Fun and game: wild food at Native, Covent Garden

Native is my absolute new favourite restaurant, and it’s just around the corner from my new office. I’m very smug about this.

I managed to bag a spot in the February soft launch (the same day as Jay Rayner, in fact, before he gave it a glowing review in The Observer), but got so drunk with Jay – a different one – that I couldn’t remember the food in any useful detail, except that it was bloody good.

Round two then, this time with only one bottle of prosecco between two and with my friend Hannah, who is exactly the kind of person Native needs to appreciate its genius, i.e game for game. Because Native is all about ‘wild’ food, which is marketing-speak for locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. Nose-to-tail, field-to-face, that sort of thing. Of course that’s nothing new, there are plenty of restaurants out there at the moment with ‘foraged’ menus, but what makes it different is the price. Two courses cost about £20 a head, and a bottle of highly drinkable prosecco can be had for a very reasonable £24. (This is where I went wrong the first time…) In Covent Garden, that’s a steal. 

The best seat in the house is at the chef’s table, a narrow counter that makes up one side of the kitchen staff’s diminutive domain. Not recommended for more than two people, or anyone who likes to slobber on their date’s neck between courses or impart state secrets over supper, but a great spot to watch the chefs do their thing and, of course, perv on other people’s dinners before you choose your own.

View from the Chef's Counter
Best seat in the house.

Easier said than done. Despite only a handful of options for each course, you’ll be spoilt for choice. We mulled over our options with a generous portion of warm garlic and rosemary focaccia (£3.00), fresh from the oven and, rather cruelly, left to cool at my elbow. (This, of course, is the downside of the chef’s table.)

Native restaurant Covent Garden Neals Yard

There are only four options each for starters and mains, and the food isn’t really designed for sharing. This a menu for decisive types, clearly, not FOMO-stricken ninnies who’ve been coddled witless by the recent fashion for small plates. Hannah and I, being ninnies, decide to split everything. 

First to the party was the Rabbit Dumplings with Smoked Bacon Dashi and Pickled Walnut (£8.50), a sublime little pyramid of meatballs, piled up like Ferrero Roche and steeped in warm, meaty broth.

Native restaurant Covent Garden Neals YardBraised Carrots with Pangratatto and Hayonnaise (£5.50) – that’s mayonnaise infused with hay, not a typo – did not live up to the pomp of its name, despite looking like some sort of woodland diorama, adorned with ‘edible’ flowers (i.e. eating them will not kill you). Pangratatto, by the way, is not some sort of delicious cured meat or Italian cheese, but fancy breadcrumbs. Now you know.

Native restaurant Covent Garden Neals Yard
The carrots should really have been a glorious side dish, not a starter, like its less attractive but much jollier cousin, Roast Parsnips with Lincolnshire Poacher (£3.50). A large plate of fat parsnip chunks, swollen with honey and sprinkled liberally with good cheese, as though the chef had fond memories of the cheesy chip van of his youth and set about to recreating its wares it in their perfect form.

Native restaurant Covent Garden Neals Yard
Pan Fried Hake (£14.00) was chosen for its golden platefellows, Split Pea Dahl and Cauliflower Leaf Pakora, the latter of which absolutely deserves a spotlight of its own. A bit like Zayn from One Direction, I have no doubt it could strike out on its own as a successful side dish or, fuck it, with its own dedicated street food truck. It could putter around London leaving delighted, oily-fingered foodies in its wake, and hipster types could hire it out to line the bellies of drunk people at their weddings. (The fish is very nice too, but, damn. That pakora though.)

The real dish to write home about was the Fallow Deer Loin Steak (£16.50). I don’t know what a fallow deer is and I don’t care; venison is the thing Native does best (Jay and I devoured everything that even had a whiff of Bambi’s mum about it, the first time round, so I speak from experience).

INative restaurant Covent Garden Neals Yard
This one came on a creamy cloud of pureed cauliflower – I am all about those, er, foraged cauliflowers at the moment – and accompanied by crispy onions as satisfyingly crunchy and salty as crackling.

The dessert menu could use a bit of work. I am 100% sure that if I tried it, Prune Loaf with Lancashire Cheese and Stilton would be absolutely delicious, but at £7.00 I don’t think I can be bothered to find out. In any case, Hannah isn’t interested unless there’s chocolate involved, so we finished the meal with a couple of Caramelised Honey Truffles (£1.00), which were perfect little bites of grown-up Crunchie and did just the job.

Native restaurant Covent Garden Neals Yard
Native may only have been open for a couple of months, but its co-founder Imogen has already garnered more locals than an East End pub landlady. Half the people who came in were clearly repeat business, and the other guy at the Chef’s Counter apparently comes in twice a week. I can see where they’re coming from; I myself am making plans to bring my parents, Mike, and every last one of my clients once my new employer lets me loose with a company credit card. See you soon, Native.

Native, 3 Neal’s Yard, London, WC2H 9DP

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Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.