Andrew was looking for someone to join him to a soft launch for a new restaurant opening in Neal’s Yard. As soon as I read about the restaurant, I knew I wanted to go. Native‘s ethos is wild food sourced locally from the UK. I can definitely get behind that sort of ethos! Plus, wild food = game, and I love game. So I was really excited to go and try it out and see how the food was going to be. I did have a slight worry that it was going to be a bunch of bitter foraged greens (I wish I could count how many bad experiences I’ve had with that in the past!), but the game did have me excited.
When you walk in the front door, you are greeted with a full view of the kitchen. After chatting with the owner, Imogen, about the restaurant, I learned the layout of the restaurant is intentional. They wanted people to be able to see the kitchen and see the ingredients when they came in because of the focus on the food and the cooking. Personally, I love seeing kitchens, so it was fine with me. We also had a seat at the chef’s counter which overlooks the kitchen, and they definitely plan on doing something special with that space after the soft launch. It felt a bit like a mini Kitchen Table restaurant actually, and since it’s one of my favorite places, I had a good feeling about my experience at Native.
I actually arrived a bit sooner than Andrew, so I had a drink while I was waiting and checked out the menu. I went for the sloe gun which was a drink with gin, sloeberry syrup and Prosecco. It was a great drink, a bit on the sweet side for me, but still highly enjoyable. The menu was small, and given the season, it had quite a bit of venison on it. They also don’t supply your standard soft drinks, and they make all their own in house. (I didn’t actually try them, but they sound amazing).
Once Andrew arrived, we decided on our choices. We had the pigeon kebab and the venison tagine to start, the venison hash and venison steak for mains, and one of each of the desserts. We also split a very nice bottle of Rioja. They even started us with a snack of partridge skin with rhubarb as a snack, and they let us try a bit of locally brewed cucumber beer. The skin was perfectly crispy and melted in the mouth, and the sweet rhubarb offset it well. The beer is really delicious, and I could imagine sitting in Neal’s Yard on a warm summer’s day drinking bottles of it with friends. We also got some of the home made focaccia with rhubarb and fennel seed topping. (And I’m putting fennel on my focaccia at home now because it was delicious).
We had a great time watching the chef’s prepare our food, and the two starters looked amazing when they arrived. The pigeon was amazingly cooked as it was nice and rare in the middle. The tagine ended up being different than I expected, as the meat was shredded and mixed almost as a dip. Both of them were spectacular. The pigeon was tasty and well cooked, and it went well with the beetroot. The star was the tagine as it was full of flavor, and it was incredibly moreish. I was slightly annoyed I only got to eat half of it!
Mains arrived, and they also looked very appetizing. The hash wasn’t quite what I expected, as it was a kind of like mash with venison in it, but the egg on top was perfectly cooked and I was really excited to dig in. The venison steak was also perfectly cooked, and if I knew I wasn’t going to be getting half of it, I might have been jealous. Both dishes were very tasty. The hash had a lot of flavor and the egg really added a nice richness to the dish. The steak was phenomenal. I’ve not had quite a tasty and juicy steak in quite awhile, and the cauliflower puree underneath it was packed full of deliciousness. Both Andrew and I agreed that it was the star of our dinner!
One nice thing about sitting at the counter is we got to see the chef prepare all the dishes going out. They did look absolutely amazing, and it’s always something I enjoy about dining in or around the kitchen!
Finally dessert! There were only two options, so we had the cheese and the rhubarb and custard. Earlier in the night, I got to watch the chef make the honeycomb for the dessert, so I knew how fresh it was. When they arrived, they both looked great. I really liked the rhubarb and custard, but Andrew prefers his desserts richer and sweeter (and full of chocolate). There was a nice savory note in the custard from the coriander in the honeycomb, and I’m a huge fan of savory notes in desserts, so I ended up eating most of it. The cheese was delicious too, and served with more of the great focaccia bread. I did let Andrew have a bit more of it since I ate more of the custard, and I think we both left quite happy. We also finished up with some local whisky and local apple brandy. They also gave us a bit of seabuckthorn juice which was really tangy and a great palate cleanser after the mains.
I really enjoyed everything I ate at Native, and Andrew said he was very impressed with the soft launch as it was one of the best he’s been to. The food was really good. The only hiccup was that they got a bit overwhelmed in the kitchen with the orders, but that’s what soft launches are for. I guess the biggest tell is that both of us are ready to come back and try it again, which is always a good sign of a great restaurant. I’m looking forward to coming back at different times during the year and seeing what they do with all the seasonal produce that is available (as it’s winter, so there was quite a bit of rhubarb on the menu… I didn’t really care as I love rhubarb). So I’m going to highly recommend going to native for anyone who wants a passionate dining experience using local, wild food for what seemed to be a very affordable price!
3 Neal’s Yard, WC2H 9DP