I wrote about The Foragers at The Verulam Arms over a year ago, and they have been a real local success story. George and Gerald’s vision to cook great food with foraged ingredients has worked, and they have many regular customers, have employed and trained more chefs, and won an award at The St Albans Food and Drink Festival Awards. The chefs, lead by Tom Forrester have been given free-reign to experiment with local ingredients, and you can see how much the team take pride in their food. I read about their latest venture The Dead Dolls Club in Jellied Eel and popped in to The Verulam Arms to find out more.
The Dead Dolls Club in Dalston
We are used to restaurants and chain cafes opening in London, and slowly making their way out to the ‘burbs, but The Foragers have reversed that trend. They have taken the foraged food of St Albans out to The Dead Dolls Club, Dalston. What started as a pop-up cocktail bar for the winter has been such as success with fantastic reviews and press coverage, that it will continue through the summer. Open only in the evenings and on Sunday afternoon, TDDC can fit about 36 people at a time, so you have to book. The name came from a candle-making experiment that went wrong…
Try the grazing menu (a Brit tapas) and share plates of pigeon kebab, smoked mutton with hazlenuts and truffle vinaigrette. For veggies there are plenty of interesting things to try: filo parcel with nettles, dandelion, chickweed, and goats cheese, or jerusalem artichokes with hogweed creme fraiche. I’m delighted to see Childwickbury Goats cheese on the menu, served with honey from Hertfordshire, fennel and hairy bittercress.
Sunday roasts are the big thing at the Dead Dolls Club and they do sittings at 2, 4, 6, and 8 to fit everyone in. Choose from nut roast with foraged mushroom gravy (11.5), roast game bird (12.5), roast venison (14) and pollock with sea cabbage, sea purslane and anchovies (15). I’m keen to try the Strathdon blue cheese with ale and fruitcake for pud. I love fruit cake with cheese – it’s my Yorkshire roots. The team have had rave reviews on squaremeal, londoneer and yeahhackney, but I like to think, well, we knew about them first!
Tom explained that they have a tiny kitchen at TDDC, which is no bigger than the bar at The Foragers, so it is a challenge, but he seems to thrive on that. The chefs have a hectic schedule of working between the two sites. The chefs have also been making syrups from local plants and berries to go in the cocktails, so look out for woodruff, elderberry and mulberry cocktails. Cooks Ruin, made with grapefruit juice, woodruff syrup, gin and eggwhite sounds worth the journey alone.
To book a table at The Dead Dolls Club email the date, number of people, and your phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find them on 428 Kingsland Road, Dalston.
SHOREDITCH MAY DAY
The Foragers will also be serving food at the Shoreditch May Day Fete in the High Street on Sunday 5th May 12-9. On the menu at the moment are Venison Burgers with hedge garlic mayonnaise, wild pigeon pasties, and vegetable rolls with nettles, dandelion and goats cheese. There will be Morris Dancers, a maypole and fortune tellers as well as a competition to find the May Queen – you are encouraged to dress as eccentrically as you can. On May 9th The Foragers have teamed up with OneTaste theatre for a medieval banquet at Exmouth Market – more on that on the website!
Back at The Verulam Arms, the team have been busy with new ideas. The next project is to continue to build a larder of preserved ingredients that the chefs can use year round. Tom and team are experimenting with preserving favourites such as hogweed shoots and plantain buds which they use on tasting plates or with terrines and cheeses. Apparently hogweed shoots are similar to artichoke hearts and you serve them as you would olives or cornichons, and plantain buds taste like mushroom. When I was in the team were experimenting with birch sap to make syrups to go in desserts and drinks. I tried woodruff cream when I was there in January and it had a delicious deep fruit flavour, similar to sloes.
It seems a novelty to try these ingredients, but the irony is that they have been growing all around us for generations, with us having very little knowledge of what they look like, and how to use them. If you would like to know more, book onto a foraging walk which will start again at the end of April and are on the last Wednesday of each month. There are also plans for more wild food cooking demos, and day-long wild food expeditions further afield. You’ll spend a whole day in the woods with The Foragers and the Woodland Ways instructors and take part in workshops on foraging, game preparation, carving and bushcraft skills. The day will end with everyone gathering around the fire for food prepared by chefs in the wild – and you’ll eat it using the cutlery you learned to carve earlier in the day! The website http://www.the-foragers.com has more info and prices.
Sunday nights can be a dead time for eating out, but save your appetite for Sticky Fingers at The Foragers, where the menu is all about American-style food, cooked by chef Ben Brown. You can get pulled venison (rather than the ubiquitous pork) and Southern-fried Rabbit legs. There is the same emphasis on wild, foraged ingredients, and Ben makes his own spice rubs to go on the meats. It would help to stave off Sunday night blues for a little longer.