Samambaia Project is a new pop-up restaurant in London that takes up the challenge of zero waste cooking and challenges you to see sustainability as the new normal, and not just a hype.
Introducing… Samambaia Project
This exciting new project is the lovechild of Lara and George, two up-and-coming chefs from opposite ends of the world (who weirdly have the same names as my husband and I). George (also a chef at Carousel) hails from New Zealand, while Lara (of Growler’s food truck) is from Brazil.
The idea for the pop-up originated out of a mutual passion for sustainability – Lara worked on sustainability for years before becoming a chef – but also a frustration at how superficial the term has become.
Sustainability is a word thrown around all too casually. The same goes for words like organic, farm-to-table or Fairtrade, often misused as a marketing strategy to mislead consumers into buying certain products; rather than to inform about the real and urgent processes and ethics behind them.
Food sustainability is not a simple box to tick. There is no single definition. It has to do with how our food is produced, distributed, consumed and disposed of, involving a lot of different people and processes along the way…
Wanting to do more, Lara and George set out to discover whether it is possible to create a menu driven entirely by sustainability. They started by researching suppliers and producers. In particular, those that go beyond reducing negative impact, and actually create value in the food chain.
What they found is that not only is it possible, it reinforced their beliefs. Their work is based on continuous study and research. Since every day there are new initiatives doing incredible things for sustainability.
Through a series of pop-up dinners in London, they aim to normalise zero waste and sustainable cooking, one event at a time. And that’s what Samambaia is all about – rethinking food, for the planet and for flavour.
Every menu is grounded by the following guiding principles:
- Zero Waste: We have eliminated waste from the equation. We abide by nose-to-tail & root-to-flower standards, so nothing is discarded during our cooking process.
- Foraging: We utilise as many wild ingredients as we can, foraging sustainably in London and the countryside.
- Redirection: We endeavour to utilise ingredients that are being grown for animal feed or fuel, and give precedence to ingredients that are by-products or typically go to waste.
- Traceability: Every product used is seasonal, local and traceable. All of our produce is free-range, grass-fed, line-caught and MSC certified.
Samambaia at The Bach
Our ethos is incredible flavour, real change. We say we were born at the crossroads of urgency and creativity. Samambaia is the Portuguese word for fern, as well as one of the most important symbols in New Zealand. It means rebirth, regeneration and new beginnings.
– Samambaia Project
I had the pleasure of attending the very first Samambaia Project pop-up at the Bach; featuring 7 courses and 40 guests, culminating in a whopping 280 plates! Lara and George did an incredible job serving up their unique menu and delivering a fun and memorable night.
First, let me take you through their innovative menu followed by information on the next event and how to book!
The dinner opened with a delicious leak rarebit amuse bouche. Staying true to their guiding principles, the dish featured usually discarded leek bottoms with rarebit sauce made from cheese rinds and breadcrumbs from yesterday’s sourdough. While that kind of sounds like cooking from scraps, the dish was fine-dining-worthy. Packed with flavour, it was the crispy leek and creamy cheese textures that made this dish special.
‘Fish and Chips’
Made from ‘leftover’ fish meat from fish bones and heads with sea vegetables foraged from the UK and Portugal. This was my favourite dish of the night, and also the first time I tried Portuguese sea figs! They are small, delicious little things, packed with an intense salty flavour similar to samphire. Other ingredients included fermented potato skins and dehydrated purslane, fish skin and scales. Overall it was light, fresh, and disappeared from my plate very, very quickly.
Sourdough and Pork
I eat a lot of sourdough, and Samambaia’s signature sourdough is among the very best. When it arrived at our table, it was still oven-fresh, thick and soft in the middle and full of crunch on the outside. Although it was the dip that caused quite a stir!
After the last course, each table received a pair of candles that started melting quite rapidly. With no explanation, my table started to develop our own theories as to what they might be.
At first, I thought it was part of the next course. But when quizzed as to why I was photographing candles as another diner mistook it for some kind of essential oil and rubbed it into her skin, I started to doubt myself…
Once the candles had near melted, our waiter came back with the bread and finally explained. “Please enjoy the bread with this dip made from Iberico Pork fat trimmings…” I admit we felt a little stupid but I suppose none of us were expecting such an original dish! Absolutely brilliant, signature-dish worthy, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next.
Turnip Tops and Tongue
Leafy turnip tops are another frequent victim of food waste and the star of this next dish. Similarly, veal tongue is an under-appreciated cut, although everyone here loved it! Served with braised rump from free-range bull calves, seasonal British rhubarb and oat creme fraiche.
Heritage Grains and Wild Saffron
This delicate, beautifully presented dish featured a combination of UK heritage spelt and barley, seasonal British apples, Jerusalem artichokes and turnips. Wild Saffron Beurre Blanc foraged from Portugal and a vegetable glaze made from usually discarded or spent vegetable parts.
I loved that this main dish was vegetarian while the previous ones only had small quantities of meat and fish. It’s an important reminder of the fact that large quantities of meat consumption is unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean you have to go completely without.
Hemp and Sorrel Cake
Last but not least, cake made from hemp oil and candied hemp seeds with seasonal pear and foraged wood sorrel. Hemp is one of the most sustainable crops in the world, while the candied seeds were delicious.
Samambaia at Our/London
After a very successful debut at the Bach, the next Samambaia Project will be on the 16th May at Our/London; an urban micro distillery under the arches of Hackney Downs station.
This time, they’ll be serving up four courses, one cocktail and good music from 7pm to 12am to 50 guests. As usual, beers by zero waste beer-maker Toast Ale and wine will be available for purchase. Tickets cost £40, click here to get yours!
For more blog posts on the topic of sustainability, click here!
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Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest and a friend to experience the new Samambaia Project and share my honest thoughts in this post.