Stevie Parle picks, smokes and pickles home-grown veg at his stylish Greenwich restaurant, says Hannah Thompson
It's a rare chef that looks at miso paste and sees potential for something British, but for Stevie Parle, therein lies his entire approach.
This focus on homegrown produce was inspired, Parle says, by the restaurant's setting on 45 acres of land by the imposing O2 arena on the Greenwich peninsula, where the chef can pick from veg and herb beds, an orchard, beehives and smokehouses. The name, Craft, is a direct reference to the chef's desire to connect with the ingredients themselves and involve British producers.
The restaurant, created by interiors designer Tom Dixon, features curved glass, crushed velvet in earthy colours and brass accents. Although Parle has worked with Dixon before, this is totally different to his other ventures, the Italian-Spanish-style Rotorino on London's Kingsland Road and the experimental Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove.
"I like to keep my restaurants very separate," Parle says. "Craft] was a reaction to the space, as it is all glass and new. I wanted to give it integrity from the very beginning."
This beginning is a nebulous concept for the restaurant, as Parle began fermenting and pickling ingredients almost a year prior to its opening in preparation for the slightly barren winter-to-spring season. One dish references "last summer's damsons", while the baked nutmeg spelt pudding (£7) features a Japanese-style rose petal garnish that was pickled last year and is rehydrated before service.
"It's hyper-seasonal and British," explains Parle. "Other people are cooking with all these European vegetables, and we've been making a menu out of fermented preserves. It's challenging and creative."
Creativity and unexpected techniques are central to the Craft kitchen, which also has its own tandoor, a butcher's block and a huge barbecue-style grill. Dishes are served simply, but the process that goes into each ingredient is often long and well thought-through.
One example is the smoked and grilled eel (£12.50), which uses British treacle in homage to the Tate & Lyle sugar factory across the river and eel from Lincolnshire,which is smoked and glazed with malt vinegar and then wood-grilled.
Take also the charcuterie, which comes in the form of cured English Lop pepper sausage (£7) and cured pork neck, beef leg and pepper sausage (£12). Produced from a basic Italian recipe, the beef is smoked and cured for three months, while the process for the smaller pieces takes between three and 14 weeks. "We need a cured meat tradition in this country," says Parle. "Our meat is the best in the world."
And then there is the miso, part of the clay-baked whole duck with honey (£75, serves three), inspired by Celtic cooking techniques and one of the restaurant's bestsellers.
The Á la carte menu is split between snacks, starters, mains and desserts, but there is also a set six-course menu, a 60-minute menu
and a set lunch. The impression is of a kitchen so overflowing with ideas and techniques that one menu wouldn't be enough. Parle is
perhaps less evocative: "I just like to make my life difficult," he jokes.
Craft is the first independent concept to open on the rapidly changing peninsula, where 20,000 new homes will be built in the next five years. "They're really designing a community for London," says Parle. "People ask me a lot, are you an artist? No, I'm not, I'm a chef. But cooking is a craft. I like the idea of being here and part of it."
This attention to community - both existing and new - brings the scattered concepts of Craft into focus, and the apparent hodgepodge of production, old-fashioned techniques and odd-sounding ingredients, contrasting sharply with all the glass and brass, seems to make perfect sense. Even the miso.
From the menu
Exmoor sturgeon caviar (10 grams), artichoke crisps and cultured cream £30
Scallops, mussels and clam porridge, parsley sauce £14
IPA-cured Galloway beef leg, fresh cheese, beetroots, radish leaves £9.50
Butter-poached turbot, radishes, sea vegetables and wild horseradish £32
Ash-roasted squash, wild herbs, puffed grains and goats' curd £18
Chocolate, coffee, raw cream £8
Cardamom bun ice-cream, pepper crumb, raspberry vinegar £7
London SE10 0SQ