Vegan cookery has its roots in fruits, leaves and, well, roots. While seitan is having a renaissance and vegan cheese gets ever-closer to the coveted status of “melting just like real cheese”, Rawsome offered a supper club that focused on more identifiably plant-based matters. Thomas Chalk went along.
As a basic idea, raw food is of course nothing new – plenty of things are edible without needing to be cooked. But avoiding all cooked foods and only eating raw is a somewhat different matter. Proponents note that many nutrients and enzymes are destroyed by heating. Those in opposition will counter that some are made more readily available by heating. This review is not the place for the debate though; as a declaration of my own position, I’m not sold on the idea that an all-raw diet is something worth pursuing, but equally I recognise that if a bit more of what I ate was raw (and thus not fried, charred, loaded with melted cheese…) it would do my health a world of good.
A raw diet is also not necessarily a vegan diet (think raw milk, sashimi, steak tartare), but a good number of raw foodies will also be vegan. If (as so many do of any vegan diet) you are asking about protein: in the red corner we have “nuts, seeds, sprouted legumes, and in fact fruit and veg have a lot more than you think,”; in the blue corner we have “raw food vegan diet made me ill”. Again, I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of all this here. The hosts seemed bright-eyed and sprightly, which is a good start.
Kim and Dean, aka The Happy Caterpillar, who ran the Rawsome Supper Club held at Headingley’s The Bowery, laid on a three-course meal with one dish per course. Much as I love the whole small plates trend at the moment, it was somewhat refreshing to go somewhere where I wasn’t outnumbered by crockery at every turn.
Not that Rawsome were to know it, but their first course ran a serious risk of alienating me from the start: it featured raw mushrooms. Not only do I dislike the weird, woolly-yet-damp texture of raw mushrooms, but I also see them as a waste of what could be a cooked mushroom. Fortunately, these mushrooms had been marinated in coconut aminos (I had to ask – not something I’ve come across before). This fermented coconut water is a bit like soy sauce, the fermentation bringing forth complex savoury flavours, though with a sweeter note than soy. The marinating had enhanced the flavour of the mushrooms – there was still a taste of raw mushroom, but underpinned and enhanced with umami – and the texture of much of the mushroom had moved closer to that of a cooked mushroom. Not that cooked mushroom would appeal to everyone, of course, but I was pleased for more reasons than just relief. Stuffed into the pair of mushrooms were sweetcorn “fritters”.
I find raw sweetcorn has a touch of a curious (and not unlikeable) floury quality in its juice, and this was subtly in evidence in the fritter, giving it a more batter-like quality. I’m happy to not be a stickler about using the word “fritter” for something that is not fried, and there was enough density and appealing mealiness to justify the name. I’m not sure what else was in there (I overheard some discussion of figs, though I may have misunderstood), but I definitely detected the earthy warmth of cumin, again helping to give body and depth. A mango, chilli, red onion and green pepper salsa brought sweet, hot and crunchy contrast. Mixed leaves and shredded beetroot were perhaps a little redundant, and made me want for some sort of dressing; it would be fair to consider that this was as much about expectation of what there “should” have been as about the actual leaves and beet – in no way was the overall dish dry.
The Leeds Indie Food listing for Rawsome asked if you “want to try your hand at eating ‘raw food’ but find yourself stuck beyond a simple salad?” The main course was undeniably a salad, though not a simple one. Billed as “courgetti caponata” this was a raw take on the Sicilian classic of tomatoes, aubergines, celery, olives and sultanas (like all good, and much bad, cooking, the idea of there being an absolute definitive recipe is laughable). If raw mushrooms make me very sad, undercooked aubergines make me quite angry, and I was pleased to see that Rawsome had decided against using them. What came out was heavy on the red, orange and yellow peppers, with red onion and chive flowers, and a generous hand with the celery, tomatoes, olives and capers. Celery is another ingredient that divides people, and while this salad would probably not be to the taste of celery-deniers, the astringent vegetal flavour counterpointed the sweetness of the peppers nicely.
Perhaps I was really getting into the swing of things by this point, as I had absolutely no problem with the absence of a dressing – there was a small amount of what I think must have been soaked and ground nuts that added the appearance of parmesan but no discernible taste. The juices of the vegetables, especially the tomatoes, worked well to give everything a light coating of sweetness and acidity. The capers helped season and brought pungent salty pops to some mouthfuls, though the olives had the underwhelming cardboardy texture and flavour of pitted, jarred, brined olives – there weren’t many and so this didn’t ruin the dish, but might have been an easy win for added wow. I scooped up the remaining juices with a spoon – at a different event this might have been a piece of bread, but I’m inclined to think this would have diluted and deadened the flavour.
A couple of duff olives aside, I’d say the only part of this main course that was a let-down was the shredded courgette – “courgetti” suggests an attempt to use it in place of pasta, but it lacks carb-y heft and doesn’t really offer anything in its place, like flavour. Fortunately, it had been used sparingly and didn’t dull the overall celebration of light-yet-hearty goodness. It wasn’t a complex salad, but it fulfilled the remit of not being a simple one, and most importantly of not being a boring one.
Dessert came in the form of a chocolate cake. A base of ground nuts (I think including coconut but avoiding the overpowering quality this can have), seeds and dried fruits with agave syrup, cacao, and orange. The dried fruit had a rich, tangy quality which made me think it wasn’t that raw food go-to the date but instead prunes, but I was told I was wrong on this. It may have been the bitter fruitiness of the orange and cacao, and the rich notes of the agave, that enhanced it. Texturally, it was crumbly rather than cakey, but with enough moistness and nutty richness to be really rather satisfying. It was finished with a layer of chocolate icing on top and a garnish of more agave syrup, bitter flecks of orange peel, rose petals and (still not overpowering) coconut, and a great big edible yellow flower that I foolishly had facing away from me when I photographed the dish. (If the pictures accompanying this review are credited to me, my apologies to you and to Rawsome for not showing their food off very well!).
There was no great revelation – I’m not giving up the joys of cooked food – but Rawsome did a decent job of showing off raw food. I’d argue that the £25 price tag may have been a little high, though again it’s possible that there is a hint of preconception here in that I may subconsciously be associating the simplicity of the ingredients with simplicity of preparation, or perhaps expecting something that more confirms to a notion of what “dinner” might be. Certainly, if Rawsome were to find a regular home, I’d go back.
All photographs by Thomas Chalk.