Ironically, even the most esoteric and hard-to-get items on our menu often arrive to us in a Tesco bag. Martin the Forager is not one for bespoke packaging or overt marketing. In fact he’s not even Martin The ForagerTM, he’s just Martin who is our forager, and has been pretty much since we opened. Martin is based in King’s Lynn and scours in a 50-mile radius from the mouth of The Wash, incorporating meadows, hedgerows, woodlands, salt marshes and seashore.
When he pops in, the bag gets put on table 14 near the kitchen and he and Shaun go through the flora contained within. For those of us who struggle with menu briefings at the best of times, a new arrival from Martin gets you rather worried. Not only do his sea herbs and wild plants often have similar names but they usually have wildly different flavours. What you learn to be sea aster could also be garlic mustard or Jack-by-the-hedge. And god forbid you should confuse sea purslane with sea plantain. It’s important to be clear, however, that these are not flummeries we toss in a salad or throw on the plate – Martin finds plants of exceptional flavour and we use them to bring another dimension to dishes, particularly sea herbs with fish. He is the most prominent member of a miscellaneous cast of garnish suppliers.
We get our caviar from Exmoor, the result of an ambitious adaptation of a trout farm, which has now been farming sturgeon for over fifteen years. Truffles are from the Truffle Man in Wiltshire and squash is from the irrepressible Greg Klaes at Forge Farm in Oxfordshire, who drives down with a car full of squashes and pumpkins and kindly provides our Halloween decorations each year.
The produce they all bring is used sparingly while still crucial to the menu; more importantly it strengthens the link between farming and eating which is easily forgotten in the day-to-day of busy restaurant.