So what do we need to know about wastED
You mean, other than all we've told you in our interview with Dan Barber? Well, to precis, for the next five weeks London plays home to the hottest restaurant pop-up in the world. The concept was first rolled out 2015 when Barber, of Blue Hill at Stone Barns fame (top NYC-environs restaurant on the World's 50 Best list) ran a three week pop-up in New York devoted to being creative with food waste.
Now he's taken the concept one step further for five weeks at Selfridges, bringing together chefs from all over Europe to be part of the experience.
Where is it?
Up on the rooftop at Selfridges. Take the lift to the left of the beauty hall on the ground floor.
If you've been here in its other incarnation as Forest restaurant (or even for the Hot Dinners Elements party last year) you'll see the room has changed quite a bit. Gone are all the Narnia-style furnishings - in their place the room is much more homespun, tabletops look to be made of chipboard and the walls are hung simply with material. But look closely at the lamps - they're made out of seaweed and recycled paper waste or mushroom-mycelium and plant fiber.
Quite a few tables have been taken out too giving the whole space more room to breathe. Up at the open pass you'll spot Dan himself along with a massive brigade of chefs - we hear they were inundated with requests from young chefs to work here during the pop-up, many of whom are using up their holidays to be here.
What's to drink?
Start with a cocktail from Iain Griffiths, of Mr. Lyan. He's come up with a list of cocktails - six full-strength at £10 a pop, two lower alcohol at £7.50 and two for teatotallers at £5 a pop. We had the Dead Wine Spritz which is a vermouth spritz. The wine comes from anyone trying the pot-luck wine. If they don't like it and return the opened bottle, that's then turned into a vermouth with the addition of gin and botanicals.
And the food - why the hell is it so expensive if it's all been made from food waste?
Well, here's what you have to get your head around. This isn't a restaurant just gathering food that's been thrown away and repurposing it at a nice little profit. The dishes here are made from produce that has a value, that's delicious and that we (and the food industry) are, like loons, consigning to the dustbin.
For months now, Dan and his team have been looking at the food industry over here, trying to spot areas where a so-called waste product would actually be a perfectly serviceable ingredient. Then they use their culinary creativity to transform it into an amazing dish.
So there are dishes here featuring ingredients like kale 'trees' which get left behind in a field when a mechanical harvester has done its work. There's a world-class veggie burger made with juice pulp that'll blow your mind. Hell, there's even one featuring compessed caviar from the bottom of caviar tins that isn't usually served as they've lost some of their structural integrity - but none of their taste.
And there's a guest chef too?
Yes - every day a new chef will join Dan in the kitchen. On the night we were there it was Doug McMaster from Brighton's Silo restaurant who made the most gobsmacking dish of carrots cooked in compost suffused with lemon pulp waste. It may have been the best carrot dish we've ever eaten.
So how much does it cost?
Well first things first, did you manage to get a reservation? At the time of writing there were a just few lunch spots left. All the dinner bookings have gone, alas. BUT, we hear that you still have a decent chance of getting a reservation, if you put your name down on the waiting list. Every dish costs £15. We roamed the menu tasting everything in smaller bites, so don't pay too much attention to the size of what we photographed. Some, granted, are smaller but some, like the massive cod head kedgeree are flipping massive so it all works out in the end.
While we can recommend something about pretty much every dish on the menu, the ones we'd say are must-haves are:
- The Guest Chef special of the day. This will be so unique that you must order it.
- The Fish and Chips - served on newspaper, you can easily avoid the bones if they're not quite your thing and still eat a lot - but the "pockmarked potato cream" is a thing of absolute wonder.
- Waste Rarebit - stale ale bread, cheese trimmings, off grade apple chutney. Essentially a very good rarebit
- Cod Head Kedgeree - probably the signature dish - it's huge and the accompanying rice dish (broken rice, spelt bran, trial rye) is divine.
- Sausage from a waste fed pig - the sausage is great, but the bubble and squeak with remouillage gravy makes this dish
- Waffle scrap treacle tart - we love a treacle tart at the best of times and this with "failed popcorn" ice-cream is up there with the best.
That's just a selection, mind. We could happily recommend most of the menu.
We honestly didn't know what to expect from wastED. We were, if we're being entirely truthful, even a little worried about what we might be eating. What we had was one of those restaurant experiences that are truly memorable (for all the right reasons).
You couldn't fail to be affected by the enthusiasm of everyone working here. The excitement of working for something so creative and thoughtful shone through in every young chef who presented a dish to us. Feel very lucky if you've got a booking. Do what you can to secure one if you haven't, or look out for details coming on our Instagram feed of a very special Hot Dinners event there.
wastEd runs until 2 April 2017 at Selfridges, 400 Oxford St, Marylebone, London W1A 1AB. Find out more about wastED. To put your name on the waiting list (or book a lunchtime slot) go to the Selfridges website.
Hot Dinners were invited to wastED. Prices are correct at the time of writing.