There are small plates but big flavours at this London Bridge restaurant, where native ingredients are imbued with a ray of California sunshine. Lauren Bowes reports
For someone with a food allergy, eating out can be something of a nightmare. But at Lupins in London Bridge, diners can relax: every dish is nut free. However, the limitation, introduced so that old friend Ben Lovett of nearby live music venue Omeara (and folk band Mumford & Sons) could pop round "without any fear", is one that founders Lucy Pedder and Natasha Cooke feel is merely incidental.
"Everyone says we should push that [the nut-free aspect]," says Pedder. "But it wasn't meant to be a unique selling point. We just thought it would be helpful. It is also quite cool in that you have to think outside the box with what you are producing."
One simple example is a dish of charred seasonal greens with pistou (£8), a Provençal and pine nut-free alternative to pesto, which features basil, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan (or vegan Parmesan if requested). "It still has all the same delicious flavours, it just doesn't have that nuttiness," says Pedder.
While the duo might not describe Lupins as a nut-free restaurant, the menu is labelled as "seasonal British tasting plates, with a sunshine influence", which Pedder explains relates to the food the pair discovered in California: "We love the approach there. There's a massive mishmash of flavours and foods.
"We came back and thought about how England is this tiny island that has incredible fish, meat and vegetables, and there's no reason why British food shouldn't be similar to what it is in California – minus the really hot weather. We wanted it to feel like when you're on holiday, tasting all those bright flavours."
The menu is divided between ‘snacks', ‘small plates', ‘plates' and ‘desserts'. "The idea is that each dish is a standalone dish, so even though it's just charred greens, it can be enjoyed as its own plate of food," says Pedder.
When it comes to menu creation, Pedder says that everyone in the small brigade (three full-time chefs alongside Pedder and Cooke) is involved: "We really want to empower them. Our kitchen operates in a collaborative fashion."
One example of this is a dish of roasted heritage carrots with green tahini and labneh (£9), which came about through conversations in the tiny open kitchen, when the brigade realised no one had made labneh before. Purple, yellow and white carrots (from Natoora) are served two ways, roasted with Middle Eastern-inspired spices and shaved raw, offering a mixture of textures and flavours. The green tahini is a thick, creamy (dairy-free) dressing, made with parsley, lemon juice and garlic, and the dish is topped with pumpkin seeds and puffed rice, adding more texture without the need for nuts.
Pedder notes that the dish could be vegan if ordered without the labneh, and emphasises that the kitchen tries to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to dietary requirements. "As it's a sharing plate menu, we can put together a few bits and pieces to make sure we accommodate everyone. Our aim was to always have four options [for each menu section], so that someone really has a choice, regardless of what their allergy is."
While the kitchen might be accommodating of those with allergies or dietary requirements, the options aren't limited to health foods. Up first on the menu when The Caterer visits is a refined take on a British bar snack ("basically a posh onion ring – the best thing to have with a beer," Pedder explains), a small plate of spring onions with chipotle mayonnaise (£7.50), featuring the allium crumbed in polenta and fried until crisp outside and soft within.
Another hearty option is the pigeon Wellington (above), again a playful take on a classic. The kitchen bakes individual Wellingtons, filled with pigeon breast, a classic duxelle, chicken breast mousse and spinach, served with truffled Jerusalem artichoke purée and a pigeon jus. "It's pretty much all seasonal British ingredients, except for the truffle," explains Pedder. "We love doing stuff like that – playing around with things."
Pedder and Cooke's playful, local and seasonal take on dining is proving popular, with the duo expanding the restaurant, going from 28 covers to 35 and adding a bar. And although the positive reviews have rolled in, Pedder is staying modest: "It was lovely to know that people were recognising that we're just two people pouring our soul into it."
From the menu
White bean crostini with anchovy and lemon salsa £2 each
Cavolo nero and Gruyère croquettes with red pepper sauce £6
Sea bream ceviche with clementine, Thai basil and chilli £10
Cornmeal spring onions with chipotle mayonnaise £7.50
Burrata with quince, aged balsamic vinegar and lardo £10
Pigeon wellington with truffled Jerusalem artichoke £14
- Orange olive oil cake with gin-macerated blackberries and crème fraîche £6
66 Union Street, London SE1 1SG www.lupinslondon.com
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