Please note, Native has now closed at this location. It has reopened in London Bridge. Time Out Food Editors, May 2018.
‘Wild thing. You make my heart sing. You make everything… groovy.’ I’m singing this (it’s the Troggs, youngsters), not because I’m in the shower or have a hairbrush to hand, but as an ode to last night’s restaurant. A Neal’s Yard spot celebrating the best of Britain’s wild, native food. An eatery with a free spirit.
As with so many of London’s most exciting new restaurants, the team started with pop-ups and street stalls before finally taking on this permanent site. In the kitchen is chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes, who was self-taught before training at the River Cottage in Devon. Front of house is Imogen Davis, who grew up in Northamptonshire, running her family falconry business (she had her own falcon – how cool is that?) and generally being a hunter-gatherer extraordinaire. The cooking is reflection of ingredients they love, plus spicing from the Med, Middle East and beyond.
‘Venison’, enthuses Imogen, ‘is on the menu all year, because we use six kinds of British deer, each of which have a different season. Right now, it’s Fallow.’ Also in season is ramsom (wild garlic), which pokes up through the menu like an unruly but delicious weed: in a fragrant broth of teeny palourde clams with pheasant and pigs’ trotter, say. ‘We never put anything on the menu that we don’t absolutely love ourselves’, she beams.
Other star turns included a trendy ‘open’ kebab of pink pigeon chunks beautifully offset by lightly pickled cabbage and a harissa-spiked sweet beetroot hummus; or succulent roast hake served over a chunky chickpea dahl with wild chervil and moreish battered cauliflower pakora.
So we were surprised – and, frankly a bit gutted – that desserts lacked the same flair: the ‘coriander’ honeycomb in the rhubarb and meadowsweet custard, for instance, ruined the dish.
Still, Native is adorable. It’s teeny tiny – this unit used to be a bead shop – its whitewashed walls festooned with sprigs of greens. Receipts are sent electronically, to save on unnecessary printing. Most tables are in the basement (tip: ask for ‘the booth’), but if you sit at the dinky street level kitchen bar, you can bask in the kitchen’s energy. There are fresh flowers on the tables, and old books in the loo. ‘Wild thing: I think I love you’.