I’m not a late person, but I was late and lost in Canary Wharf. I needed to be on the rooftop at the Restaurants in Residence pop-up dining site half an hour ago. Problem being, said rooftop was a secret and soon to be demolished location hosted as part of Create’11, a festival and celebration of the best of London’s five Olympic boroughs in the lead up to the games. As I said: lost=problem. Solution? Twitter.
@youngturksfood: If only you could smell this, we’ve got the best fire East London has ever seen going for our fore ribs. Fore ribs, yes! Fire… smoke… smoke from building, smoke signal, a rooftop drum grill? Yes. I’d finally arrived at Restaurants in Residence and one question remained: where were the fore ribs?
Introductions: Young chefs, Isaac McHale, James Lowe and Ben Greeno, started collaborating as the Young Turks in 2010. The trio met during an internship at Noma and, while I am not entirely clear as to the lunar alignment that brought Streisand and Gibb together, it seems telling that the kitchen of the world’s reigning ‘Best Restaurant’ became the backdrop for the trio’s introduction.
So the story goes, it was by moonlight that Isaac, James and Ben recognised a shared understanding and motivation for developing British food. Each of them felt ready to step outside the framework of their impressive resumes (including Noma, Marque, St John Bread and Wine, The Fat Duck and The Ledbury) to create, introduce and develop their own dishes and dining philosophy «that focuses on small producers and building relationships with them, one that brings vegetables to the fore, one that emphasises collaboration and helpfulness over secrecy».
As the Young Turks, the trio (now effectively a duo as Greeno is currently based in New York working for the Momofuku Group) have launched a programme of one-off or pop-up restaurants around London.
So there I was, rushed and on a rooftop “restaurant” in Canary Wharf whose bar and dining room will exist for only a few days, have been created out of nothing and are destined to sit beneath a demolition site in a matter of months.
Mixed tables of eight were dotted throughout what I imagined to be a rooftop office floor previously inhabited by bored, ‘computer shackled’ employees. The atmosphere was relaxed, the room full and dressed, its transient state swept away by a shared anticipation of dinner.
The meal began: a fixed, multi-course feast, predominately raw or cool and a real expression of new British food accompanied bywine selected by HGW Wines. Each course was served and introduced at the table by an apron-wearing James, along with Isaac and their friends - conveniently supper club front-of-house specialists: The Clove Club.
Reading about the Young Turks’ local twist on steak tartare (room temperature, coursely diced, fat on, salty acid oyster emulsion, elderberry capers and chickweed served previously at the Nuno Mendes’ Loft Project) tipped my palette off about the forthcoming meal well before the bowl of raw peas (sweet to the point of sugar) arrived. Communal amuse bouche courses of cucumber, yoghurt and Indian salt and crisp buttermilk fried chicken left me re-evaluating my previous assertions that chicken exists only for unadventurous menu navigators.
A garden of plump summer heirloom tomatoes lashed with goat’s milk and leafed with wild marjoram guided us to a crisp course of raw mackerel, mustard, gooseberries and crystal lemon cucumbers. And then, finally, there were the fore ribs. A buxom dish of Angus Rib, smoked and charred over apple wood, served with grilled and pickled onions, porter & wild watercress. I felt the need to retract my previous proposal to the chicken. Even the Loganberry, Ewe’s Milk Yoghurt & Beremeal Cake could not tear my attention from those ribs.
I looked around my empty plate and then what was now a midnight candle-lit room, its naked walls echoing the boisterous hum of dishevelled tables of ex-strangers. I was grateful that my new friends were as intrigued and effusive in their enjoyment of every course as I was. It was said: «Good food, better company set in an odd, yet ace, setting. Embodies what a pop up/supper club should be.»
Without any one chef running the kitchen, McHale and Lowe feel their produce-driven collaboration on menus encourages thought, challenges preconception and opens the plate to fresh and unconventional ideas. The menu is all theirs, developed online late at night after full-time work commitments have ended.
Ingredients are sourced locally again by them, the staff – their friends and colleagues. The wood comes from Clegworth Farm and the grain from Orkney. It’s a produce-focussed, paired-back and relationship-driven trend that’s growing through the “bistronomy” movement in Paris, which now seems to be seeding here in the UK.
Lowe is now in full-time business development mode, having left his post as head chef at St John Bread and Wine. His treasure hunt for his first permanent and perfect London site is a constant occupation. McHale currently balances his time between The Young Turks and his role as development chef at The Ledbury. They are working hard.
It was a sad moment when we realised our courses were up. No amount of pear liqueur lifted our reluctance to search for a taxi. To be honest, it was a misguided and slightly premature fear of wrecking balls crashing through the walls that finally ushered me to the door. And we all left the building that night thinking, wow, that was the Young Turks!