Walk into the London Fields Primary school playground on a Saturday and there you’ll find Stripped Back – Ben Spalding’s rather unique take on street food. £15 got me four courses with bread and ‘fizz’. I sat on a plastic stall round an L shaped table in front of Ben and watched him prepare all the dishes and describe them to me as he went – I found it all rather fascinating.
Being such an intimate dining experience I was able to ask lots of questions (which Ben was more than happy to answer) and see ingredients before they went into the finished dish. There’s no grill, no gas, no fridge – what needs cooking is done the day before and the rest of the food is raw.
Bread was served on a large jigsaw piece alongside some whipped jersey butter with homemade salt (can you have homemade salt?). The crispy dark rye knackebrod tasted exactly like a Ryvita and was perfectly crunchy. The sour cream, malt and muesli loaf was moist and delicious – smothered with the salty butter it was a mouthful of heaven. I could have eaten loaves of the stuff.
Accompanied with the bread Ben served a glass of red grape, maple syrup and 42c Below vodka. This was squirted into a glass filling it with bubbles which then burst to leave me with half a shots worth of sweet and fruity juice. It tasted wonderful but I could have done with a little more of it.
First course was chilled pea and dill juice, greasy chicken skin, wild fennel buds, sun dried tomatoes and roasted macadamia nuts. I watched Ben assemble individual components stored in tupperware boxes and little jugs covered with cling film and I was presented with a vibrant and summery dish. If I had eaten this blind I wouldn’t have known it had been prepared in a stall in a London Fields school playground. It was delicious. The creamy pea sauce and the crunchy peas had the perfect balance with the crunchy greasy chicken skin. The tomatoes added a zing which made this a really flavoursome bowl of food.
Second course was marinated egg noodles with seem beans, sweet and sour dressing, pomelo (a citrus fruit with sweet white flesh) and bread shavings. Again, there were a lot of ingredients going on in one plate but they were perfectly balanced. The cold egg noodles reminded me of eating last nights Chinese takeaway – but the posh version. This was salty, sweet, soft and crunchy and I enjoyed every single mouthful. I would advise taking a bottle of water as I got a little thirsty by this point.
Third course was flaked Folkestone crab, sweet corn cream and donut peach, gourd and Mugwort oil. The gourd (which is like a cucumber but more bitter) had been whizzed up with cucumber and made into a light and refreshing sauce. The mugwort (which sounds like something from Harry Potter) had been made into an oil and drizzled over the crab. Mugwort can be very easily foraged from all over London apparently so keep an eye out for it. I’d never eaten a lot of these ingredients before so each mouthful was unusual and a real treat for my tastebuds!
Fourth and final course was dessert. Vanilla and Jersey milkshake, chewy cookie dough, marinated cherries and blackberries. This was Ben’s take on the childhood classic of milk and cookies and it tasted delicious. Oh, and did I mention it was served in a garden trowel? Why? I’m not quite sure, but who cares! It was unique and unusual. The chocolate cookie dough with the creamy Jersey milk and the sharp cherries and blackberries was simply divine and the perfect end to an unusual lunch.
Ben recently left Roganic as the head chef and is currently working two days a week cooking alongside Brett Graham at The Ledbury – Ben has a seriously impressive CV with a lot of experience which is evident in his cooking (or should I say preparing) here. I was served ingredients that I’ve never seen on a menu before by an extremely charming Ben – what a lovely chap. It was a really enjoyable dining experience and I felt like I’d learnt and discovered a lot. Stripped Back is currently open every Saturday from 11am-5pm. Go there now, it’s worth every single penny.
Stripped Back’s prices are currently £17.50 for 4 servings, bread & butter and fizz.
Westgate Street, London E8 3RL