Taking it “Slow” at the Rosewood London
In the heart of Dickensian London purveyors of fine foods have created a chic celebration – and successful promotion – of the international Slow Food movement.
Bathed in the promising light of early spring, butchers, brewers, bakers, grocers, and a host of other producers and crafts-people opened the first of what will be a weekly Sunday Slow Food and Living Market and exquisite Slow Food Brunch. The March 1 Slow Food movement event was located in the quaint cobbled courtyard and the elegant Mirror Room of the Rosewood Hotel London, pioneering the principles of stylish slow food for anyone who is up and ready to make a visit (the Sunday market opens from 10.30am to 3pm, brunch is served in the Mirror Room from 12.30 to 3.30pm and the Holborn Dining Room from 12 to 5pm).
Scenes from Oliver Twist and Victorian London
The colourful market – perfect as a film set – attracted Londoners, Scots, French, Slovenians as well as visitors from Canada, the Caribbean, Korea and South Africa. Shoppers and the curious, of all ages, from babies in buggies to elderly connoisseurs, happily milled around in the bright London sunshine, wishing they had brought more and larger bags for the bright and varied produce.
Beautifully set up in wooden stalls with brown hessian coverings – all plastics banned from sight – the scene could have come from the stage, a musical of Oliver Twist perhaps, but without the street urchins and mayhem. I have never seen a market so spotless, nor carefully decorated and designed, with perfect white-petalled flowers in wicker baskets, neat hay bales and glossy lemon trees in cloth bags carefully placed throughout. The look is clean and modern, but also very vintage – catching the feel of the Slow Food movement, which was invented nearly 30 years ago, by Italian activist and gastronome, Carlo Petrini, combining contemporary political trends with traditional wisdom in food production.
To the right of the elegant arch that leads into the Rosewood, framed by snowy hydrangeas in mini wooden wagons, I found Wild Country Organics, a family farm near Cambridge, run by Dr Adrian Izzard. WildCo grows organic salads and oriental vegetables year round in glass houses, without heating, making their protected crops some of the greenest available in the land. They boast the best tasting organic vegetables and salads, so I tried quite a few bites. First the sorrel, deliciously tart, and next the trendy “flower spouts” which look as though they should come from under the sea (beautiful purple-y green and frilly looking, all the rage at the moment in London). I was impressed by the rich iron and peppery taste of the wonderful wild rocket (can last up to 2 weeks), the soft texture and delicious flavour of both their Tuscan Kale and Red Kale (beautiful to look at too). Wildco had Pakchoi (also known as Bok Choi), and the thinner stemmed Tatsoi, which I nibbled, finding a sensuous buttery flavour. Adrian, the farmer in charge, told me their vegetables receive only water, benefitting from a slightly chalky soil (organically certified by the Soil Association), and they succeeded in producing 40 different variations of tomato last year. The only squash on display was the crown prince squash (delicious roasted, with a touch of thyme), but Adrian assured me that you can eat the skin of all of their squashes. For those who like to impress guests with a floral touch in salads or garnishes, Wildco also has a selection of edible flowers, from nasturtium and courgette to marigold. Lastly, I tried their famous mixed salad and relished the dark green zingy hit, both bitter and spicy. It can be kept a week in your fridge, making me reflect that if you pay a little more for this outstanding produce than what you may pay in the supermarket, you still save money by the fact it is longer lasting, also meaning less wastage. This would lead, logically, to a different way of planning meals, which is how the Slow Food movement becomes a lifestyle – one that finds fast food and its excessive and wasteful packaging, distasteful, both literally and ethically, and even aesthetically.
