London’s dining scene is ever evolving, with the food industry seemingly as fickle as that of fashion. Talk to the “hip” Londoner and he or she will tell you not only what to wear or what bands to listen too, but what to eat if you want to fit in. Of course, it would be an exercise in foolishness to heed their advice. By the time you have sat down in the latest BBQ joint or falafel squat, they will have moved on. The thing is, with food, its quality remains untarnished as fads come and go. Great food will always be great food, regardless of whether it is in ‘vogue’ or not.
As food crazes have come and gone, there have been some trends that have stuck, and seasonality is one of them, which with its philosophy of consistent change, is satisfyingly ironic to suit my British sensibilities. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of eating only what the local ecosystem provides, there is something comforting and rewarding about seasonal eating. There is pleasure to be gained from eating locally sourced, responsibly grown food. The more cynical would put that down to a desire for sophistication or another way to be elitist and snobbish about food. I disagree. As someone who was born and bred in the countryside, I see great value in making the most of the resources that surround you before looking elsewhere; it just makes sense.
Bumpkin have embraced the concept of seasonality to the hilt, and their wonderfully creative menu shows that eating seasonally does not mean compromising on taste or diversity. Entering their Chelsea branch, set in an old Georgian townhouse, I feel as if I have stepped out of the city. Pistachio walls, ornately framed illustrations and old fashioned floor lamps give the restaurant a distinctly old-fashioned country feel. This is not the ‘coolest’ restaurant in London, and this is probably to have been ascertained from the name and clientele – the Royal family, for example – but that is hugely refreshing. For once, I can stop having to think about how sleek the lighting is, or how those open ventilation units look so edgy and just focus on the food.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the press event for the new autumn menu, and each course was served with a different wine. I chose the chicken liver pate with a pear chutney and sourdough toast as a starter and this was accompanied by a late harvest wine from Royal Tokaji. The smooth pate was delicate in flavour and it really came to life when paired with the chutney. The toast added texture to make a very satisfying bite. It was a little peculiar to have such a sweet wine with a starter but the combination was pleasant enough.
The presence of venison on the menu rendered all other main course options redundant. It is a huge shame that this darkly flavoured meat is not more widely eaten as there is no shortage of deer, even in London, and in my opinion it is a far tastier meat than beef. Bumpkin’s chef decided to serve it with savoy cabbage, and a black pepper and raisin sauce. As soon as I saw my plate I knew this dish would be a success; the meat was an intense pink, the sauce was a perfect consistency and the cabbage was perfectly cooked. The taste matched its visual impressiveness note for note with the rich, moody flavours of the meat perfectly accompanied by the peppery sauce.
I finished the whole evening off with a fine dessert that married the delicate flavour of poached pear with the gentle fire of a gingerbread. The pear was poached in mulled wine which gave it a lovely mellow spice and the addition of vanilla pod and cinnamon gave it a pleasing complexity. The chef could have been a little more heavy handed with the ginger in the gingerbread, but that is merely a personal preference.
As the days grow shorter and colder, and as we spend more time indoors, it is easy to forget about life outside our city walls. Whilst we urban types go into semi-hibernation in the comfort of our flats, terraces and the like, the farmers and fisherman that provide our food continue to labour on. Bumpkin is a terrific reminder of their good work, and the sheer diversity and quality of ingredients that this country produces. It may not be the hippest restaurant, nor the most exotic, but it is certainly one of the best that I have visited. Go!