Words & Photography: Chris Pople
It takes a lot to surprise the average restaurant-going Londoner — this is, after all, a city that has a café entirely devoted to breakfast cereal, and another where you dine in the pitch black — but Cub on Hoxton Street, the latest from Ryan Chetiyawardana of top-tier cocktail bar Dandelyan, is that rarest of things: a genuinely unique and innovative way of looking at the business of eating and drinking.
The idea driving the project is the concept of waste, but if that sounds a bit unappetising, then let us explain. The whole place, from the furniture and tableware all the way down to the tasting menu itself, is — wherever possible — recycled or reappropriated, from tables made out of yoghurt pots (really), plates made from compressed plastic bags and light fittings from recycled cardboard.
Which all sounds like it could end up looking like a bit of a car crash (or at least a junkyard) but in reality the space is beautiful — clean and bright, with mid-century-modern swoops and cosy yellow leather booths. Unfortunately, as this is London, space is at a bit of a premium, and so you may be asked to share one of the forementioned cosy booths with strangers you wouldn’t ordinarily like to be cosy with. We recommend making sure of your allotted seats before you get there, to avoid any awkward surprises.
Because there really is a lot to enjoy, not least, thanks to the pedigree of the owners, on the cocktail list. A £5 gin martini is necessarily a smaller measure than you’d get in your favourite hotel bar but is impeccably made, and the ideal palate cleanser. The drinks menu as a whole is an interesting read — if you aren’t tempted by entries such as “Ardbeg / Blackcurrant / Camparisoda” [sic] or “Sherried Whiskey / Pickled Plum / Banana-fermented carrot”, then they do more “normal” things like beer and wine, although we did note the only champagne appeared to be Krug, at a rather un-Hoxton-y £32 a glass.
But most will be here for the “set menu”, and this is where things get really interesting. Neither a bar which does a bit of food nor a restaurant that serves drinks, both gastronomy and mixology are given equal weight at Cub, an idea that, now we’ve had the chance to experience it, makes perfect sense in a “why has nobody else thought of doing this” kind of way. For example, some stages of the menu are purely food, such as a chicken consommé made with waste chicken bones from other restaurants (good restaurants, we were assured, and good chicken — which came as somewhat of a relief).
At other moments, food and drink arrived together. This beautifully colourful bowl contained a gently pickled green tomato, and was presented alongside “Chervil tops / Belvedere / Cider vermouth”. The drink was slightly vegetal, and the bowl contained umami-rich tomato and herb liquid, the division of labour producing a deeply satisfying — and legimately groundbreaking — result.
Not all dishes were quite so successful. “Shrooms on shrooms” suffered from containing rather a lot of chewy mushrooms and not much else (well, I suppose they did warn us…), and was fairly uninspiring. And would it have been too carnivorous of me to look for a bit more meat on the menu? They could keep their localvore credentials intact by catching squirrels on London Fields — there’s loads of the nasty little things there.
Overall, then, Cub had us won over, from the heartfelt and environmentally-friendly inception to the charming and timely delivery. Staff were, to the last man/woman of them, sweet and enthusiastic, eager to explain all the interesting bits and pieces we were being presented with, and clearly very proud of their product. And so they should be — it’s not often you get to be a founding member of a new food and drink movement, one that has the potential to change so much about how we approach eating out. In a few years’ time, who knows, perhaps we’ll all be eating leftover barista whey and cider vermouth.