Magic of mushrooms: Two London restaurants stretching the limits of fungi experimentation

Mushroom manhattan: the Love Shack’s take on a classic cocktail. Credit: Love Shack

Mushrooms are having a moment. From functional fungi that promote a healthier lifestyle to more familiar options such as shiitake, London chefs and bartenders are using fungi in increasingly creative ways. A quick scroll through social media shows videos espousing the virtues of mushrooms quickly amassing millions of views, likes, and comments.

A hand holds a small bottle containing a brown liquid with a white label that says “smoked mushroom garum” in blue printed letters from noma in Copenhagen.

noma at home’s mushroom tincture aims to elevate home cooking with mushroom-made liquid seasoning. Credit: Mike Daw

Even three MICHELIN-starred noma now sells liquid mushroom seasoning, through its Noma Projects initiative, to enhance food and cocktails at home. 

Functional mushrooms such as reishi and lion’s mane aren’t the kind of fungi that are readily available at a local supermarket. The raw product, purchased at a health food shop or vitamin supplier, is typically turned into a supplement to bring out its health-boosting properties. Whilst all mushrooms carry high volumes of vitamins D and B, functional mushrooms differ from common varieties such as chestnut and portobello thanks to additional antioxidant and immunity-boosting functions.

But beyond these harder-to-find varieties, mushrooms are also finding their way into more drinks and dishes in London. All of that makes it an especially exciting time to go out and try some. Read on to learn more about a one-of-a-kind restaurant that’s experimenting with functional mushrooms and an award-winning bartender who infuses non-functional fungus in his cocktails.

 

Love Shack

An image of colourful interiors of Love Shack, a restaurant in London, featuring wooden floors, a large library, red lights, and hanging paper lanterns and umbrellas.

Cosy interiors at Love Shack in Cambridge Heath. Credit: Jamie Shackman, Love Shack

A headshot of Love Shack restaurant co-founder Jamie Shackman.Cambridge Heath’s Love Shack has been using functional mushrooms for years and has recently incorporated even more varieties on its menu. 

Co-founder Jamie Shackman started the restaurant nearly five years ago, and mushrooms were central early on. “One of our co-founders was getting into medicinal mushrooms, chaga in particular, which is great for boosting immunity, and we really just went from there,” Shackman says.

Cordyceps Coffee

Shackman recently introduced cordyceps to the “Mushroomy drinks” menu following a rise in their popularity he attributes to HBO megahit The Last of Us (in the show, a fungal infection caused by cordyceps leads to a zombie apocalypse). In the real world, cordyceps won’t bring about said apocalypse, but they are part of a flat white at Love Shack. 

Roar Cacao

Lion’s mane—another fungi-forward social sensation—is utilised in a unique creation at Love Shack. The restaurant soaks the mushrooms in neutral alcohol such as vodka for a few weeks, strains them, and heats them in water. “Blending the two leftover liquids creates our unique lion’s mane tincture,” Shackman says. 

The Roar Cacao deploys this creation to vibrant effect. The Aztec-inspired drink features raw cacao blended with the lion’s mane tincture. 

“Like cordyceps, lion’s mane is very much in the zeitgeist,” Shackman says. “You see it a lot more these days. It’s a gourmet mushroom, so it’s delicious to cook with, but it’s also functional.”

No Sin Duck

A mushroom dish in peppercorn brown sauce with a side of green vegetables and thick-cut chips on a white plate, served at Love Shack in London.

Mushroom steak with brandy-infused peppercorn sauce, seasonal greens, and thick-cut chips. Credit: Love Shack

The Love Shack food menu leans into the more exotic varieties of gourmet mushrooms. King oyster features in No Sin Duck, a play on the Cantonese favourite. The mushrooms sit in a rich caramel sauce and are served alongside carrots, spring onions, and cucumber for scooping into pancakes on the side. 

Shroom Steak

The classic chips and steak combo gets the mushroom treatment at Love Shack. “Meaty” hen of the woods mushroom replaces beef and is generously drenched with a brandy-infused peppercorn sauce. Seasonal greens accompany the thick-cut chips on the side.  

Manhattan

Love Shack uses shiitakes in its take on a manhattan. The cocktail is similar to the standard preparation featuring rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, but Love Shack adds a shiitake-based tincture and black truffle bitters. “This creates a wonderful undercurrent of delicious mushroominess,” Shackman says.

 

Learn more on Love Shack

 

Lyaness

A creamy yellow cocktail at Lyaness in London on a marble blue table with a blue velvet banquette in the background.

Fungi infusions abound at Lyaness. Credit: Ryan Chetiyawardana & Sea Containers

Acclaimed London bar Lyaness has been using mushrooms, albeit non-functional varieties, since 2019. As at Love Shack, Lyaness uses a variety of techniques including fermenting, smoking, and even zapping mushrooms with a car battery (as part of experiments with liquid oxidation) to try and extract the best possible flavour from mushrooms. Anything goes in the name of research.

A portrait of famed bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana.

Bartender extraordinaire Ryan Chetiyawardana. Credit: Ryan Chetiyawardana & Sea Containers

“We’ve always been attracted to using ingredients that give us a jumping-off point to discuss things with our guests,” world-renowned Lyaness bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana says. “Weird ingredients are wonderful conversation starters when you’re not using them for gimmick.” 

Shiitakes star in a green liqueur at Lyaness. Chetiyawardana starts with a number of herbs such as mint, tarragon, and parsley, adds fruits including passionfruit, and blends the mixture together with shiitakes fermented in a vinegar stock. “The mushrooms gave [the liqueur] the perfect lift and meant the flavours carried in a much fuller way,” Chetiyawardana says.

As chefs and restaurants continue to experiment with mushrooms, it’s likely that even harder-to-find varieties like functional mushrooms will no longer be limited to health shops. A global rise in plant-based eating suggests it might only be a matter of time before these products appear on shelves across grocery stores. Fortunately, without any zombie-inducing side-effects.

 

Mike started his career working as a chef and later a waiter in a two-MICHELIN starred restaurant. After years spent opening and working in luxury hotels in London, he became a private concierge booking restaurants for clients all over the world. He now works as a freelance writer and journalist for the Evening Standard.