Having eaten her way around Japan, Melissa Thompson started Fowl Mouths to share the ‘soulful’ and heartier side of Japanese food. Think “made with love, eaten with joy”, there is a commitment to delivering full-on taste and flavour in each dish. We go behind the scenes to find out more on her journey from Japan to London…

How did Fowl Mouths begin?

I started Fowl Mouths after sampling my sister-in-law’s food and falling in love with it. I started experimenting – cooking traditional Japanese comfort food dishes and also using Japanese flavours to different cooking styles I love from around the world – such as Ponzu Short Rib which is smoked low ‘n’ slow in the fashion of American BBQ.

Photo - Fowl Mouths irresistible Teriyaki Chilli Wings 1

Who are the team behind Fowl Mouths?

When we started running supper clubs my partner Kate helped in the kitchen (both cooking and dishwasher loading, thanks Kate. I’m still making cups of tea to make up for it) while my best friend Lauren ran front of house. It was a perfect set-up because we’re all really close.

As Fowl Mouths has grown, I’ve had to expand my team. Kate’s gone back to her day job and Lauren still helps out during pop ups where I have to provide floor staff, but nowadays Fowl Mouths is my gig. Kate and Lauren will always be a part of it though.

What defines Japanese comfort food for you?

Bold flavours, interesting textures, heartwarming food that puts a smile on your face and makes your belly warm. Balanced too. Think Tonkatsu with shredded cabbage, for instance.

Signature Fowl Mouths dishes?

Kara-age chicken (top image) will always have a special place in my heart and on our menu. It was the dish my sister-in-law Aya first cooked for me that made me fall in love and in a world where fried chicken is so abundant, Kara-age certainly has its place. Our Teriyaki Chilli Wings are also really popular and came in the Dojo App‘s Top Five Fried Chicken League, which was pretty cool.

Our Chocolate Sesame Ball with Matcha Ice Cream is also a favourite of our diners. I often have people who identify they’re not massive pudding fans, declare their love for it. I think the combination of Matcha and my secret ganache mix works really well.

Photo - Fowl Mouths molten Chocolate Sesame Ball

You travelled to Japan – which parts did you explore?

Nikko, Hakkone, Tokyo and Kamakura. I need to go back – there are so many places I want to go still.

What food discoveries and surprises did you find in Japan?

For me the surprise was how restaurants were so dedicated to serving one style of food and perfecting it. At these places, on paper the food wouldn’t grab your attention but the delight I found in the simplicity of those dishes sticks with me to this day.

For instance, after trekking in Nikko, we went to a place on the banks of Lake Chuzenji we’d been told about. It only had about 12 covers and all they did was fried food, and I went for the tonkatsu (panko pork cutlet). We sat on the counter watching the team – a mum, dad and their adult son – working in silent synchronicity knocking out these perfectly executed dishes. I was in awe.

What did you want to bring back from your discoveries to London and Fowl Mouths?

My love of ponzu, a type of citrus-seasoned soy sauce that works excellently with meat. A reinforced love of kara-age. The possibility of one day doing our own ramen.

Also, it gave me confidence to do what I want with Japanese flavours. We went to a high-end Italian restaurant in Tokyo, which served Italian food unlike any I’d ever had before, but it was delicious. The Japanese head chef had travelled to Italy and brought back new knowledge to create an Italian-influenced menu that worked for a Japanese audience. It helped me realise authenticity is important but it’s not everything. If food is cooked with respect and love, paying homage to its influences but taken on a little journey combining influences from elsewhere, then that’s fine – as long as it tastes good.

Photo - Fowl Mouths Weekend Brunch Egg & 'Bacon' Bun 1

Fowl Mouths started with supper clubs, pop ups and residencies. How do you adapt for each setting?

The difference is huge and because I have no professional experience, a lot was learnt on the go. For our supper clubs our home was transformed from a house to a restaurant, but with a homely feel. But working in a small kitchen was good training for some of the smaller professional kitchens. Your mise en place varies hugely from a supper club to a busy residency mainly because of the volume – you know how many you’re catering for with a pop up and not with a residency, but you have to prepare for it to be really busy as you won’t have time to catch up during a busy service. That was a pretty steep learning curve!

Your favourite food local loves in London…

Oh god, so many! St David Coffee House’s for their avocado and bacon on sourdough and coffee. Van Dough and BoNa Sourdough pizza are in Forest Hill. Brockley Market have tempting offerings like Spit & Roast. There’s Babur in Brockley with inspired Indian food. In Croydon I’m always drawn to Tai Tung Chinese restaurant for their crispy roast pork. The chicken and waffles at John The Unicorn in Peckham are so good. Forza Win for their epic five-course communal feasts. Further into town you can’t beat Hoppers bone marrow varuval. And Bleecker Burger is a must. I love The King & Co in Clapham too – we ran a really successful residency there and I fell in love with the place and its ethos. Oh, and their beer. I could go on…

Fowl Mouths at The Old Nun’s Head | 15 Nunhead Green SE15 3QQ 

Every Thursday and Friday

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