Food for thought: Foraging for supplies
Craig Butcher reviews John Rensten’s restaurant, The Compass, to learn just how easy it is lay your hands on nature’s own larder and serve it up for dinner.
Few restaurants are shy about proclaiming their local, ethically-sourced provenance message. But when you discover the owner John Rensten spends his weekends picking mushrooms in the New Forest, you wonder whether there might be something special on offer.
“The idea was always to create a pub, but one that also happened to do really nice food,” explains The Compass owner John Rensten. “The term ‘gastropub’ is so over-used that now it describes anywhere with an expensive a la carte menu to everything you can defrost for a fiver.”
But in autumn, the onset of the game season and the wild mushroom season, some of nature’s best ingredients are now coming into their own. Garry Everleigh, expert forager and John’s mentor, gives his
top tips on what’s in season and how to go about foraging
The Compass review
From the small and dynamic team behind the intimate
by London’s Smithfield Market, comes this honest homage to local British ingredients with plenty of foraged ingredients on the menu. Nestled at one end of Angel’s thriving Chapel Market, this former old-time boozer and late-night music venue is now home to a bustling open-plan kitchen and pub.
Inside, it’s still very much a pub, with the bar and kitchen running almost the full length of the back wall. Wood panelling, oak tables and scattered chairs along with chalkboard menus and crisp lighting complete the picture. Self-confident boards announce the imminent arrival of this month’s highlights, including seafood from New Mersea, along with partridge and snipe (a smaller-framed gamebird). It’s like an arrivals board for British ingredients, only more reliable than those at, say, Heathrow. The rollcall elsewhere includes seafood ingredients bought fresh from the boats at Poole, Colchester – anywhere they’re landed, in fact.
On the bar, the East India Pale Ale is a lively, hoppy number which opens the palate alongside the fresh bread using flour from a mill in Enfield, north-east London, which is made on-site each morning (as with the pickles and many of the condiments like horseradish).
A generous starter portion of crispy smoked English pork belly, radish, stilton and mustard vinaigrette and a zippy bunch of watercress showed ingenuity, though it was slightly salty with the double whammy of pork and blue cheese. The Lady’s cauliflower and truffle soup was a hearty measure that made lighter use of cream and was, pleasingly, not blown away by the truffles.
A main of roast pheasant was both breast and thigh, with a potato fondant (lighter than dauphinoise) and honey roast baby vegetables including an earthy beetroot, chantenay carrots and fennel. It’s a fantastic easing into the game season. Main of black bream risotto was an excellent showcase for this lesser-known native variety with the citrus zest an excellent boost along with the occasional chilli heat, though could have benefited perhaps from some light greenery.
After such a well-proportioned feast, dessert was a shared chocolate brownie with clotted cream, slightly warmed and welcomingly oozy, opted for only narrowly ahead of the well-chosen cheeseboard (smoked Lincolnshire poacher and Stinking Bishop in on the action).
The Compass is a great neighbourhood find and a rare example of a pub doing great things with well-sourced ingredients, both with the grain and grape, as well as with well-sourced and often foraged ingredients.
58 Penton Street
London, N1 9PZ
T: 020 7837 3891