From June through to the end of September, a large sleek white structure is sat atop the Royal Festival Hall. Consisting of a spacious dining room, small kitchen and toilet facilities inside and an expansive deck area and walkways outside, this modern installation is The Cube by Electrolux.
Six top chefs are taking it in turns to cook for up to 18 diners each sitting, providing a tasting menu of at least six courses along with matching wines.
Pete and I were invited to review The Cube on one of the few sunny days in July. Happily, the glass-walled interior was air conditioned, affording a cool respite from the heat outside.
Arriving promptly at noon for our lunch booking, we drank in expansive views of the river Thames, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster and Waterloo bridges, modern art installations displayed on the Southbank, along with the champagne served on arrival (and frequently refilled).
Our lunch feast was cooked by Frenchman Claude Bosi, working with a small team of sous chefs from his London restaurant, Hibiscus, which has held 2 Michelin stars for the last four years.
Born and raised in Lyon, Bosi trained and worked in Lyon and then Paris (under chefs such as Alain Passard and Michel Rostand) before moving to Ludlow in England. There, he was quickly promoted to head chef of Overton Grange (where he won his first Michelin star), before eventually setting up his own restaurant, Hibiscus, where he again won a Michelin star within a few months, and a second one a few years later. In 2007, he and wife Claire decided to move their restaurant down to London.
Our menu for today’s lunch, he explained, was a selection of dishes he serves in the restaurant.
Outside, with our champagne, we were served Olive Croquettes and Cheese Gougères. The crunchy croquette breadcrumbs gave way to soft, creamy, savoury olive lifted by lemon, served piping hot. The gougères were lovely light crisp shells, filled with hot liquid cheese. Only the thought of the meal to come made us stop, as more were offered again and again.
Invited to take our seats, we were soon served a small shot of Hibiscus Flower & Pineapple Soda, encouraged to combine both layers in our mouths. The sweet floral red layer was beautifully balanced by the sharper fizziness of foamy pineapple. It really woke the taste buds, as a great appetiser should.
As you might expect from a French man and top chef, the bread was very good. Excellent, in fact, with perfect crunchy chewy crust and soft crumb, and great flavour. Served with a very good butter, too.
With each course, a matching wine was served, and the staff took time to explain the wine to each diner, giving a little history or information about the wine itself, its key flavours and why it had been picked for the dish in question. I didn’t drink the wines, but Pete enjoyed the matches.
Having watched one of the team fry the octopus (which I’d originally thought was banana, in the pan) and then work with Bosi to plate up, the Octopus, Black Pepper Sauce, Pickled Cucumber was served. Bosi and another of the chefs walked up opposite sides of the table, pouring the sauce over each plate.
The biggest surprise about this was that Pete ate every last bit of it! Given his usual reaction to octopus, squid and shellfish, this was quite impressive but he pointed out how meaty this octopus was. Indeed, my overwhelming sensation, on eating the octopus was that it tasted like a frankfurter – and I don’t mean that as an insult! Smoky, dense and meaty, it was perfect with the crunchy, juicy, lightly-pickled cucumber.
With the octopus, which was served tepid, were tiny freshly fried crab and ginger pastries, served hot. I’m not sure they went particularly well with the octopus – their Asian flavours were very different – but they were tasty little morsels nonetheless.
Peas, Winkles and Chorizo was, we were informed, made with English peas, Cornish winkles and Spanish chorizo. The flavours worked well together, but both Pete and I agreed that the peas were not at their best, having already turned a bit starchy. I’ve only ever had winkles with vinegar served by the sea in a little polystyrene pot, but really liked them in this dish.
Watching the team at work was like watching a very well choreographed dance. Everyone had their tasks, all of which slotted in perfectly with the rest and all came together to create something special.
The Wild Salmon, Pigs Head, Barigoule was a beautifully presented dish. The fish was moist and soft, served with crunchy shards of its own skin sprinkled over it. The pigs head was rich and meaty. And the barigoule (braised artichokes) provided a lovely vegetal element, both in texture and subtle taste. Also on the plate was a thick smear of eucalyptus, which gave a slightly medicinal note, and an artichoke mustard puree, which I’d have liked just a little more of.
When I read Roast Suckling Pig, Orange Carrots, Cumin on the menu I was a bit surprised they’d bother specifying the colour of the carrots, because, you know, most carrots we eat in the modern world are indeed orange! Of course, the joke was on me, because the carrots were flavoured with orange juice! Again, the sauce was poured at the table by members of the kitchen team. The pork meat was soft and topped with a perfect crispy skin over a slightly excessive layer of fat, which even I (fat eater extraordinaire) scraped off. The combination of pork, carrot, orange and cumin worked very well.
Next came Charlotte Strawberries, Celeriac and Szechuan Pepper dessert served in a shot glass. I was nervous about this because I’m really not a fan of celeriac or celery. So I had Pete taste it first, kind of like my personal canary. Although, he tasted it with his mouth rather than breathing it. In retrospect, this is not the best analogy… Anyway, he convinced me to give it a try and fortunately the celeriac layer was the least vivid of the three. At the base was a lovely strawberry and mint jelly. On top, a thick and creamy szechuan foam – and to my surprise, instead of a fiery pepper hit, it was wholly about the fruity flavour of these Asian seeds, and absolutely delightful!
Described as Peas, Moroccan Mint, Coconut the next dessert garnered a mixed reaction but it absolutely blew me away! In a thin crisp dark chocolate shell was a superlight pea and mint mousse, the very essence of both, it was incredible! A number of the guests found it slightly odd to taste peas, which they associated with savoury, in a sweet dessert, but as peas are so naturally sweet, I thought it genius. The mousse tart was balanced by a very very smooth coconut ice cream, unsweetened (or only very lightly so), it was a great foil to the pea and mint. And I loved the chewy candied coconut pieces on top.
This dessert was truly amazing – for me I’d say it was the highlight of the meal and I’d love to try it again soon.
Orders taken for tea and coffee, bowls of homemade Chocolate Aero pieces were served. The dark ones were 70% chocolate, not sure which. The white ones were peppermint, and the best of the two. Of course I tasted both, wouldn’t you?!
Perhaps a little oddly, we were given quite a range of choices for tea – I went for an oolong, the kind of tea I drink most commonly. But coffee drinkers were offered only filter or espresso, with no further information about the beans or style.
The Cube is open daily for lunch and dinner (one sitting only for each). Lunch is priced at £175 and dinner at £215. Of course, that’s a heck of a lot of money, but keep in mind that it includes all food and drink, access to the chef and kitchen and a truly fabulous setting (that seats a maximum of 18 guests at a time), with the most stunning views out across the river and nearby buildings.
At Hibiscus, you’ll pay £105 for an 8 course tasting menu and that’s without any drinks or access to the chef and kitchen.
I’m afraid the website page is more style than substance, as it fails to indicate which chefs are cooking on which dates, nor can you check availability directly. However, bookings can be made by phoning +44 (0) 207 288 6450 (between 10am & 7pm, 7 days a week). My understanding is that there is still availability over the next two months.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Electrolux The Cube.