BY PALOMA LACY
When I first heard that a new restaurant had opened in the vicinity of the splendour of Borough Market, and that it offered ‘seasonal British produce’, that was enough to tempt the South London Press to its tables. But Native was not quite what I expected.
I anticipated perhaps a good quality roast. But the menu is more interesting, ambitious and unorthodox than that, boasting ‘forest and coastline’, limited and locally-sourced produce.
My eyes immediately caught the option of squirrel ragout, with celeriac and Lincolnshire poacher (£12).
I recalled the story of a roadkill-eating man I once knew who used to apparently electrocute squirrels on his washing line and put them in a stew. So perhaps squirrel was not for me. Other items included a fallow deer tartare (with elderberry capers and beef dripping at £9).
But before we experimented with the mains, we dipped our toe into the relatively safer waters of the starters.
There are some nice touches. Focaccia bread was ‘from the mill, made daily from organic stone ground flour from Wissdean, milled by one man alone in his mother’s windmill.’
Overstated perhaps, although the waitress indeed confirmed this was true, and even gave us the man’s name. I can live with such fanfare if the product is good, and the bread was the best I’ve had in recent memory.
It was so good that I suspect this is why Native is able to put ‘yesterday’s bread’ on the menu, served along with ‘a selection of zero waste snacks made from what many would consider waste, but to us is a product in its own right.’
Rather intriguing and right up the street of some people I know. I couldn’t decide whether this was very clever, an ethical statement or a way of getting money for old rope – possibly all three. I also wondered what ‘zero waste snacks’ possibly meant. Potato peelings? Too obvious.
It could be something I’ve never heard of. I cannot remember the last time I had to have a menu explained to me. This was partly an issue of an over-wordy menu – ‘heritage carrots’ instead of ‘carrots’ for example. Although, as I say, the true test is the taste, and Native ticked the boxes here.
We tried the signature dish – wood pigeon kebab with beetroot hummus, harissa and pickled cabbage (£13). It came out in a ‘deconstructed’ style – almost like a classical Middle Eastern dish – and the flavours combined perfectly.
For the mains, squirrel neatly swerved, we went for the least unusual things on the menu. Venison, variegated kale and Jerusalem artichoke (£22) had a gamey depth to it, served with rich, velvety jus.
My companion was swayed by the small catch turbot, straight from Rye waters. An accompaniment of a beurre blanc and sea cabbage (£28) seemed an ideal match for this almost meaty fish.
Diners, don’t come expecting large portions, I felt the portions were a tad on the small side, but perhaps I thought that was because I easily wolfed everything in sight.
The desserts were original but a little underwhelming, compared with the mains.
The Douglas fir pine and millet cake, buttermilk ice cream and dehydrated milk (£7) was subtle and firm, an antidote to the rich and sugariness of many desserts. But there was not enough of it.
The quince sorbet, pain perdan, Alexander butterscotch and hazelnuts (£10) was basically a posh French toast, but it was nonetheless delicious.
A memorable place – I’m keen to return, if only to see what surprises feature on the menu next.
Paloma was a guest of Native. 32 Southwark St, London SE1 1TU