Since we’ve been living in London, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me what part of Australia I’m from. On most occasions I play the offended Kiwi, chastising them for daring to get our accents mixed up but honestly, it’s only because I love seeing the sheepish look on their faces. I’ll probably upset a lot of patriotic New Zealanders out there but that initial mix up doesn’t bother me that much. Obviously, I want to make it clear that I’m not actually an Australian, now or ever, and of course we are the better nation but their mistake is understandable.
There are a lot of us Kiwis and Aussies here so can you blame people for seeing us as one big bunch of jetsetting world wanderers with a can-do attitude and a thirst for booze?! Yes, wild generalisation but we can’t deny there’s some truth in the stereotype. I’m obviously proud to fly the Kiwi flag but I’ve never really got behind the rivalry… so what if their accents are annoyingly twangy and they are better at sports than we are? I’ve met some Australians I would never wish upon my worst enemy but I could probably say the same of some New Zealanders, so in the spirit of neighbourly love, let me introduce you to a likeable Aussie we met recently, his name is Alex.
Alex is a talented young chef from South Australia cooking up a storm all over London as The Pickled Fork, a caterer and private chef. Not being tied to a particular restaurant, his work sounds pretty diverse- one day he might be prepping for his own popup restaurant, while the next day he’s working at fancy pants events alongside other chefs such as fellow Aussie, John Torode. I’m not sure if John is as well known as our very own Kiwi girl Monica Galleti, but I suspect you may have heard of him…?
The style of Alex’s food is one we like; his menus focus on seasonal, locally sourced produce from suppliers he makes an effort to get to know, and some of it even comes from an allotment he shares in Wimbledon. Having checked out the menu beforehand, we were intrigued by some of the menu items and excited by the prospect of sampling some new ingredients and flavours.
First course was a Sipsmiths ‘Sipping Vodka’ cured sea trout, nettle sorbet, toasted oats and barley, pickled alexanders and pollen; a dish which assaulted my tastebuds in all sorts of interesting ways. The cured sea trout was stunning, but what made the dish exciting were the other textures and flavours- I loved the sharp crispness of the alexanders, the refreshing coolness of the sorbet (who knew nettle had such a pleasant flavour) and the roughness from the toasted oats and barley.
Before long, we moved onto the Dorset coal cooked asparagus, air dried pork cheek, salt baked Jersey Royals, and hot smoked duck egg mayonnaise and alfalfa sprouts; a rich, luxurious dish. The smokey coals did justice to one of my favourite vegetables, while the thick, moreish mayonnaise paid it due respect. This was my first taste of dried pork cheek, it reminded me of proscuitto- wafer thin and salty, definitely something I want to eat again on a slice of crusty sourdough with a hunk of cheese.
Having warmed up our appetites, we were ready for the meaty main course of ‘lamb three ways’ with bbq neck fillet, pulled lamb belly rillette and crispy pickled lamb’s tongue, watercress and radish salad, cold smoked kipper vinaigrette. Oh it was so nice to have a decent lamb dish. While most of the lamb on sale here seems to come all the way from lil old New Zealand, this was one of the few times I was actually reminded of the goodness of lamb from home.
The neck fillet was a breeze to eat, the rillettes left you wanting more, but as fans of all things offal and nose to tail dining, we fell in love with the pickled tongue. Encased in a light, crisp batter, the tongue inside had a slight sharpness and a lovely tender texture, we lamb-loving gluttons could have happily eaten another plate of those nuggets alone.
Finally, we ended with the wild fennel and thyme sorbet, almond and lemon verbena flapjack, whipped cornish goats curd and borage honey. This is not the type of dessert I usually order… no chocolate? No ice cream? No fruit? Normally my response would be no thank you, but that’s the beauty of set menus or tasting menus– you might find that you really like something you would never have ordered! I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the combination of dense flapjack, another refreshing sorbet, tart curd and the drizzle of honey to give it hit of super sweetness.
In case it’s not already obvious, we really enjoyed all four of the Pickled Popup courses; we liked Alex’s use of interesting ingredients and creative combinations. Each item on the plate either added a texture or flavour, nothing was surplus to requirements, very much in line with The Pickled Fork philosophy. Take a break from the fusion gimmicks and so-called exotic ingredients shipped from far and wide, and embrace what there is to offer right here in Britain… after all, we’ve already moved halfway across the world, there’s no need for our food to do so too!
The Pickled Fork does regular popup dinners every month, check out their website for dates and details, or hire Alex for your private dining event!