Saturday, 25 September 2010

Experimental Food Society: 50% Awesome, 50% Must improve badly

Experimental Food Society

The minute I heard about the banquet for the Experimental Food Society I knew I wanted to go. Having been to the Courvoisier The Complete History of Food experience, which we enjoyed tremendously, and not having yet had the chance to attend a Rebel Dining Society event, I thought that we should treat ourselves to another culinary surprise.

Although overall we had a really great time, it is a shame that there are quite a few aspects that should be ironed out in order to make this event the absolute success it deserves to be. I really would love to say that it was a perfect night out and completely worth the money (a very respectable £75 per person without drinks) however little and not so little bits here and there took away from the overall experience I want it to be.

The most disappointing thing about it was how we didn’t really get to see many of the things announced, which raises the issue of not only maybe being better off just paying £5 to see the exhibition during the day, but also how to interpret what you have been sold and have bought into (jellymongers and chocolate painting for example).

Monkey and duck balloon hats by Miss Ballooniverse
Eager as we were, we arrived at 7.30 sharp at The Brickhouse restaurant and we treated to a lovely glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne and before we knew it we had the absolutely awesome Miss Ballooniverse right by our side showing us her skills and creating quite amazing food-related balloon hats. I can’t quite give her enough credit really, I don’t find balloon people so entertaining and I loved her, she really worked her act and she even made the BF a monkey balloon hat which was the envy of the whole restaurant.

We took seat in the upstairs area and could immediately spot the issue with the venue, as any people seating there would not be able to see the performers without standing up from their places. Since the layout was a long medieval banquet-like table it was definitely complicated for anyone seated next to the balcony or in the middle section to see much or even go to the loos. So we stayed right at the end of the table which gave us the chance to get up and see what was going on downstairs.
The stage from the 1st floor

The first treat was a shot of Pernod Absinthe. Everything needed was beautifully laid on the stage and after the explanation on how to pour yourself the best absinthe drink, off we trotted down to experience it ourseves. How silly of me that pouring water over a sugar cube over the absinthe makes me all excited. I am an absinthe convert and please could someone arrange it so it really gets back in fashion? The absinth drink was complemented by a delicious butternut squash and absinthe terrine canapé.

Next up, was the bread, but of course not as you would expect it. This bread had been moulded on the body shape of (appropriately named) artist Sharon Baker. She gleefully invited 8 people to slice her bread twin up after which the body was further chopped up and served to us accompanied by beautiful butter roses. I loved Sharon Baker, she was tremendously engaging and passionate and ultimately she ‘cooked herself’, how awesome is that?

Sharon Baker watches a diner slicing her bread boob

To follow up we had the most delicious Elisabethan pie (salmon and raisins) accompanied by a tuille parmesan crown and dill butter ball. This was the best dish for me. Absolutely delicious throughout, the dill butter ball was tremendously cute while at the same time complemented fantastically the fish.
Elisabethan pie and Colour changing cocktail

The main course was introduced by the good old Super Mario Shooting Duck game and our very own hunter who finished off the bird that got away. Of the ducks we were served a trio of seared foie gras, plum pudding and honey glass, duck tongues with braised red cabbage and edible gunshot and duck hearts with bone marrow and apple puree. There was a lot of ruffling at the table when the dish arrived as they lights had been considerably dimmed (I wonder if to encourage the less adventurous diners) and we were trying to find out which bits corresponded to each part of the duck. The most fun was the atomised beetroot sauce, which when sprayed made everything look appropriately bloody and a very wonderful vampire bite kind of way. I did enjoy very much the hearts.

Before the following dish there was a live performance by artist Caroline Smith. Unfortunately I don’t it worked as well as it could have, because of the layout and size of the dining area, because the event had begun to decline in pace noticeable and because she had the difficult task of trying to hold our attention while at the same time helping Brickhouse chef Matthew Reuther, who was bravely cooking chocolate mousse before us. I can see how Caroline’s act would really work in a much smaller and relaxed environment.

After a bit of a long wait, in which we got to know our table neighbours, desert was presented on stage. Roasted pig cake by Michelle Wibowo, Pop cakes circus by Clare O’Connell, floating hedges by Love to Cake and Marie Antoinette with a macaroon layered dress. While we got to have a good look at what was shown downstairs, by this moment all hell seemed to have broken loose with no attention being paid anymore to the presentation of the dishes and how they were served to us. While we were suppose to receive the cornucopian crown desert as well, we didn’t unless it was the shapeless chunk of glittery cake that appeared in my plate. While the true to size pig cake was exquisite in detail and impressive to see, the result was not as pleasant to eat  due to the thick layers of marzipan. And the absolutely delicious macaroons from Marie Antoinette did not really reach the tables.

With very few people remaining on our floor, more confusion ensued when the cheese course was announced. The cheese was ready since it had been landscaped earlier in the day (something that didn’t please the people in our table), however the kitchen was not and the accompanying oat cakes were not ready until at least half an hour later. The kitchen was so unprepared though that we were given the cheese in a cup, no cutlery. This is where I have to really say, what were they thinking? I have been to the Brickhouse before and service and food has been excellent. I feel for the chef as I would imagine having mistakes of this kind  in your restaurant cannot be a pleasant experience, and definitely not a reputation booster. Alternatively, if you’re going to give me cheese on a cup, make a point of it, make it fun, make it seem intentional and not a failure.

The cheese issue brought a heated argument to our table since to me the fault was with presentation and lack of the companion oat cakes, whereas our dining neighbours seemed quite concerned with the fact that it had been out for too long. Aaahh... foodie fights J

There was a surprise however, and since by all diners on the first floor had already left, the remaining couple and us were presented with the chocolate mousses cooked on stage before and a tray of delicious chocolates of which the outstanding Paul A Young truffles left us speechless. At this point we should have been entertained by a performance by chocolate painter Sid Chidiac, however it is unclear why it didn’t happen.

We left with a bittersweet taste in our mouths and it unfortunately wasn’t because of the chocolate.

I believe this event has a lot of potential, and I wish it succeed in pulling itself together with better organisation, more attention to detail and above all care for the diner. It is after all people passionate about food who will be willing to fork out to be part of a vanguard movement, but that doesn’t mean they are not looking for value and quality as well.

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