Table talk: Low waste, all taste at Cub in London
Cub is a quiet roar of a restaurant, with mind bending vegetarian food. It's all about showcasing the idea that zero waste doesn’t mean zero taste.
Tue 21 Aug 2018
An unimposing terraced house exterior reveals a slick, subtle, seasonal vegetarian menu within like finding plump blackberries hidden inside a scraggly hedge. Step inside Cub's compact space and be transported to another world.
Cub is zero waste chef Douglas McMaster’s second restaurant outing, in collaboration with Mr Lyan of serious London cocktail fame.
I love its quiet confidence in serving up a single option taster menu which might challenge most people on at least one ingredient.
The veggie focused menu comprises six dishes in total but the menu is arranged so that it’s unclear what’s food and what’s a drink, to keep you on your toes. There's a merging of what constitutes a course, is it edible, sippable or both?
The minimal descriptions are just a list of the building blocks of each dish (Fennel heart, Happy Egg yolk, Pumpkin seeds) and bely the time and effort taken to create something superb, surprising and satisfying in each dish. First up, thick slices of Vesuvio tomatoes cut like rare steak and come loaded with Kent strawberries and vinegar. It’s a riot of summer to kick off with.
A warming botanical broth is a bold move on a sweltering July evening but the smoked oil, fennel and apple give it an addictive sweet and sour kick that makes me sip it greedily (and then my partners). Continuing the fennel theme, the earlier dish mentioned was my stand out; the gooey, oozy yolk provided a rich counterfoil to the earthy, eager fennel. On seeing us considering actually licking the bowl, the waitress brought over another plate of on site made sourdough cut like stepping stones.
"Each dish comes with an explanation of cooking techniques, sourcing and tit bits of information that make me look at each beautifully presented plate with even wider eyes"
Each dish comes with an explanation of cooking techniques, sourcing and tit bits of information that make me look at each beautifully presented plate with even wider eyes. The passion for each dish comes through in the descriptions, no matter how many times our lovely waitress has to repeat it at each table.
The last savoury dish is Red Rice Koji with nerone and carosello cucumber. The rice used to be cooked for Japanese royalty. In this guise its been brewed for hours in its own juices - a traditional technique that hasn’t been used much recently. Despite there being only three ingredients it’s a powerful, filling, textured dish.
I’m enjoying the dipping and licking so much that I don’t really even look up until about plate number four, but when I do I spot a familiar face. Douglas McMaster, chef behind Cub - and sister restaurant Silo in Brighton (read our interview with Doug here on his zero waste philosophy), is helming the delicate plating up.
I should quickly mention the curious dessert dish - an ice cream made from Cyprus potato skins. I’m only the second person to taste the dish. I’m a little sceptical I have to admit, but the ice cream is in fact creamy, doesn’t taste of potatoes and makes a great base for the fennel flowers and Cornish blackcurrants its scattered with. It’s sweet without setting off the addictive sugar high.
The fact that all of this is produced in one of the smallest galley kitchens I’ve ever seen in a restaurant (basically behind the bar that splits the front half of the narrow space in two) is a miracle. I ask how much waste is leftover and Douglas smiles and points to what looks like an ice cream container. That’s it. There basically is no waste - added to the fact it’s a veggie menu - means they can knock up fine dining dishes with a four ring hob and experienced finesse.
The set menu at Cub includes paired drinks which as you might expect are as unusual as the food.
We started with a sip of rather expensive Krug champagne, but it’s weighted down with a solid bubble of jelly. Bare with me, it sounds less than appetising but was in fact delightfully flavoured with honeysuckle, micro basil and elderflower which offset the crisp bubbles. It's followed by a long spritz with lovage, fig leaf and vodka, a rare tea with compressed plum and a digestif that followed the plum theme but matched it with Cub Amaro. Each one came with a fascinating story that made my mind boggle at the layers of intricacy and carefully uses surplus herbs, fruit and veg from the kitchen so that there is as little waste as possible.
For those that want to carry on the drinking, Mr Lyan has opened SuperLyan in the basement next door. I popped in for one and was greeted with 80s power ballads - it’s the kind of place, you go for one and come out a week on Wednesday.
Cub undoubtedly has an east London vibe. The thin house on a quiet back street in Hoxton could be easily missed and is unpretentious, but inside there are diners serious about exploring incredible low waste food. Smart, understated clay walls mix with bright orange banquets and stripped back lighting - everything feels purposeful rather than for show, much like the food.
The sustainability bit
Oh boy where do I start? Douglas McMaster is a pioneer at showcasing low and zero waste food that packs a punch on taste.
Seasonal fruit and veg are repurposed the whole way through the menu, long forgotten cooking techniques are used to cut down on superfluous ingredients. The recycled clay walls naturally filter the air, the tables are made from recycled yoghurt pots. It’s incredible what can be done with a reduce, reuse, recycle mindset and a culinary vision.
At its heart though Cub wants the food to speak for itself - there are plenty of stories to be told about every facet of the restaurant and the menu. You’ve just got to ask to be inspired. Each diner is given a manifesto as they leave. It starts: “Sustainable living doesn’t have to be about sacrifice and luxury doesn’t have to be about waste.” Amen to that.
When to visit
Cub is only open Thursday to Saturday, 6pm to midnight. Booking is recommended but walk ins are welcome to sit at the bar, although you’ll be nose to nose with the chefs. The set menu is £55 per person.
Where is Cub?
Find Cub on 153 Hoxton Street, London N1 6PJ.