If you live in London, you’ll know that pop-up supper clubs and dining experiences are ten-a-penny, and the more niche the ticket, the better. But eating insects? I was a bit dubious. Sure, I’ve heard the sustainability argument more than a few times – but why not just become a vegetarian? Why swap grass-fed steaks for grasshoppers?
Nevertheless, I made my way to Highbury on a rainy bank holiday evening, all the while congratulating myself on being brave enough to try something two billion people on this planet are already eating as part of their staple diet. As Neil Whippey, co-founder of Grub says, the best way to win people over to the idea of insects is to get them to try them, and he says he finds generally “people are really interested in the idea of eating more sustainably and discovering new things.”
People are really interested in the idea of eating more sustainably and discovering new things.
Compared to meat, insects are much more sustainable to farm. Crickets, for example, use 1/12 the feed and 1/34 the amount of water as beef production. If one family of four swapped out one beef dinner a week for an insect-based meal, over a year they would save around 650,000 litres of water.
Health-wise, insects provide all nine essential amino acids (the ones your body can’t create itself), so they stack up favourably against a purely plant-based diet, both in terms of nutrition and environmental impact.
Top Chef, Top Thai Flavours
But if the environmental advantages don’t sway you, Neil has another ace up his sleeve, in the form of top chef Seb Holmes.
Formerly the head chef at Smoking Goat in Soho, Seb’s area of expertise is hot, smoky, juicy Thai flavours and has worked with Grub for the past three years to perfect the art of cooking with insects.
Seb created five spectacular dishes for the tasting menu, featuring grasshoppers, mealworms and crickets. The standouts for me were the insect miang wrapped in betel leaf and the salted cricket and smoked tomato Som Tam salad; simultaneously spicy, fragrant and refreshing, these are classy flavours, but it’s also food that makes you want to scoop it up with your hands and shovel it straight into your face at speed.
If you’re still a bit uneasy with the concept, the tempura grasshoppers are a great dish to start with – you can always pretend it’s just veg under the batter if you want to…
Swayed by Bug Cocktails
Any lingering scepticism I might have harboured was totally banished by the cocktails on offer.
Creative mixologist Tomás Lenko of Strongman Tipples came up with a bespoke menu for the night featuring liquid delights including: Toasted Worm Negroni, No Espresso Martini (which uses cricket powder brewed with dandelion root to mimic coffee), and the very descriptive Beer, Bugs ‘n’ Bourbon, served with a buffalo worm marmalade.
Even more refreshing than the cocktails was Tom’s infectious enthusiasm for introducing people to bugs in a playful, innovative way, while respecting the subtle, multi-layered flavours of each insect.
You don’t have to be an expert to be able to pick out flavours similar to almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts with a slightly earthy aftertaste.
In his words, “you don’t have to be an expert to be able to pick out flavours similar to almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts with a slightly earthy aftertaste”. Tom is already working on some brand new cocktails for the next event and, personally, I think you’d be crazy to miss out.
The short series of Eat Grub popups are running throughout the summer on the last Sunday of each month from until September:
- Sun 30th July
- Sun 27th August
- Sun 24th September
You can buy advance tickets here.