The Hidden Hives: Gon’ Honey Tasting with the London Food Safari
In recent years, Bermondsey has become something of a hive of food production. Disused warehouses have been brought back to life and, behind the thick brick walls, beers are being brewed, coffee is being roasted and cheeses are being ripened. I’ve never had the chance to explore, tending to tread the walks of south London’s better-known food territory, Borough Market.
Thanks to Food Safari however, a company who specialize in providing food adventures, I find myself trekking through Bermondsey’s warren of estates, warehouses, railway arches and half-open gates. As a new voyager, I tackle this uncharted territory equipped merely with a blurry map from google and directions from well-meaning but equally confused locals. Naturally, I arrive fifteen minutes late.
As soon as I peep cautiously round the door of the London Honey studio the sweet, mellow perfume of honey seeps in through my nostrils, reassuring me that I am in the right place. The lovely Jacinda from Food Safari welcomes me and promptly provides a tasty gin, honey, mint and lime cocktail and a tasting platter of six different honeys. I sneak sheepishly into my seat, wanting to hide behind the jar-filled packing cases as beekeeper, and founder of The London Company, Steve Benbow greets me jovially mid-talk with the more successful explorers.
We try rapeseed honey, which Steve dismisses as his early honey making efforts. I thought it pretty decent until I tried the light, citrus London honey and the darker herby ling bell heather honeys. Both honeycomb and smooth runny honey are on offer, all from the UK including Salisbury honey made on the Wiltshire planes and Wood Sage honey from Shropshire. Even within London there is a huge variation in the tastes of different honeys, all depending on the pollen the bees feed on.
With the help of a few photos, Steve talks us through his own adventures, inspired by his bee-keeping grandmother. His stories include a time he dropped a hive in a lift wearing only a pair of shorts and his nomadic journeys on the road, searching for the best pollen. He further shares the adventures of New York beekeeper Davey Graves who has hives on an apartment block roof, twenty-seven stories up into the city sky, apparently the maximum height at which you can successfully keep bees.
Alarmingly Steve informs us that there are in fact bees on the roof above us, as well as tucked on top of the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and in hives hidden across London. Fortunately they swarm rarely so we Londoners are probably safe from a sudden bee onslaught. Steve is full of tips and facts, including the number of eggs a queen bee lays per day – 1,500!
In the midst of a hotly-contested debate about which honey is actually the best, we are provided with some tasty appetisers, all using varieties of the London Honey Company products. First the London honey, perfectly blended with creamy buffalo ricotta, sweet pea and mint; the honey enhances the sweetness of the dish without overpowering the subtle flavours. The speck wrapped with Salisbury honey and mustard marscapone and the smoked duck with honey and five spice mayonnaise looked beautiful but as a strictly vegetarian explorer I’m afraid I can’t comment. Honey poached figs with blue cheese and heather honeycomb combined a lingering, sweetness that clung to the roof of my mouth with a swift bite of tangy saltiness.
For desert we had a delicate honey jelly topped with smooth vanilla pannacotta cream and to finish gingerbread made with heather honey and porter, served with clotted cream and a glass bitter, spicy porter by Bermondsey based brewery, the Kernel company.
Whilst nibbling on these delicacies we were able to chat with Steve and one another – a nice friendly end to the event. Glass jars filled with golden amber liquid, boxes of perfectly geometrical honeycomb and honey-based products from candles to lip balm were available to purchase.
We were all sent back on my way with a goody bag containing some recipes, a complimentary jar of honey and a cheerful point towards the right direction home.
I would really recommend this experience: a fun way to learn more about a traditional British food and an interesting local producer. I would perhaps recommend another of the Food Safari experiences for anyone wanting to learn more practical food skills. I myself have my eye on their rural events which take place in my home county, Suffolk. The north London woodlands foraging day equally has me eagerly pricking up my newly-tuned explorer ears.
See www.foodsafari.co.uk for more information.
words Helena Goodrich