Crayfish Bob’s. All photography by Amelia Gregory.
This week Two Degrees is hosting Crayfish Bob’s al fresco pop up crayfish shack every evening in the paved courtyard next to Toynbee Hall. How could I resist the chance to sup on South London wine whilst crunching on succulent seafood? I couldn’t, thumb is the answer, doctor and I was lucky enough to secure a seat at the first sitting on Monday evening.
Crayfish Bob’s is supplied with Bob Ring’s freshly caught American Signal Crayfish from the Thames, an invasive species that has been busy decimating our native wildlife since the 1970s. At first introduced to be intensively farmed in controlled ponds American Signal Crayfish soon used their ability to walk across land and spread out across the country. One account tells of a late night encounter with a long procession of crayfish walking from an abandoned trout-farm pond and heading directly towards the nearby river. Clever buggers. I’ve encountered a crayfish clambering out of a pond at Hampstead Heath as it goes: it caused much consternation amongst the nudist sunbathers on the women’s ‘beach’.
American Signal Crayfish carry a plague to which they are immune but which kills our native White Clawed species and they also damage river banks with their tunnelling – but despite their disastrous effect on the environment nothing much has been done to stem their march. Sadly the crayfish that are increasingly used in tasty sandwiches and snacks across the UK are all farmed abroad because it is so hard to trap the American Signal Crayfish found here commercially. So, determined to do his bit, Bob Ring has hatched a plan that goes against the grain of modern business acumen: he hopes to build the Crayfish Bob brand into one of high integrity and desirability so that he can sell as many tonnes of UK caught American Signal Crayfish as possible. His ultimate dream is to go bust due to lack of stock. Obviously I felt very good about helping him on his way to achieving this.
As soon as we were seated Bob’s co-conspirator the interdisciplinary artist Clare Patey darted past, offering us beautiful peach coloured Urban Wine from the gardens of Tooting (it was very good) and stacks of moist sourdough bread. Our food looked utterly beautiful, served with panache by Blanch and Shock food designers, who produce theatrical food productions and educational workshops based on themes of sustainability and the psychology of eating. They aim to provide opulent food with the minimum of waste. Again, happy to help out.
Large glass bowls of locally sourced and wild foraged salad – I never knew that Common Hogweed was so darn tasty – were placed on our tables but for the main course we were encouraged to visit Crayfish Bob’s shack for ourselves to converse with the man who had caught our delicious meal. Crayfish are a messy dish to eat, requiring a certain amount of cracking and sucking to demolish, but with a finger bowl of water at the ready we all got a certain amount of pleasure from the ordeal. There was time for chat with our fellow guests as we were all seated on a friendly communal long table.
Peach coloured Urban Wine from Tooting.
On one side I was joined by food blogger Laura Fleur, who I have conversed with on Twitter (ain’t it always the way these days?!) and her friend Lizzie, aka Hollow Legs. On my other side I chatted with Kevin and Jane of Platform, another organisation which is doing great things by mixing up art and activism and with whom I worked to Redesign the Royal Bank of Scotland for Sustainability in 2009 at the Arnolfini. On my right sat Peter Koenig, a former financial editor of the Independent. What an intriguing and diverse bunch!
For desert we were served a gorgeous Douglas Fir Panna Cotta that slid off the spoon in the most delectable manner, with a side serving of strawberries and butterscotch.
Kevin with a rescue parrot that came to visit us!
It was a rare and wonderful chance to talk with some new friends whilst remembering how enjoyable good local food can be. As Diana Damian points out on her blog for This is Tomorrow, our act of eating the American Signal Crayfish demonstrated how social engagement can become a political act in itself, and an enjoyable one at that. I couldn’t really put it better myself.
At only £5 for the entire meal this was fantastic value so not surprisingly all seats at Crayfish Bob’s have now been sold out, but there is plenty more going on at Two Degrees over the rest of the week. I shall be taking part in a round table discussion about the state of climate activism on Saturday 18th June between 1-2pm. Please do come along and take part!
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