New Bristol-based pop-up restaurant venture gives offal the recognition it deserves…
Earlier this month, chef Richard Bowman (aka The Grumpy Chef) of award-winning restaurant The Ethicurean and Tessa Tricks of the Sustainable Food Trust teamed up to form Sassafras — a new pop-up restaurant venture based in Bristol. Their first event, Odd Bits, marked the beginning of their career together and was organised as a means of reviving offal — largely under-appreciated cuts of meat, often discarded in place of other more attractive and neatly packaged options.
Richard and Tessa first met at The Ethicurean where they worked together and often dreamed of opening their very own restaurant. Realising their business plan wasn’t going to come to fruition for at least a few years, but still keen to combine their culinary talents, they decided that one-off food events were a good place to begin. After completing a masters degree in food anthropology and conducting in-depth research into the environmental benefits of nose-to-tail eating, Tessa decided it was high time offal was given the recognition it deserves, and approached Richard with the idea of organising an offal-oriented pop-up restaurant in Bristol. An avid offal lover and dedicated chef, Richard was on board from the word go, and committed all of his spare time leading up to the event writing the menu and trialling the dishes.
I arrive after a busy day at work and am greeted with a complimentary, and much needed, glass of wine. A relative new-comer to the wonderful ways of offal, I am very excited to see what Richard and Tessa have planned for the evening and am truly impressed by their efforts. Each and every dish on the menu is specially designed to incorporate some kind of offal, and works to showcase the intense flavours and rare textures that these under-appreciated cuts of meat can offer when properly prepared and cooked.
To start, a serving of minted pea and crispy pig’s ear soup presents a fresh and intensely meaty flavour, with a satisfying crunch from the deep-fried ear. This is followed by a beautifully presented terrine comprising duck neck, heart, and liver, served with pickled fennel atop an impressively smooth sweet carrot purée. A sprinkling of Richard’s golden sourdough bread crumbs adds a contrasting element of crunchiness to the otherwise soft-textured dish. An intermittent course of ‘spleen on toast’ is a welcome treat on my table, and remains a source of conversation, and amusement, for some time. The star of the show, however, is the chou farci: shredded ox cheek encased in cabbage, served with ox tongue and burnt aubergine pearl barley. Slow-cooked over a number of hours, the meat is superbly tender and presents a strong beef flavour, which is complemented by peppery sliced radish and pickled vegetables. The burnt aubergine purée is earthy and rich, and works beautifully with the intense flavours of the meat. A reduced meat stock gravy provides a delicious sauce to bring the whole dish together. Last but by no means least is Tessa’s homemade rhubarb frangipane, the pastry of which is made using a combination of butter and bone marrow. To emphasise how well this works, I ask that you imagine yourself eating the lightest and and most buttery short-crust pastry you’ve ever had, and multiply your enjoyment by one hundred. Previously unaware of the versatility of bone marrow, which I have always associated with beef stock and dog treats, this really is an eye opener for me.
With plans for more pop-ups in the pipe-line, you can expect more offerings of offal and other foods from Sassafras in the next few months. In the meantime, here is a short film by Chris Bury, which beautifully captures the spirit of the evening.