Yum Bug Just Opened A Pop-Up In London. Here's What To Expect

London-based Yum Bug founders Aaron Thomas and Leo Taylor are creating a buzz in The Smoke's food and restaurant scene, all around insects. Insects are not just excellent pollinators or natural pest controllers; they can and are food unto themselves. And, by using 15 times less CO2 than cattle production, Yum Bug believes insects, like crickets, should be the preferred proteins of the present and, most importantly, the future. Yum Bug is running London's first and only insect-based Yum Bug Restaurant, with limited booking availability for two weeks. You'll want to book now for an exclusive seat located on Old Street in bustling Shoreditch. They've partnered with a select handful of the city's best chefs to create an exceptional tasting menu that showcases just how versatile and delicious crickets can be.

Tasting Table was lucky to be invited to sample the menu just before opening. We received a preview of a selection of dishes on the current pop-up menu, running from October 26 to November 11. Bookings are limited, but a few are still available. If you miss out on a table but live near Shoreditch, they will also be selling cricket-infused lasagna to take home, alongside a selection of bug-themed merch with a message that encourages normalizing the practice of insect-eating. Yum Bug's efforts are to create a tasty product and an earth-friendly approach to protein that billions of folks around the globe have already adopted. Time to catch up, slow pokes!

What is Yum Bug dishing up?

Having grown up in Southeast Asia, eating insects was part of the norm for Leo Taylor. Aaron Thomas studied entomology at university, so he was used to seeing insects in ways others never considered. The pair teamed up in 2017 and began experimenting with creating insect-based meals in 2018, hoping to eventually land on a product that would be accepted into the broader culture.

At first, they tried at-home meal kits before discovering that this was too hard to control. It left too much responsibility in customers' hands, most of whom had no experience cooking with insects. So, they returned to the drawing board, working to create a product that might sit on the same shelf as a meat alternative.

Yum Bug's crickets are all farmed and harvested in Cambridgeshire; once only farmed for reptiles, the facilities have since been upgraded to ensure safe and clean human consumption. The crickets, Thomas explains, are processed by simulating cold, winter-like temperatures to induce hibernation or stasis. From there, the bugs are frozen and killed in the process. This ensures as humane and painless a process as possible. 

Thomas explains a cricket's lifespan is around 12 weeks in total. In the farming process, crickets can live approximately half of that. It's a proportion that far exceeds the natural life of a cow, which can be upwards of 20 years. The born-to-slaughter pipeline for beef can be as short as two years, a fraction of a cow's lifespan.

Why bugs?

Why not bugs? According to Yum Bug's research, crickets have more iron than spinach, more fiber than brown rice, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, and more vitamin B12 than red meat. Plus, they require significantly less feed than livestock, which can be repurposed food waste that supermarkets or farmers can't sell. And they produce substantially less carbon emission than traditionally farmed cows, chickens, and pigs.

Insects are eaten worldwide across Mexico, Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Australia. It has only been because of restrictions and legislation that insect-eating hasn't been more prevalent in Europe. But, as trends show, many businesses across Europe and Scandinavia are working to bridge this gap with insect-infused protein bars, pasta, flours, and more. Although entomophagy is becoming more accepted in the Western world, over two billion people currently eat insects as part of their regular diet. Yum Bug thinks it's high time the U.K. caught up, and Tasting Table was fortunate to have the opportunity to taste a few of the dishes on the pop-up menu it's using to popularize this food source.

Homemade sourdough and croquettes 

The night kicked off with a well-made, if slightly strong, Negroni. The cocktail worked to get everyone feeling a bit more adventurous, chatty, and relaxed, warming up the crowd for the first pass of the cricket-themed evening. Thanks to the work of the E5 Bakehouse, known for its sourdough, the first bite was met with enthusiasm — a cricket miso butter generously spread onto bites of sourdough. Sour, creamy, and umami-infused, it was a good bite from Jono Hope, founder of DoReMiso, that left the crowd humming, or should we say chirping.

Swiftly to follow was a second canapé pass, this time freshly deep-fried, crispy croquettes oozing with cheese and speckled with tiny black pieces that, while were, in fact, cricket, could have been easily mistaken for anything else. The soft, molten hot cheese and perfectly fried crispy outer casing took center stage, dipped in a tomato relish made from repurposed produce thanks to Rubies in the Rubble. No one batted an eyelash. Much like with toddler food or trying to get a stubborn pet to take medication, covering almost anything in cheese is a great way to warm up an audience to a more significant concept, whether vegetables, medicine, or bugs.

Minced cricket-topped hummus with crudites 

Once ushered to our tables in the spacious lofted setting, plates of food were quick to follow. First up, and one of the highlights of the night, was a smooth hummus topped with sweet caramelized onions, crispy-meets-chewy cricket mince, tangy pomegranate molasses, and bright crudités including carrot, cucumber, radish, and beetroot. The mince is one of the products Yum Bug hopes to deliver to the masses, made from just two ingredients: 78% cricket and 12% flour.

The dish was developed by Sam Clark, head chef and co-founder of the popular restaurant Moro and Morino, which specializes in Southern Mediterranean and Northern African cuisine alongside tapas. (Clark works alongside his wife, who is also named Sam Clark.) The Clarks are a well-respected and longstanding name in London's restaurant scene. According to Yum Bug co-founder Leo Taylor, Sam was also the first named chef to get on board with the pop-up concept. The caramelized cricket mince and slow-cooked onions were a perfect balance, offset by fresh vegetables and creamy hummus.