The next lesson I learned was that this applies to meat too! Darragh from O’Shea’s Butcher’s, originally established in Tipperary in 1789, and now in its eighth generation, told me how the Slow Food movement applies to the ethos of his family business. “The husbandry is key,” he told me (I had to look that up, it means “the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals” and also “management and conservation of resources”.) “And the breed second.” Meat must be left for a 4-day minimum, he explained, to let the blood go right through “so you are left with the protein.” O’Shea’s cows go to the slaughter after 2-and-a-half years, instead of the usual 16 months, allowing the animal to mature and bringing a deeper flavour to the customer. “That’s why you get yellow fat, and a deep ‘sexy’ colour to the flesh. If the meat is pink, it’s because the animal was stressed before slaughter.” “You can choose a cheaper product, but you will know the difference,” he assured me. And his cows feed on grass; “You can’t beat it.” I asked about cholesterol, something so many of us have been told to keep our eyes on. “Well it’s a bit of a myth. A saturated fat is not beef fat. It’s the processed fats that you find in processed foods like you would find in the big supermarkets; that’s what’s bad for you.” “Likewise, sell-by dates are a ‘fad’.” Part of the problem is in plastic wrapping, which “makes the meat sweat, and then it starts to turn.” Darragh recommends keeping the fat, “It’s about using products.” The cows are fed on grain about three to four weeks before slaughter because that helps disperse the fat.
Raw Chocolate Bombs
As I ambled around, I took in the attractive wonky spoons of quirky Kana Ceramics and took a tiny sip of delicious honey beer. The charming charcoal clay soaps by Honest caught my attention (claiming to make hands and skin look younger) along with their candles, some of the best smelling I have ever come across (especially the cardamom, and sandalwoods aromas). I resolved to come back another Sunday to explore the wide-ranging beauty products of Live Native. Past Dark Arts Coffee I caught a quick glimpse at the colourful unisex flip flops (made of recycled tyres and hemp or kikoy) and bags of the Whale Company, then lingered with curiosity at the “Slow Chocolate” of Divaliciously Raw. Here there were “Love Bombs” of pecan and carrot, vegan chocolate that is both dairy and gluten-free. Gail from Glasgow explained to me that what distinguishes raw chocolate is that it is not heated – when heat is applied you lose the anti-oxidants and magnesium. There were mint and wheatgerm white chocolate, and a pink bomb made with raspberry and beetroot powder, good for oxygenating the blood. A concern with health and protection from allergies was the reasoning behind this creative new company.
Perhaps my favourite was the simple slow drink stall by Woodford & Warner, their delicious “Sorrel” cordial reminding me of the popular “Agua de Jamaica”, ubiquitous in Mexico where I used to live. It turned out it is much the same thing, Sorrel being the word used in the Caribbean for the dusky wine-red petals of the hibiscus flower (calyx of Hibiscus Sabdariffa). But while the drink in Mexico is steeped in sugar, Woodford & Warner’s premium Sorrel products contain no additives or preservatives, using only natural ingredients. Subtly flavoured with cinnamon and cloves, this cordial can be drunk diluted for pleasure and health benefits – it is a diuretic extremely effective in relieving water retention and bloating, but also rich in Vitamins C, B and A, calcium, magnesium and iron). However, because of its aromatic nature, it is also making waves in London as a mixer for cocktails and mocktails. Founder Sarah Moore is from Trinidad – and Manchester – where she studied Chemistry at University. After 18 years in retail she started a family which spurred her to return to her roots, preparing the cordial and then developing a Sorrel Sorbet in 2012 and a new Agave Range in 2014 (containing Organic Agave Syrup which is kinder to the body and less calorific). She promises to launch future Trinbagonian products this Autumn.
Before I left for Brunch, a tap on my shoulder led me to Anspach & Hobday, an award-winning microbrewery named after two young men who have been friends since kindergarten! The tale of their rise to success is a rich crucible of historic information and flair. Their Porter – a true market drink – was rich and complex and black as Guinness, but more intense. I found out the name evolved because the drink was popular with market porters in the 1800s. Next I tried the Smoked Brown, a “fantastic food” beer whose traditional method of production originated in what was essentially a mistake, but now is one of Time Out’s Top 20 Beers of London as well as a winner of the International Beer Challenge.
My only disappointment was that I could not carry everything, especially the liquids, but the good news is they will be there every Sunday and everyone can be found on the net, Facebook and / or Twitter.