SSo far, 2022 hasn’t been the breath of fresh air we needed. Among the big news lines last week was the story of a Turkish farmer who decided to donate cow VR headsets to make them feel like they’re outside in sunny pastures, instead of inside barns. This apparently caused them to produce more milk. I don’t know what could sound crazier and frankly terrifying. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of Reganuary. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the movement simultaneously challenging the environmental view of Veganuary while raising awareness for regenerative agriculture. Regen ag, as many in the industry call it, is considered better for the planet than a plant-based diet.
There is no agreed definition of regen ag, but it is essentially about working with nature in a respectful way to increase biodiversity, instead of relying solely on monoculture, using methods that are better for the environment , for the soil, for the animals and ultimately for us. Soil health is imperative in all of this, as a teaspoon of healthy soil will contain more bacteria and microorganisms than there are people living on the planet. But, if not maintained, the soil can degrade and erode. Regenerate goes beyond “being sustainable”, which has become so overused and bleached green, it has almost lost its meaning.
So this month, restaurant Native, started by college friends Imogen Davis and Ivan Tisdall-Downe, created a rejuvenating a la carte menu based on those ideas. Ivan is in the kitchen and was originally self-taught, but has since spent time at River Cottage, which clearly draws parallels to his work now, and he’s also featured on the Great British menu is 2020. Imogen is a deft front-of-house worker and was listed on Code’s “100 Most Influential Women in Hospitality” list. She also knows her wines.
Native at Browns is the latest iteration after several popups – including one on Osea Island off the Essex coast, where every day’s service is ambitiously dependent on tidal times – which opened in the Mayfair Browns shop in 2021. Hats off to anyone who is daring enough to open a restaurant during a global pandemic, but at least you don’t have to know your tide times. There is still a small obstacle: that people can actually find it. It’s tucked away (literally as we walked past it twice) behind the very bouji shop, which sells Gucci and Balenciaga worth my whole month’s rent. This seems a bit at odds with the philosophy of the restaurant.
Enter the restaurant, however, and everything becomes clear. The tiny floor tiles are made from computer parts, the walls and bar use reclaimed clay, and the tables are also made from reclaimed materials.
The wine list is all natural and Imogen happily finds something for every taste and menu item. I had a fantastic spergola from Italy, which comes from a small family vineyard using formerly abandoned vines.
With just three courses for starters and mains, it’s a lean, well-formed menu with a focus on seasonal and foraged ingredients, which Ivan and Imogen are passionate about. We choose a few dishes to share. First, there are the chef’s wasted snacks – designed to use up what’s left in the kitchen, like small bites of crispy pakora made from peelings. The version of the sesame shrimp toast topped with a bit of seaweed was the highlight, a delicious little bite that was well balanced and more indulgent.
Unlike Veganuary, this is not a meatless menu. Two of the six courses include meat and both are main courses. The first is small, perfectly pink medallions of haunch of buckskin – non-intensively farmed meat – with smoked beets and marinated shiitake. It’s a classic winter dish. The second is a beef tongue cut into offal, smoked, which is diced and decorates the roasted cauliflower with wild garlic. This emphasizes Ivan’s style of cooking: he doesn’t just use premium cuts of meat, so there’s an added depth to the flavor of his food.
The first entree is wide strips of thinly sliced celeriac (which is in season) shaped like a pappardelle that make up the cacio e pepe, which comes to rock a yolk, and generously sprinkled with curd, giving it a side creamy to an otherwise earthy take on the Italian classic.
Next, the chalked brook trout ceviche in tiger milk is the kind of dish I constantly want to eat in January. It’s bright, zesty, and tangy and puts all those gout-inducing, heavy, rich December food hangovers to bed. The whole thing is topped with micro-herbs for even more punch, of which you can never have too much in my opinion.
To get the full native experience, Ivan suggests ordering the wood pigeon kebab. “It’s my take on a kebab at the end of a night out,” he says, though it’s down a few notches (OK, a lot) in terms of sophistication, with small bits of slightly earthy meat. game-flavoured, on a springy doughy bread, with tangy pickled cabbage. It’s a lot less sloppy than its kebab cousin, and definitely worth coming back to.
Umami is key to many dishes we try. The miso cabbage is not to be missed – a large wedge drizzled with miso butter and lightly tinted on a grill for a crispy outer edge.
The craziest dish in terms of design is marrow bone. Another Native classic (and our second diversion from the Regenuary menu), this is a marrowbone-based white chocolate caramel that looks a lot like a crème brûlée, except it comes in the middle of a long bone, that you… scratch. It sounds pretty neolithic – especially considering the sugar levels in there – but it’s so delicious (thanks to said sugar) that any quirkiness is forgotten. We finish with a fresh but sweet Jerusalem artichoke mille-feuille, with hints of that savory, slightly earthy flavor again in the crispy little slices of baked vegetables, alongside a crumble and fresh sorbet to top it off. the whole thing.
Although difficult to find, it is worth walking down the street several times. I will return in the summer to make the most of this courtyard. Regenuary isn’t just for January, though. The ethos, practices, and high quality of regenerative agriculture are forever, not just for January kids.
Native of Browns, 39 Brook St, London, W1K 4JE | nativerestaurant.co.uk | 020 7549 5999