It's barely gone 18h30 on a weeknight in Belgravia and I'm being prescribed an elixir to balance my sanguine humour before having to walk across a (shallow!) lake full of eels to drink said elixir in the bowels of a pirate ship.
And no, I was not smoking any of that stuff that the chap offered me outside Mile End Tube station!
This is just part of the whimsical world that Courvoisier brandy and renowned enfants terrible of the gelatinous dessert world , Bompas & Parr, have put together for your viewing, imbibing and dining pleasure in The Complete History of Food which runs from today until Sunday 18th July. I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the press night last night and here's how things went down.
Upon arrival, there was some milling about and waiting for our allocated time slot to begin (people enter the experience in groups of about 8, spaced 15 minutes apart), during which time I got chatting to the lovely Miranda of Eat Me magazine. From there we were ushered into a darkened wood-panelled room where we were "diagnosed" by the resident doctor as having an imbalance of one of the four humours. Once diagnosed, we were invited to walk along a narrow walkway over an (admittedly shallow) lake containing live eels – and let me assure you there is nothing like proximity to live eels to sharpen one's sense of balance! Once across the water, we found ourselves entering the bowels of an old timber ship, being served cocktails to balance our humours by a pirate. Mine was delightful – a Courvoisier Exclusif pear and cardamom sidecar with a popsicle of lemon and sorrel – definitely a trick I want to try and repeat at home.
Once back across the eel lake, we all got cosy in the teensy lift and headed for the roof terrace. I'm not sure what I liked the most on the roof terrace: the killer view; the divine canapés; or the cocktails. To eat, we were presented with heavenly creations by Alexis Gauthier: a savoury take on a Ferrero Rocher chocolate, consisting of a port reduction centre surrounded by duck foie gras and coated with caramelised almonds and gold leaf. Oh my. Sinfully delicious! And to drink we had a classic champagne cocktail, but made with still white wine rather than sparkling, and containing three VERY alcoholic grapes.
From there we headed downstairs to the TV room, decked out in proper 1950s style. Here, we were invited to enjoy a scratch 'n sniff TV dinner of chicken, chips, peas and strawberries. Hmmm. I was not convinced. The chicken smelt like cumin; the peas of eucalyptus; and the chips of rotten eggs and stale oil. Not nice! Only the strawberries smelt of anything – mostly, umm, artificial strawberry flavour. I think we were all pleased to be sniffing rather than tasting ;-) Another set of stairs took us down to the inflatible stomach – basically a large red bouncy castle made to vaguely resemble the interior of a stomach and covering every available inch of a room. Since I was lugging my big camera with me, and since I've never was much one for bouncy castles, I gave this one a miss, but the rest of my group loved it.
The next stop was the Iguanodon dinner – a recreation of a bizarre Victorian event when, in 1853, Anatomist Richard Owen and sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins teamed up to create life-sized models of iguanodon dinosaurs at Crystal Palace, and then invited twenty leading scientists to dine in and around one of the models. Dinner in our eight-seater compact iguanodon was provided by Bistrotheque and consisted of outstanding confit duck leg on puy lentls and beetroot, with a black campagne reduction – the meat fell apart at the touch of a fork and the skin was sinfully crispy. Heaven. And to drink, there was a refreshing summer punch of Courvoisier Exclusif with green tea, apple juice and elderflower codial.
From there we moved on to my favourite room of the event – the Renaissance dessert room where Bompas and Parr had outdone themselves. We were greeted in the anteroom by a metre tall rendition of The Gherkin, but rendered in different colours of gingerbread. As if this wasn't enough, we then entered what appeared to be Barbara Cartland's boudoir with a central froth of gauzy pink and apricot drapery. Iniside was a slowly-revolving giant cake stand, filled with intricate sugar sculptures and a conveyor belt of jellies for dessert. This was iris jelly with an ambergris posset and candied orange peel. Yes I know ambergris is something regurgitated by whales. No, I'm not dwelling on it! The jelly was light and almost citrussy and the candied peel was wonderful with it – even though I don't usually like candied peel. The whale vomit posset tasted… well, like vanilla sauce. Nothing fishy going on here, thank heavens! And besides, the Courvoisier XO served with the dessert was so astonishingly good that I would hardly have noticed if the jelly had tasted like whale vomit! The other novelty in this room was the button you could press under the rim of the table that was connected to some sort of heart monitor. After a couple of seconds, it would pick up your heartbeat and make a small membrane on the table-top "beat" in time with your heart - and for maximum effect there was a jelly on top of the membrane. I think I am going to find me one of these gizmos to use as an icebreaker at all future parties!
And just like that, we had reached the end of our tour. There was nowhere else to go but the Courvoisier bar where I bumped into Niamh, met May from Slow Food Kitchen, and where a fair number of Parisian Rendezvous cocktails were consumed.
Well done to Bompas and Parr for their vision in creating this memorable experience, and thanks to Courvoisier and Focus PR for allowing me to share in the fun.