I have always liked angry food: Ugly Butterfly reviewed

29 February 2020

9:00 AM

29 February 2020

9:00 AM

Ugly Butterfly is a zero-waste restaurant and champagne bar on the King’s Road, Chelsea. The ‘champagne bar’ addition is so awful as to be pantomime villainous — I think of zero-waste diamonds and zero-waste wars — but perhaps they need this kind of duplicity to seduce the punters, who move so slowly towards wisdom? ‘Zero-waste’ isn’t an advertising catchphrase designed for Chelsea and its constituent tractors and immaculate blondes, unless they are very drunk. It is from Adam Handling, who has six venues, including the Frog in Hoxton and the sustainable deli Bean & Wheat in Old Street.

Ugly Butterfly is pretty, because anything ugly in Chelsea would shrivel through lack of identification. There are white brick walls with cradled wine bottles crawling up them like babies; pale wooden floors; rugs from old coffee sacks; single flowers in glasses; cushions decorated with butterflies; paintings of bombs decorated with flowers; and spindly old–fashioned café furniture, which is called ‘up-cycled’. I do not know why people do not say ‘second-hand furniture’ any more. Perhaps there is no virtue to buying second-hand furniture, and if you are not buying something new, there must be an apology crow-barred on to that decision, with spin. It is performative dining, as at the ludicrous Spring at Somerset House, which has an entire ‘surplus produce’ menu called Scratch. (Pre-theatre only; the hour of the dead.)

Handling says he wanted to ‘prove zero-waste food can be beautiful’ and the menu opens with a small manifesto called: Why Waste Waste? ‘This menu,’ it says, ‘is built on the foundations of showcasing food waste, utilising the by-products and leftovers of Adam Handling Chelsea Restaurant on Sloane Street.’

So, for readers new to sustainability, it is not food from bins. Handling is right: it is beautiful. I haven’t eaten at the Sloane Street restaurant so I cannot say, but I like to imagine that Handling has created something particularly lovely to prove his point.

The Skins, Skins and More Skins is handsome but it felt like a gargantuan chicken scratching, and that is not a necessary thing, for me at least. I am slightly afraid I would leave a tooth in it; and what would Handling do with that? Upcycle it into a light switch? The leftover cheeseboard doughnuts were glorious though; the ‘Feast Fairly’ black pudding scotch egg — from an egg considered too small for a Chelsea breakfast egg — is likewise marvellous.

There is something fierce about this food, as if it exists to seduce, but I have always liked angry food. The oxtail and cheese toastie is salty, doughty, spoiling for a fight. The beef and bone marrow cottage pie with meat from Wagyu beef shin is small, intensely flavoured and slightly overbaked, as it should be, with a hefty blob of potato I read, happily, as a rebuke. The chicken and sage agnolotti with chicken fat, meanwhile, is wondrous.

Ugly Butterfly only serves champagne — or water, which I am sorry does not come from a trough, but I once spent a weekend with Saxon re-enactors, and slept on a sheepskin rug, and carried a bucket of water up a hill.

Handling says he is willing to operate Ugly Butterfly at a loss, so his restaurants can be sustainable. It is heartfelt, then, and from a very gifted chef. I am slightly worried that Ugly Butterfly is empty. Perhaps such marketing doesn’t work in capital’s western fashion row; perhaps he shouldn’t tell anyone it’s a zero-food waste restaurant; perhaps it could be a surprise for people so drunk on champagne that they will forget it is a zero-waste restaurant. Even so, you should try it.

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Ugly Butterfly, 55 King’s Rd, Chelsea, London SW3 4ND; tel: 020 7730 7161.

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