I first went to The Cube back in July. In a modernist white structure perched atop the Royal Festival Hall, it offers commanding views of the River Thames, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.
For my second visit, Simon Rogan was at the helm, offering dishes from his Cumbrian restaurant, L’Enclume.
As before, lunch included champagne and canapés on arrival followed by a seated, multi-course meal. The table can seat up to 20 guests, but a last minute cancellation meant there were just 11 of us sharing the experience.
Judging from my twitter stream, the majority of the guests all week were fellow bloggers, journalists and corporate friends of Electrolux with precious few paying customers. Probably because The Cube website provides an appalling lack of information about which chefs are cooking on which dates, and no online booking.
Having read some of those reviews already, it’s impossible to write my own review in isolation.
Certainly, I enjoyed the meal more than Hugh Wright, writing for The Telegraph. He was underwhelmed by the food and felt the £175 / £215 price tag compared unfavourably with dining in the chefs’ own restaurants (though I think when you add in the free-flowing champagne and wine, the prices aren’t as widely disparate as they seem). Hugh’s descriptions of the dishes, and which elements shone out the most, are very much in touch with mine, though I enjoyed the sum of the parts a little better.
Another London blogger, London Food Freak said that he didn’t see the point getting up close and personal to watch the chefs in action, nor in assisting with plating-up, so he stayed in his seat. But for me, the point of attending a meal at The Cube as opposed to dining at the chef’s restaurant was exactly that – the opportunity to watch the chef at work, talk to him about the design of the dishes, the flavours and the ingredients and yes, to get involved in service, albeit only in plating up. If one has no interest in that, then why pay the premium? Surely not just for the pretty view?
Of course, being a normal, emotional human being, I’m unable to fully separate my memories of the meal with the drama that unfolded the next day. Unhappy with a blogger’s mediocre review of a meal in his restaurant, Claude Bosi lost all sense of perspective and hurled some pretty unpleasant abuse via twitter. Fellow chefs Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge and Simon Rogan joined in, turning a nasty but isolated tantrum into a wholly more vindictive incident. Certainly, the blogger in question hasn’t come out of this smelling of roses either. But still I find it hard to reconcile the chef I met on Tuesday with the comments he tweeted (and later deleted and dismissed as a joke) on Wednesday.
The dish descriptions in Italics are taken from the menu. Capitalised words indicate ingredients grown at L’Enclume or foraged from the surrounding area.
Served shortly after arrival, canapés of crab toasts with crab and sea herbs were tasty but not very practical; the toasts broke up on biting into them, spilling crab onto hands and floor. I licked my hands clean, though!
Little, if anything, was said about the bread. It was dark brown, rich, soft and seeded. Nice.
I really liked the three different types of kale used in this dish, mineral-rich and slightly bitter. The squid ink croutons had a fishy chalky flavour that was much better than it sounds and a slightly soft and spongy crunch. So far, so good. But the “cod yolks”, made from a salt cod mousse in a saffron gel, underwhelmed. Lacking in flavour, they looked better than they tasted and they failed to ooze yolk-like over the leaves when cut open. The dish was finished with sorrel and rapeseed oil.
For someone who’s always felt a bit “meh” about turnips, this dish was quite a revelation. The baby turnips were so sweet, so crisp and so delicious, Pete and I spent several minutes discussing how we’ll definitely try and grow some at the allotment next year, and pull them up whilst they are teeny tiny, just like these. The cheddar dumplings were buttery soft and delightfully light. Turnips and cheese were a great combination. For me, the English truffle (from Wiltshire, apparently) was disappointing, with so mild a flavour that it was lost against the other ingredients. Even on its own, it had the very mildest hint of mushroom taste. The apple marigold oil gave a pretty green finish, but I’m not sure whether it contributed much to the taste, I certainly couldn’t describe it, if it did.
I helped plate this dish and really enjoyed doing so. I’m not concerned with affecting a air of blasé coolness, so I was happy to hop up and have a go. I liked being able to observe how the finished plates built up, leaf by leaf, flower by flower.
On introducing the dish, Rogan said he wanted to create a “vegetable dish that described our farm to the maximum but [he] couldn’t decide the ingredients so [he] brought them all!”
Milk curd added a little creaminess and the puffed pork skin gave a pleasant crunch but this was primarily a dish that was all about the flora. Disarmingly pretty, this was fantastically fresh and as vivid in the mouth as it was on the plate.
I’d previously heard of neither Red Russian nor Oxalis. The former is a leaf, part of the kale family. The latter is a member of the wood-sorrel family; the tubers are similar to small red potatoes and cultivated as a root vegetable in central and Southern America.
I didn’t find the flavours of either of those two ingredient distinctive and would struggle to describe them. But the fish was perfectly cooked and moist from the butter and the mussels were super soft – so much so that Pete, who normally can’t stand them, commented that if all mussels were like these, he’d happily eat them again.
“Who’s Reg?”, we wondered. Reg Johnson, one of the owners of Johnson and Swarbrick, Goosnargh Ltd and producer of high quality ducks and chicken, and now, guinea fowl.
This was unquestionably my favourite dish of the meal. How much of that was down to the quality of Reg’s poultry and how much was down to Rogan’s cooking, I couldnt tell but certainly his combination of a piece of breast meat, some leg and a fabulous ragu of liver, heart and gizzard was a winning one. The baby leeks were so good, even the hairy root was eaten. The meaty jus was laced with cider and drizzled with a vivid green splash of pennyroyal oil. No, I still can’t describe pennyroyal either.
This dish seems to be quite a polarising one with some people finding the liquorice altogether overpowering and others rather enjoying it. I can’t comment personally as an intense hatred of aniseed flavours meant a request for mine to be served without any of the strong liquorice sauce.
Given the verbal reference to Coniston, I’m fairly sure the menu reference to whole meal stout should actually read oatmeal stout. Regardless, the beer ice cream coated in blackberry crumbs was a great marriage of textures and tastes. With the sharp sweet citrus of the sea buckthorn mousse, this made for some sweet mouthfuls.
Pete thought the liquorice cream and tiny anise hisop leaf also balanced well.
The blue-grey pieces of “stone” were edible, made from pear sorbet painted to look like slate and served with dehydrated lemon verbena cake, hazelnut “soil” and a lemon verbena syrup. Unusual, but since I love all three main ingredients, this was always going to be a good one for me.
With tea and coffee, these little carrot and orange parkins were served.
Not really a wine drinker, I can’t comment on the matched wines, other than to say that I enjoyed the dessert wine, a black muscat from America with which I’m already familiar. Others seem to enjoy them and they were generously filled for those who were faster drinkers.
For me this was an enjoyable meal with some definite highlights – the turnips and cheddar dumplings, the autumn salad and the guinea hen three ways are all dishes I’d be very pleased to taste again.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of The Cube.