Confit garlic kale Cesear salad

Next up was a textural wonderland smacked with vinegar to liven up our palates. A confit garlic kale Cesear salad was swiftly delivered, complete with chewy, well-massaged kale, puckering pickled onions, crunchy giant croutons, large shavings of salty Parmesan, and soft pieces of cricket mince scattered throughout.

Sophie Godwin and Adam Bush, the husband and wife team behind Scramble LDN, developed and assembled the dish. Godwin is fresh off the release of her first named cookbook "Sundays: A Cookbook", having ghostwritten a dozen already. Bush is the former deputy editor of Olive Magazine. The salad they developed would hold its weight on any bistro-style restaurant menu; after all, a good Cesear salad goes a long way when it comes to pleasing a crowd. This one was no exception, crickets and all. Scramble LDN is currently delighting Londoners in the know with pop-ups, private catering events, and collaborations across the city. 

Roasted delicata squash over stracciatella

'Tis the season for all things squash and pumpkin, a vegetable that is truly complimented by the earthy flavor of hearty and aromatic sage. The next plate paid homage to all things autumn. Thick wedges of beautifully roasted and perfectly carmelized delicia squash arrived atop a paper-thin cabbage leaf, nestled in the comforting, pleasingly plump arms of creamy stracciatella, an Italian cheese made from mozzarella curds and heavy cream.

Topped with generous handfuls of toasted hazelnuts and crispy sage leaves, there was no detecting the whole roasted crickets the menu indicated were there, other than perhaps an extra little crunch and delightful pop. This is the kind of plate that's likely ordered by the hundreds each night across the city as soon as the weather turns chilly. Minus, of course, the crickets. The addition of the stracciatella, typically found in ice cream and gelato but rarely on its own, felt decadent.

The dish was developed by Clementine Haxby, the culinary director of The Salad Project, a small business in London's Spitalfields working to save Londoners from sad, limp, lackluster salad bars by serving high-quality, seasonal, affordable produce. 

Spiced mince and pomegranate flatbread

Next to arrive was a plate practically filled to its edge with a delightful round, fluffy, stretchy flatbread pizza. However, instead of the standard tomato sauce and mozzarella, this one was topped with warming spices and cricket mince, spread with a thick and tangy yogurt sauce, and studded with pomegranate seeds and mint. Not the first dish to use warming spices found across many Middle Eastern cuisines, the flavor and texture of the cricket mince feels like a natural substitution in place of lamb mince.

The pizza-meets-flatbread creation was developed by Tim Molema, founder of The Dynamo located in the Southwest neighborhood of Putney. Molema also works as head of food for Nando's, founded originally in Johannesburg with over 1,200 shops in 30 countries. Nando's has made a name for itself in the U.K., known for its peri peri chicken. Move over Colonel Sanders, Nando's has earned a reputation for being the world's most popular chicken restaurant. Just imagine how quickly insects would catch on in other areas of the globe if Nando's started offering crickets alongside their chicken offerings. Chirping nuggets, anyone?

Homemade pappardelle with cricket strips and fresh Parmesan

Look, any restaurant putting out freshly made, perfectly wide but delightfully thin homemade pappardelle like this is worth a look in our books. It is truly one of life's finest simple pleasures. The sauce was made from Calabrian chili and tomato with substantial strips of processed cricket. This is the first dish to introduce hearty strips. According to Roxy, Yum Bug's head of partnerships, the insects are first processed into a thick paste before being mixed with flour to create an almost dough-like texture. The mixture is then sous vied and pulled apart to create a fibrous meat-like texture, perfect for a hearty ragu or tucked into a taco or bao.

The dish was crafted by Chad Crooks, BrewDog's director of food. It would pair well with several BrewDogs beers, leading us to wonder when the brewery will pick up on this and start serving the meal pairings in their facilities. You heard it here first: keep your eyes peeled for cricket strip crackling, jerky, or tenders on the list of bar snacks. Crickets are widely eaten in across the globe as an accompaniment to a cold brew, so why not in London?

Brownie tart and spiced ice cream

There is something hugely satisfying about finishing a meal with the kind of dessert that satisfies the child inside us all. Even as our tastebuds mature, there's always a place in our hearts reserved for a gooey brownie and a scoop of creamy ice cream. Despite being very full, the lure of the chocolaty aroma of a thick wedge of chocolate brownie tart, infused with cricket powder and served in a pool of cool milky cream was too tempting to resist. The brownie was served alongside a scoop of spiced apple pie gelato topped with copious amounts of spices, including cricket powder and a pleasing crunch of whole crickets. Dinner finished with a satisfying smile of childlike contentment.

The brownie, complete with the perfect crust, was compliments of Bella Haycraft Mee, founder of Not Just a Pretty Bake. The cool gelato perfectly offset the rich chocolate, compliments of Nonna's Gelato and its founder, Sophia Brothers—a perfect pairing and joyous finish to a varied, flavorful meal.

You'll want to get in quickly with a booking, or it will forever bug you to sleep on the chance to experience this unique opportunity. Keep your eyes on the Yum Bug skies for other pop-ups in the future, with tickets likely to fly off the shelves faster than you can say 'jiminy crickets.'