Creep around the back streets and hidden alleyways of London and you find interesting things sometimes. With the Rambling Restaurant, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to cook and serve meals for cabaret and theatre performances under the cold grey stones of the railway arches near London Bridge, down narrow passages and past car parks. This summer, the Ramblers spent weeks hanging out just next to those dungeon-like spaces, but instead we were outside in the sunshine and the rain in the beautiful and inspiring Urban Physic Garden.
A collaboration between so many talented people including the visionary designers of Wayward Plants, the herbalists of Living Medicine and urban planners Publica as well as so many other wonderful volunteers, contributors and supporters, the Urban Physic Garden was a magical wonderland of greenery and delight, featuring curious seesaws, a dumpster pingpong table, an old operating theatre for workshops and performances, and herbs historically used to treat your every malady.
There was a dermatology ward…
an oncology ward..
a respiratory ward and a cardiology ward…
and of course a gastro ward…
but most importantly there was a kitchen garden with herbs and edible flowers and also an eating enjoyment area for Rambling celebrations of all kinds.
Abi the foodrambler, with the help of an assortment of talented and creative people set up the Rambulance – a cafe and kitchen run out of Bertha the decommissioned ambulance.
We served drinks, food and snacks during the week as well as some spectacular dinners inspired by the gifts of the garden. We even had a Loowatt! It’s an outdoor waterless toilet system developed by some fellow Imperial and RCA students where you do your business in a toilet made out of poop from the Queen’s cavalry – the horses, not the soldiers – and the waste gets emptied into an anaerobic digester (chilling behind Abi) that converts the waste into fertilizer as well as methane gas that powered one of our stoves! SO AWESOME. It was very cool how many people got excited rather than disgusted by the big canister of poo behind us in the cooking area.
It was so fantastic being able to marinate meat, grill pizzas, brew tea, and toss salads by just walking over to the garden and picking multiple varieties of mint, basil, parsley, lemon verbena, coriander seeds, sorrel, nasturtiums, thyme, and whatever else tickled our fancy.
We served salads grown by friends in community gardens in nearby Walworth with vibrantly colored edible flowers and dressing to be squeezed from syringes..
followed by what is in all likelihood the peak of my cooking career – the simultaneous grilling of 28 pork chops –
and topped off by Abi’s beautiful lemon verbena creme brulee topped with edible flowers.
Beyond eating, it was a place for firepit hangouts…
seesaw shenanigans of all kinds…
– watch Jenny flex her up&down skills –
and a wide array of other activities ranging from nature walks to concerts to a seriously cool site-specific theatre performance by the Flying Orchard where I got to dress up as a nurse and order people around and of course death drawing.
It’s been a wonderful place to spend time, but sadly is all closed down after a summer of lovely outdoor experiences. You can no longer wander through the garden of delights doing your best to avoid eating from the poison cabinet or falling off the seesaw….
RIP Urban Physic Garden…you’ve been a magical space. Can’t wait to see what enchanting things this crew comes up with next!