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Getting back to nature is all very well. We loved the sound of urban foraging until we realised what it involved. Rifling through hedgerows under the Heathrow flight path? Er, no thanks. But just when we thought it all souned a bit too Titchmarsh to take off, world-beating Danish restaurant Noma stormed onto the scene with adishes planted in ‘edible soil’ and live ants trailing across its plates, and garden gastronomy got its cool.
This summer, meadows, gardens and orchards have been squeezed into the mosunlikely of urban spaces – a pop-up meadow behind Liverpool Street station, for example. Established gardens have been pushing the boat out, too – at Kew, a giant fruit salad boating lake with a ‘Pineapple Island’ was created by Bompas & Parr for the gardens’ IncrEdibles festival, dedicated to edible plants.
We’ve enjoyed some more simple examples too. Pick-your-own crates brimming with freshly plucked strawberries at the launch of HMS Belfast’s new rooftop deck recalled hazy summer evenings and sticky fingers at the fruit farm. And what could be more English than a Gin Garden? The Gun’s pop-up version in Docklands has been serving up wine in plant-pot ice buckets and bottles of beer in wheelbarrows, while Carom’s leafy Botanical Gin Garden ran a series of masterclasses on picking cocktail ingredients from its pots and planters.
Always leading the charge, Bourne & Hollingsworth have been inviting guests to bring a foraged ingredient (from woodlands, hedgerows… or the local greengrocer) to Drink What You Sow mixology sessions.
As autumn takes hold, it’s handy to remember that you don’t need alfresco space to install a bucolic backdrop. Harbour & Jones recreated a Somerset orchard in the brick vaults of RSA House to launch their Save The Orchards menu in (rainy) June. Hay bales, apple crates and cascades of cox and orange pippin set the scene, and guests were invited to squeeze their own apple juice with an old-fashioned press.
At the more conceptual end of the scale, Bubble Food’s ‘edible tree’, made from a plastic bark trunk and real branches for a party at Somerset House, was decked with canapés for guests to pluck from amid the foliage – proving that pick-your-own doesn’t have to mean dirty fingernails and hay in your hair.
This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events, autumn 2013.