When you go to a restaurant, you generally know what to expect – sit down, order, eat, drink, pay and leave. If you can afford it, the realm of molecular gastronomy may be within your grasp, in which case things can get a little more wacky; challenging texture and flavour combinations and a more full on assault on the senses – think Heston with his ‘sounds of the sea’ ipod for example. Lately, however, there are some new kids in town – the crazy culinary partay creators Bompas and Parr.
This year is the centenary of the birth of the Italian futurist movement. To mark the occasion, Bompas and Parr collaborated with Time for Tea and the Dhillon Hotel Group to throw a big old shindig in the form of a banquet, a futurist aerobanquet – or as B & P put it, ‘dinner with a plane crash and explosions’. You must know by now that I adore pretty much everything they do – I’ve wolfed down their glittering gold leaf flecked Prosecco jellies, I’ve breathed in their vapourised walk in cocktail and now I’ve piled onto a coach out to The Olde Bell Inn, Berkshire for the most random, spectacular and just downright fun meal in my recent memory.
On arrival we were welcomed by a group of radiant air hostesses and one rather stern captain. They ushered us through security, which involved a cloakroom disguised as an x-ray machine, ticket and visa collection and some light frisking – all in exchange for canapés and cocktails.
The canapés were designed to celebrate the multi-sensory approach promoted by the futurists and we were invited to close our eyes and pop our chosen nibble down the hatch while stroking the attached textural appendage. Think stickily glazed kumquat accompanied by velvet and the rasping scratch of sandpaper complementing a baby fennel. Looking around at this point I could see some hesitancy from fellow passengers and so made a beeline for one guy who was really getting into it and then proudly displaying the textured sticks like army stripes on his lapel.
My favourite cocktail was a red wine and lemonade effort, sporting what I thought was a wedge of pineapple as garnish. When I bit into it however (excitedly encouraged by the woman standing next to me), I was surprised to find it was cheese. Red wine and cheese at the beginning of a meal? Those crazy kids.
Drinks in hand, we moved through to the ‘departure lounge’, our chattering drowned out somewhat by the whoosh of plane noises overhead. Then suddenly, a huge swathe of silver sheeting was pulled down to reveal a magnificent room containing the most stupendously large and shiniest table I’ve ever clapped eyes on. As we were seated and prepared to take flight, our hostesses performed the necessary safety instructions (exits here, here and here etc.), before the engines fired up and we were (literally) blown away by the force of huge fans aimed from the corners of the room. I may or may not have squealed with delight.
And then the food started to arrive, the first course, a ‘futurist tasting menu’ was arranged on specially crafted aeroplane style plates, with a little indent for each nibble, including ‘geraniums on a stick’, swordfish and fig skewer, ‘dates in moonlight’ (pressed dates and ricotta tart) and a savoury jelly – a ‘cubist vegetable patch’. Apparently the futurists thought it might be better if everything we ate could be consumed in a single mouthful. The starter then, would have gone down very well. The main course on the other hand – a juicy, crackly, herby stuffed beast going by the name of ‘pork fuselage’, perhaps not so much (fools!).
While we waited for the fuselage to make its grand entrance the hostesses appeared again, this time resplendent in stockings, jewels and feathers, to perform a magnificent chorus line show – kicking, flapping, shaking, strutting – there was even some upside down scissor leg action.
A porky waft indicated the fuselage had arrived and I rejoiced in the excellent crispy crackling on my portion, bulking it out with some new potatoes and slippery, buttery greens and washing all down with an excellent Innis and Gunn beer – malty, toffee heaven.
I was feeling a little merry by this point after cocktails, wine and beer and so the ensuing evacuation amidst explosions, smoke and full on fire in the garden accompanied by a screeching ambulance and emerging jelly in the shape of an airport sent me into a whooping, cheering frenzy of giddy excitement.
We queued up with plates for a slice of the wobbly stuff (me and my mate opting for absinthe flavour), a scoop of ice cream and a mini pastry plane. This was eaten whilst standing in the flickering flame light of nearby plane wreckage.
Then there was mingling and drinking of brandy, before we retreated indoors to enjoy the futurist jazz band, accompanied by some rather excellent and professional dancers who were thoroughly impressive although perhaps a little intimidating until I’d downed my third brandy.
Bompas and Parr combine the two things I love most in the world – eating and partying. In many ways, I enjoyed this meal more than I have enjoyed meals at high end restaurants because of the creativity, the element of surprise and the invitation to open your mind and become absorbed in the fantasy experience. It made me laugh, it made me think, it made me clap my hands together in excitement more than once. I ate, I danced, I whooped and cheered and I was more than a little drunk at the end of it. The only way anyone could not have had a fantastic time at this event is if they were a) ill b) totally lacking in imagination and spirit or c) dull as bloody dishwater.
Aircraft Commanders Time for Tea and Bompas and Parr I salute you.
Distressed hostess photo courtesy of Bompas and Parr.