Mike stalks and shoots many of Downland’s deer and is convinced hunting is an efficient way of controlling deer numbers, and is ethically superior to industrialised meat production.
Countrywide, a small number of chefs hunt, notably Steven Smith at Lancashire’s Freemasons, Simon Trepress at 10 Castle Street in Dorset and Andy McLeish at Kent’s Chapter One (look out for his wood pigeon pithivier). It’s about quality ingredients and understanding them in the wild,” says Mike.
With Downland Deer, Mike hopes to transform how chefs regard venison. “We only supply whole carcasses which makes the chef use the whole animal, not just the saddle and haunches”, while at the Pot, the menu refers to breeds (fallow, muntjac etc.), to educate diners, “There’s a vague similarity in the meat but they’re completely different animals.” Starters from £7.95; mains from £14.50; potkiln.org
Lake Road Kitchen, Cumbria
When Ambleside’s Lake Road Kitchen opened in 2014, its dry-aged beef wasn’t selling, so chef-owner James Cross decided to “scrub” it. A historic technique, scrubbing (by managing the mould blooms on its exterior fat), allows you to dry-age beef way beyond 28 days.
As he experimented, pushing his grain-finished Belted Galloway beyond 70, then 100 days, he produced incredible meat. Ageing beef up to 100 days isn’t uncommon. Hawksmoor serves 55-day-aged steak and London’s MASH a 90-day cut. But, after 150 days it changes dramatically, still very beefy, but with ripe, funky, umami and acidic as in charcuterie, blue cheese and game.“Past 150 days it is extremely specialist,” says James, who once worked at Noma. “It needs garnishes that can stand-up to it.” In season, he might serve such beef (256 day-aged is his record) with roasted wild mushrooms, deep-fried, lacto-fermented nasturtium capers, raw nasturtium leaves and an acidulated beef sauce.
While James is pushing dry-ageing (Goodman also serves circa 200 day-aged steaks sometimes), another type of old beef is turning heads. London’s Lurra and Ramsbottom’s Levanter are serving txuleta, the huge foreribs of old cattle (usually ex-dairy of eight-to-14 years-old), prized in the Basque region. At Taberna do Mercado, Nuno Mendes is fusing both, in 15-year old Portuguese cattle aged for 100 days.
James likes Basque beef, but says, “The age of the cow matters less than dry-ageing, when most flavour is developed.” He’s now ageing Gloucester Old Spot suckling pigs for up to 11 weeks: “You know when you dream about a delicious, savoury roast? It tastes like that but times 10. It tastes like you always wished pork would, but it never has.” Starters from £12.50; mains from £24.50; lakeroadkitchen.co.uk