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A Taste for the Exotic – food to surprise, food to innovate

If you were offered gold painted chapulines as your appetizer, would you eat them? That would be grasshopper to you and I, and it’s a signature dish at the authentic modern Mexican super-restaurant Ella Canta on Park Lane, W1. Globetrotting chefs and customers are increasingly pushing boundaries, using exotic ingredients and unusual combinations to make their dining experiences curiously tasty. For the adventurous, it’s never been easier to embrace the best flavours and most nutritious food the world has to offer.

We quiz a leading food sourcing firm, Red Rickshaw on the exotic versus keeping it local, and look at some of the growing number of restaurants innovating and surprising.


ELLA CANTA, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1J 7QY
Dish is: Guacamole Nacionalista, las joyas Mexicanas £8 – comprises of Nationalistic guacamole, fresh cheese, pomegranate and gold grasshopper

Jyoti Patel is Founder and CEO of Red Rickshaw, the largest online Asian ingredient grocer in the UK who specialise in fresh, hard to find ingredients, as well as Feast Box, a company delivering authentic fresh meal kit ingredients straight to your home. She used to be a City working mum in the day and set up her own business at night before it took her whole time and attention and the business became as it is today. Jyoti is passionate about sustainable farming.

Q: So does the use of exotic ingredients mean that the food isn’t fresh?

A: No. Increasingly UK farmers are growing produce from hotter climates, and growing greater varieties of crops to ensure against erratic weather patterns. For instance, there’s more access now to high-quality British ‘Asian’ ingredients than ever.

Q: Aren’t we all supposed to be embracing localism?

A: It’s great that people are curious about source and supply. Like any good food business, a lot of what we offer is produce grown in the British Isles. But note that transportation makes up on average only 4% of carbon emissions involved in food production and delivery. What harms the environment most is energy intensive, machine-based, climate controlled, unsustainable farming. An example would be: if you buy British apples just before the next season, they may look fresh and local, but they have been in cold storage for up to a year, whereas green beans from Kenya could have been recently grown by hand in a climate that supports their growth best. So local isn’t always best.

Gurkhali Ostrich Tikka-min

BABUR, 119 Brockley Rise, Forest Hill, London SE23 1JP
Dish is: Gurkhali Ostrich Tikka – Timur Pepper Nepal. It has the tongue tingling, mouth numbing properties, with intense citrus and grapefruit notes.

Q: Exotic isn’t just about eating bugs?

A: No, it’s about food curiosity, spreading knowledge and appreciation for all great food you might not have eaten. It’s amazing what happens when food and cultures cross boundaries – farmers discover new crops that are favourable to their climate, easy to grow and nutritious. At the same time, diners discover new flavours and new experiences and learn about the world around them at large. These discoveries don’t mean much if they don’t spread to the world at large, encouraging crop and nutritional diversity.


TEXTURE, 34 Portman Street, Marylebone, London W1H 7BY
Chef Patron and Owner Aggi Sverrisson is an ambassador for Isey Skyr. Skyr is a dairy product produced using original cultures, and is naturally fat and sugar free.

Q: Can it also be good for the world? 

A: The world is over-reliant on four high-yield crops. Corn, soy, wheat and rice account for two thirds of the world’s food supply. Not only is this bad for our nutrition, it risks the security and reliability of the world’s food supply in future – what if crops become vulnerable to disease or changing weather conditions? We believe customers want new experiences and access to food from around the world, and we think delivering those options to people isn’t hurting the environment – on the contrary, it’s probably the healthiest option for both you and the planet.

Laurent at Café Royal - Yellowtail Jalapeño-Ginger Sushi-min

LAURENT AT CAFÉ ROYAL, 68 Regent Street, Soho, London W1B 4DY
Dish is: Yellowtail Jalapeño-Ginger Sushi. World acclaimed Head Chef Laurent Tourondel says, “We source locally produced wasabi from The Wasabi Company here in the UK. The local wasabi is fresh and pungent with a natural sweetness and pairs great with our sushi dishes”

Finally, for ‘exotic-localism’ there are the wild ingredients – wild plants and herbs – foraged locally which are a great source for flavours, accentuating new and exotic tastes. Of course, not all restaurants have the time to forage for themselves and some employ specialist companies to forage for them. One such is Michelin-starred Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia, W1.

You’ll see from this brilliant short video (go to top right corner of video and you want video 3 in the series of 4) Pied à Terre’s quest for fresh ingredients. Chef de cuisine Asimakis Chaniotis uses many foraged ingredients: Wood sorrel that looks like shamrock and has a sour taste is added in many savoury dishes that have a bitter sweet taste such as pork or squid; Douglas Fir pine is very aromatic with a unique aroma that he uses in his quail dishes; and sea buckthorn juice that is very sour and comes from little red pearl bushes you might see around beaches he uses for his desserts in chocolate mousses or when making a panna cotta. Asimakis Chaniotis says,” It brings a sense of surprise to guests, something sweet with a zingy touch.”

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