The first time I came across the idea of foraged cuisine, it was hard to shake off the image of Timone and Pumbaa teaching Simba the upside of an insect-loaded diet – rummaging in tree trunks, digging around in shrubbery and basing your meal on what was clean and well... there. I couldn’t help but think that the idea of farming is a 5,000 year old tried and perfected concept that shouldn’t be corrupted (and one which kick-started and supported modern civilisation). These days food is massaged, aged, cured and treated – surely ‘going out to find it’ was never going to beat what had provenance and quality assured? And then along came Rene Redzepi’s Noma - my idea of foraging couldn’t have been further from the truth. This quaint little Danish restaurant captured everyone's attention by being crowned World’s Best Restaurant three years in a row (a ludicrously impressive achievement) and its daily changing menu predominantly focussed on foraging. There was something to be said for produce that was alive less than 24 hours ago and allowed to flourish without any form of preservative or pesticide. Unlike Noma, Rabbit Restaurant doesn’t have the luxury of being proximate to a bounty of ‘foragable’ locations (would you readily eat anything actually grown in London??) so when the Gladwin Brothers opened their second restaurant dedicated to this type of cuisine, I was intrigued – clearly there was something to this method but I’d never been to Noma and I’d never been to The Shed (The Gladwin’s first restaurant), so off I went to Rabbit.
Owed entirely to my barbaric over-use of the word ‘forage’ (and variations of) there are no points for guessing what the concept is at Rabbit but the provenance is what makes this place stand out. The idea behind Rabbit (and initially The Shed) began when, three brothers, having grown up on a West Sussex vineyard and farm, joined forces to take on the London restaurant scene (Gregory Gladwin chose farming, Oliver became a chef and Richard went into hospitality) - the perfect ingredients to starting up a restaurant. The same farm they grew up on now provides much of the ingredients used in the kitchen, and doubles as an arena for the foraged ingredients. Aside from that, the restaurant itself takes the guise of part neighbourhood restaurant / part destination eatery. British cuisine takes centre stage but only in spirit – such is the invention and originality of the menu, you’ll hardly recognise anything actually on your plate.
THE FOOD AND DRINK
There are many very marketable traits surrounding Rabbit – the band of brothers at the helm, the foraged British food, the source of much of the ingredients and most shocking of all.. a standout British restaurant without the word ‘Social’ in the name. But aside from all of that the food is superb. Many new restaurants these days spend far too much time formulating a press-release friendly concept and forget about the food. Rabbit stunningly achieves both by having a compelling back-story that doesn’t distract from the effort and quality of the food itself. The menu changes daily but a couple of things that must be tried are anything with ‘Nutbourne’ in the name (the Gladwin farm) and, I guess, everything else on the menu. At Rabbit diners are encouraged to order a few dishes and share – this is definitely my favourite way to dine when not at a dish specific restaurant (steakhouse, burger-joint, pizza place) – it simply provides you with an opportunity to overcome disappointing dishes and capitalise on the good ones by ordering more. There really wasn’t anything to disappoint at Rabbit and with the substantial portions coupled with the reasonable prices (hovering around the £6 - £12 region) it’s easy on the wallet too.
THE DECOR AND ATMOSPHERE
The wine list has a broad spectrum and features representatives from many parts of the world – dishes can be paired perfectly to any of the wine; just ask any of the knowledgeable staff. Cocktails are just as experimental as the food and just as pleasing. The atmosphere is cosy and extremely friendly - conversations with neighbouring tables are alive with giddy excitement, food envy and boasts of how many times each person has visited Rabbit in the last month. The service is up there with some of best I’ve ever experienced – it was remarkable how much of the daily changing menu they memorised with precise detail. It was clear the staff had a real belief in the restaurant and this was evident in how much knowledge they had on Rabbit's ever-changing menu as well as the general level of friendliness.
THE LAST WORD...
Converting to foraging after a trip to Rabbit is like getting into banking after watching ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ – you’ve seen it at its best and everything else is just likely to disappoint. Perhaps I blew my ‘foraging fuse’ too early and it’s all downhill from here – that wouldn’t be a bad thing as Rabbit is just an incredible experience. That being said – I still don’t think I’m fully sold on foraging but I’m definitely sold on Rabbit...I've now been four times.
MORE ON RABBIT
Rabbit Venue Page Here