This post isn’t sponsored but the lovely people at Cub did feed me, which was very kind. All opinions my own.
While food can be a contentious issue when it comes to sustainability, there is still common ground for all of us when it comes to certain aspects of the industry. We can all agree that food waste is a huge problem, that shopping local when we can is a better option than mass industrial farming, and that overall many of us may need to look for different approaches when it comes to our attitudes to food.
It was refreshing, therefore, to be invited to visit Cub a few weeks ago, a fine dining experience in East London that puts sustainability at the heart of its operations. Cub is the baby of Mr Lyan, the ground-breaking cocktail master behind sustainable and innovative ventures like White Lyan and Dandelyan, Doug McMaster of zero waste restaurant Silo, and others including Dr Arielle Johnson, Krug Champagne and Belvedere. Based on Hoxton Street, the warm, Wes Anderson-esque interiors invite you in to a comfortable world where connection and conversation is encouraged, whilst their set menu brings you on a unique and novel journey through fine dining (and if you’re wondering, they cater to vegetarians and vegans with ease). Taking a leaf out of Silo’s book much of the decor and crockery comes from recycled materials, but its their approach to cuisine that takes centre stage both literally, as the chefs cook in the open right in front of the diners, and figuratively, as their ever-changing menu consistently delights.
Cub marries sustainability, creativity and experimentation in equal measure; bringing fascinating flavours to the table in both food and drink form that you not only enjoy, you also attempt to unlock the riddles of how they made something taste so darn good, and question why you’d never heard of these ingredients before.
When it comes to the food I have to start with a bold claim: this is the restaurant that got me to like beetroot. I’ve always wanted to like it, but have never quite been able to get there until I discovered their starter dish of Beet Prune, Apple Sourz and Miso Cream. The beetroot is dehydrated, then rehydrated in beetroot molasses and apple juice to create a completely different texture. It’s given the ultimate care and consideration that is usually reserved for meat, and dang does it have an impact. The texture was like nothing I’d ever tasted before, and instead of finding beetroot overly sickly like usual, I found the sweet and sour balanced perfectly in a little veggie slice of heaven.
Alongside the starter the first drink we were met with was a glass of Krug champagne, a company that Cub work with not just because of their flavours, but because of their approach to sustainability and luxury. Each bottle has a unique ID number, allowing traceability and transparency as to what wine goes into each vintage. And in the place of pesticides they use butterfly pheromones in their farming, which keeps pests away by confusing butterflies so they don’t lay eggs on the vines. Whilst I wouldn’t call myself an alcohol expert in any way I can confirm that it tasted pretty amazing, and the combination of these two elements perfectly sets the tone (which I would describe as ‘tasty but also fascinating’) and allows you to settle in for an evening of discovery accompanied by handy sustainability facts provided by the ever-amiable staff.
The set menu takes the longer, more meandering path of fine dining rather a traditional three course set up, which means that I won’t get into detail on every dish or we’ll be here for a little too long, but if you’re someone like me who likes to feel a lil ~fancy~, Cub is definitely the place for you when you want a special night out. I love the excitement of trying smaller treats that pack a punch, so a series of foods and accompanying drinks elevated the whole night into a particularly treasured experience, not just a good meal. Some of my highlights from the evening were:
– The bread. I know this seems simple, but I always find bread and butter at a restaurant for some reason feels 100% more luxurious than at home. Cub’s bread comes from a local Hackney bakery, made with grains which are gown and milled in the UK, while the butter it comes with is made in house.
– The fennel dishes. As well as serving it as a main with a beautiful sauce, the dessert was also a fennel ice cream served with Japanese knotweed. Not only was this a brilliant way to showcase the versatility of food by using one ingredient in wildly different ways, encouraging the idea of waste not want not, Japanese knotweed is also a fascinating ingredient as it is literally a weed that haunts gardeners and often has to be removed as it can damage buildings. Repurposing it for food is a wonderful use of a resource that has to be pulled out of the ground anyway, and it tastes very similar to rhubarb! Like beetroot I had never experienced fennel in the way Cub put the ingredient to use, and now I’m kind of hooked.
– The most interesting utilisation of byproduct materials that I’ve seen in a long time. One dish, known simply as ‘bones’, is a broth made with chicken bones which are collected from organic farms across the South West of England, utilising this waste material to create a broth cooked for several hours. If you’re vegetarian they make a deliciously rich counterpart from the vegetable staples, or the ‘bones of the kitchen’ which is incredible and uses the entire vegetable. Alongside this there’s a drink that uses a tincture made from feathers, another byproduct that would often go to waste, that Cub repurposed to create one of its main flavours. While the drink itself contains no actual feathers, which would be kind of weird, the feathers are dissolved in acid phosphate to release chemical compounds such as citrus aromas that get trapped in the tincture. By making this super concentrated tincture they’re able to add acidity and texture to their drink, and of course there is a plantbased alternative made from sarsaparilla root to achieve this quality too.
Overall, there are so many things I could say of my first time dining at Cub. Although I definitely don’t do it often I am a sucker for fine dining, and this experience was thoroughly unique in its approach to the menu, the setting, and the way we can rethink the resources and ingredients we have around us. It’s a delightful place to visit with just the right amount of atmosphere and intimacy, making it a night that can be enjoyed on several levels. It’s the perfect example of sustainability done the right way: used as the core approach of creation, but curating an experience so good that sustainability is that added bonus, as the works stands so well on its own too. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you find yourself in London.
And let’s not lie, that Wes Anderson vibe doesn’t hurt either.