#WastEDLondon is a temporary pop up restaurant currently wowing diners on the roof of Selfridges in London – and it’s a pop-up like no other. WastED aims to start conversations about sustainability and waste, by serving up a menu made primarily from food by-products which are usually binned by the food industry (the capitalised ‘ED’ stands for ‘Education’).
It’s pretty much the most talked-about pop-up experience in London this year so far – and last week, I ate my way through the tasting menu.
Who’s behind it?
The venture is headed up by Dan Barber, a critically acclaimed New York chef determined to bring about a new way of thinking about food. He’s a man passionate about sustainability; his book The Third Plate details his investigations into cuisine and agriculture and lays bare what he believes to be the future of food. He champions a definite move away from meat and two veg, replacing this instead with a plate of vegetables with meat as a sauce or side dish, or if eaten in quantity, saved for special occasions. And when it comes to spreading this message Dan means business; he was on President Obama’s council for health and nutrition, and in 2009 Time magazine named him one of the world’s 100 most influential thinkers.
In London, Dan has been busy treating diners at his #WastEDLondon pop-up to a daily-changing menu of dishes created with the utmost attention to detail. Drawing inspiration from ‘the UK’s already-vibrant food waste movement’, his pop-up showcases ingredients from local producers from across the country. Wales’s very own Illtud Dunsford (a.k.a. Charcutier – a regular at Cardiff’s Riverside Markets) has been heavily involved, providing pork from his waste-fed, free range pigs which are reared on a diet of whey, restaurant scraps, spent grain and vegetable waste. He’s also helped Dan’s team find a supplier for the ‘spent hens’ on the menu – older laying hens whose meat would usually end up in pet food as it is deemed too tough for human consumption.
On to the food
When I arrived on Selfridges rooftop for #WastEDLondon, I was immediately charmed by sound of the the super-cool playlist, the dimmed lighting, and the general good-time vibe which greeted me. Everything I could see – from the tables to the crockery to the light shades – was made with either recycled or upcycled materials, and all of it will be auctioned off when the pop-up ends at the beginning of April. With such interesting and inspiring surroundings as the setting for catching up with a great friend, I knew I was in for a good night.
Eager to try as much of Dan’s cooking as possible, I had no choice but to order the £75 tasting menu, starting with a serving of ‘Wasted Bread’ – bread made with bran and ‘leftover barista milk’, served with whey ricotta and jamon offcuts. We washed that down with a ‘Dead Wine Spritz’ and a ‘Melon Rind Negroni’ made from gin, Campari, Martini Rosato, melon rind infusion, and chopping board pickles. I ended up drinking more of those than I probably should have…
Next up, was possibly my favourite dish (and not just because I find the word butts funny). ‘Lettuce Butts’ came topped with smoked salmon collar and crispy salmon skin crumbs and drizzled with vinaigrette – why has no-one thought of using lettuce butts as a canape base before?
Fish and chips came next – but not as you know them. Wonky chips, deep fried and crispy fish bones and skin, both served with a creamy dip made from pockmarked white potatoes and flavoured with smoked salmon. Eating the tails and fins was easy – the heads less so – but only because I am slightly squeamish, not because the whole thing wasn’t totally delicious. Think fishy pork scratchings!
Next on the tasting menu was a dish from the guest chef of the night, Nuno Mendes. Nuno is a Portuguese chef, and head chef at Chiltern Firehouse, London, and for his special, he prepared ‘Cauliflower Hearts’ served with charred leek pulp, crispy salmon skin, and strips of rehydrated salmon jerky; one of the most technically interesting dishes I have ever eaten.
‘Brocolli Stems’ came to the table next – smothered in a bechemel sauce made from whey* (the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained – a byproduct in the manufacture of cheese), and sprinkled with dry aged beef crumble, and a generous pile of grated, dried pigs blood – again from Charcutier.
(*This dish has inspired me to use up my broccoli and cauliflower hearts and stalks from now on, by chucking them into a huge tray of macaroni cheese).
Next up was another dish featuring pork from Charcutier – this time sausage from his waste-fed pigs, served with bubble & squeak (my favourite leftovers dish) and a gravy made with remouillage (a second stock, made from the same set of bones as the first batch). This dish was comfort food at its absolute best!
A penultimate soup course next – ‘Spent Hen Broth’. That tough meat from the ex-laying chickens I mentioned? This had been been transformed into boudin blanc (white sausage) – then sliced, and served in a rich, thick and salty broth with tender young kale leaves. For me, the broth was too rich – I probably would have preferred it at half the reduction, but I still finished the lot.
Finally – and with the top button of my jeans now discreetly undone under the table – our desserts arrived, artfully arranged on a gorgeous ceramic cake stand. A rich and creamy panna cotta, flavoured with ground cocoa pod husk (rather than with the cocoa bean itself), and a treacle tart made with out-of-date caramel waffles and served with ‘failed popcorn’ ice-cream.
And by the time we’d eaten all of that, we were well and truly stuffed!
I had one of the most exciting and interesting meals of my life at the #WasteEDLondon pop up. Our servers were efficient, friendly and warm; each dish was delivered to our table with a flourish and a detailed explanation of the ingredients used; even the candles on our tables were fashioned from beef dripping. This was a meal unlike any I am likely to eat again.
Whilst technically, there is no way I would be able to recreate any of what I was served at home, that wasn’t the point. If food as interesting, attractive and delicious as this can be made primarily from the scraps we normally chuck in the bin, surely we can be doing far more across the food industry to better make use of everything we have? Dan Barber has shown London that he can make scraps and offcuts into proper main dishes; off-grade fruit and vegetables into star ingredients; and use fat drippings as candles and alternatives to butter – and in the process, given us all a huge helping of food for thought.
Even though #WastEDLondon is fully booked until it ends on April 2md, tables still free up on a daily basis – join the waiting list or give them a call for last minute spaces on 020 7788 6210.
You can also watch The Upcoming‘s interview with Chef Dan Barber below: