Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Molecular gastronomy, the art of playing with people’s palates by creating new ways of presenting familiar flavors, has taken the culinary world by storm. I have eaten at my share of dining establishments dedicated to the chemistry of cuisine, including dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in England and a meal at the three Michelin starred Akelare in San Sebastian, Spain. But I’ve never gone to a dinner party where molecular gastronomy was involved. Not until this week, that is.
On Monday night I was invited to a dinner at Somerset House, a gorgeous Neoclassical building on the Strand. The occasion was for a molecular gastronomy catering company called Bubble Food to show off its culinary creativity.
The event started out in a room on the top floor of Somerset House. I walked in to find myself in a fog. In front of me was a large tree with beignets hanging from its branches. It was a surreal environment. I suppose it was fitting for such a unique kind of cuisine.
I took a glass of Champagne and discovered that in addition to the usual tiny bubbles, my flute contained a number of small pink spheres of sweet molecular “caviar”. As I talked with several people I knew, trays full of inventive canapes made their way around the room. My favorites were the mango discs with cheese centers and the bubble-like “olives” served with crunchy nuts.
When the canapes were finished, we moved into a large room for dinner. The decor was stunning. The table was bathed in violet light and from the ceiling hung bud vases full of white flowers. The table was clear and bright and ready for us to sit down.
As we did so, our starters arrived. They were served in style, complete with glass coverings that vaguely resembled transparent smurf hats.
Underneath them was a smoked risotto mousse of black truffle. It was rich and creamy, and topped with several large pieces of mushroom. The smoky flavor balanced the creamy and salty flavors in the dish beautifully, although the crunchy puffed rice pieces were a bit hard.
The main course was a delicious dim sum of monkfish, jasmine black quinoa, and chorizo caviar. The parcels of dumpling were savory and smooth, and the quinoa blended with it well. The chorizo caviar added a nice element of extra flavor to the dish.
The dessert was a large “bubble” of chocolate with salt toffee mousse, coconut and pomegranate caviar, and yogurt sauce. The sauce was poured over the large chocolate ball to melt it away so that the inner contents were exposed. I liked the idea and the flavors, but some of the textures didn’t go together as well as they could have.
After the dessert we were served a digestive of liquid nitrogen mojitos, tiny icy concoctions that packed quite a punch for their diminutive dimensions.
At the end of the evening we enjoyed some fresh air on the south balcony, which overlooked the South Bank Centre and OXO Tower. On the other side of the building, I left the event through the beautiful inner courtyard, where the annual Somerset House ice skating rink was being constructed.
As I exited, I noticed that the building was bathed in bright green light. Maybe it was Somerset House’s way of playing with my sense of sight in the same way that the molecular gastronomy catering played with my sense of taste. In both cases, I liked it.