Friday, 10 September 2021

The Ethical Butcher at the Spurstowe Arms, London Fields

Time, they say, is the great healer, and it seems that's just as true of Covid time as it ever was. Yes, the long, cold months of the last lockdown were thoroughly miserable to live through, even to those who made it through relatively unscathed to the other side, but as the days since we emerged blinking back into the sunlight have turned into weeks and then months, it feels like the odd precious highlight - an escape to the countryside, a Zoom-set pub quiz, a delivery meal - shine that little bit brighter than the abject fear, repetition and drudgery that surrounded them.

One such rare highlight was a package from the Ethical Butcher, a company that's made its name with a completely uncompromising attitude to the meat they sell, a product of sustainable, regenerative agriculture that also (either by sheer coincidence or as a direct result of the care taken to produce it) tastes incredible. I remember the aroma that filled the room when I opened the box up, not the usual butchers stale meat smell (although there's a part of me has a soft spot for that too) but of farmland, wild meadows and open countryside. All meat tastes, and smells, of the life it's lived - and if that's been a good life, that information is generously passed on.

When I received an invite to try the Ethical Butcher's residence at the Spurstowe Arms, then, I jumped at the chance - and not just because the place is a short walk from where I'm living at the moment. It's a lovely old pub, the Spurstowe - original high-ceiling Victorian bar, nice little beer garden out back, picnic tables on the street - and having some elevated, sustainable food to go with your pint of IPA would make an unbeatable combination.

And it started very well. Their regenerative agriculture charcuterie selection, salami and Cerrunos ham, were about as good as you can get anywhere - particularly the salami which had a lovely complex flavour and a texture just the right side of firm. Even some of the bits outside of the Butcher's control were worth talking about - excellent pickled chillies which despite their fierce heat we couldn't stop eating, and some nice salty olives - but I'm afraid I'm not sure we needed the very ordinary cold toast sprinkled with salt and olive oil. Without those, the dish would have been better.

I've had a lot of tomato salads, and not many of them have been very good - I think the mistake is thinking that any tomato grown in the UK has the potential to be better than those from the Med, and that really just isn't the case. These, though, from West Sussex, were superb - an incredibly deep flavour and complemented very well by a simple dressing of walnut oil and balsamic.

So far so good, and the good news about the mains is that you could tell immediately that this was very, very good meat. They arrived on the table with that familiar smell of pasture and meadow, together with a strong beefy note of aged cow. And they tasted almost as good as that smell indicated despite, sadly, both being rather overcooked. Bavette should really only be served rare, which I did ask for, but it arrived medium-well. Thanks to the fine raw product it had no hint of chewiness or dryness, and cut remarkably like fillet, but yes it would have been nice to try it a bit bloodier as it would have been even more impressive.

Similarly the burger would have been that much nicer with a bit of pink inside, but was still an excellent example of its kind, with good crunchy salad elements, a sharp homemade relish and what tasted like proper (ie. properly rubbish) American burger cheese though I'm sure there was more to it than that. The strong, dark crust on the beef itself and the nice loose ground hinted at what could have been if it had just been cooked a little hotter for a bit less, but hey, it was still worth the effort.

Overall, though, the sheer quality of the Ethical Butcher's product shone through the odd mistake from the kitchen, and this was still a good showcase for their product. And of course, if you don't trust the Spurstowe to keep an eye on the clock I can thoroughly, wholeheartedly recommend their meat boxes - particularly now it's barbeque season - where you can try their lamb chops, steaks, burgers and so on in the comfort of your own house/garden and if you overcook it you only have yourself to blame. Besides, a week or so after my meal at the Spurstowe, it's not the mistakes I remember, but the charcuterie, that amazing tomato salad and the incredible smell of aged beef filling the room. Oh, and the cat which sat at our table. Time, you see - the great healer.


I paid for the Ethical Butcher's meat box myself, but the meal above was an invite and I didn't see a bill.


Alex C said...

Hi Chris, Lovely to see you enjoying the fleshpots again - and totally agree on bavette steak. If you get the chance to go, we had a lovely meal at Charactere over the weekend. Excellent food and half a bottle of Gavi each for £50 per head was great and we left feeling fat and happy.
All the best

Alicia Foodycat said...

Lovely cat!

I've had one order from The Ethical Butcher - and it was excellent - but I need to revisit them now they've expanded their range.