Held at a ‘secret’ location somewhere in London called ‘The Loft’, The Mash-up is the brainchild of Paris-based Gastro-Architect Rachel Khoo. And LondonEater brings you all the sumptious action, from behind the camera.
Expositing the underground dining scene
Much has been talked/written/blogged about regarding the exploding underground dining scene in the capital. At it’s core, it is a noble concept; the idea of someone opening up their home to strangers and offering to cook for them. One can argue that dinner parties have been going on for years and years now, some won’t really understand the fuss around it. I was speaking to a veteran dinner party host who told me the only difference was you ate with strangers who saw a piece on the internet (like this one). Anywho, that’s my John McEnroe about it; the only way to really find out what happens in one of these digs is to go to one.
Meet Rachel, Nuno, Jay-P & T-Baas.
The Mash-up concept is Rachel Khoo’s super cool idea of melding the visual and aural to enhance the dinner and give it an overall mood. The visual side of things is evident the moment you glance over at the table; rich forest green placemats and water bottle labels courtesy of T-Baas, and the audio part of it being taken care of by a mixtape in the background put together by Jay-P.
And the stage is set at The Loft – billed as the private kitchen of Chef Nuno Mendes, but in truth, it’s a really nice home. Everything open plan, with a mezzanine upper area and a ceiling that is very nearly two storeys high.
It’s a little nerve wracking with such events, and one never really knows what to expect. The vital difference between the pros and the alternatives is the mingling at the start. Believe me, it’s worringly awkward showing up to someone’s house expecting them to serve you like a restaurant patron and my conscience telling me that I really should be respecting the hospitality offered by the hostess inviting us into their personal space. This debate, I’ll probably save for twitter.
Fortunately, Rachel is as slick a hostess as they come – an ultimate multitasker, I watched as she gracefully switched gears from manning the kitchen (assisted by the lovely Caroline) to inviting people to the venue, and most importantly, making one feel right at home. (even more importantly, putting a glass of bubbly in your hands)
I was actually on hand to supply pictures for the event, and I tell you, it was fascinating getting total freedom to roam around the place, photographing everything that caught my eye.
And so we go to the first course: Pick your own crudite pot, potato pebbles and lemon aioli. The pot of garden fresh vegetables in carrots, radish and whole globe artichokes, got the evening off to a rather colourful start, I really liked the lemon infused aioli and I though it was an apt compliment to the pot of vegetables.
The all green first course was a refreshing start to the meal, and by then, I was duly acquianted with the diners around the table, we also had a few sips by then, and so became suitably friendly. Something rather magical happened just as soup was served; I could see all the heads pop down, almost in sync with each other and people started slurping away ( ok well, maybe not slurp.. )
Thai spiced watermelon gazpacho with black olive bugs. Now we’re talking. This is yummy, the spiciness is kept to a relative minumum and as the soup was cool, it gave it a subtle tingle rather than a punch. Watermelon is an interesting choice, and it gave way to a smooth, light brothiness which was fruity rather than the vegetable rawness one expects from a tomato gazpacho. The black olive bugs were a kind of iced olive, almost an olive sorbet, it carried an interesting zing and gave the soup an icy spark, which I found rather exciting. Rachel did the right thing here, by seasoning the soup for spice rather than for sweetness, making it a true appetiser , instead of a pudding masquerading as one.
So far so good, the waiting time in between courses was about 15 minutes. Rather good for a two person kitchen. Rachel kept up with the wine topping up, which is always a good thing to literally keep the conversation flowing.
On to the Mains: Sustainable Halibut wrapped in banana leaves served with a pepper lime salsa, petit pois & mange tout.
The fish was fragrant, roasted whole in the banana leaves, it had this tropical quality about it. Digging in, I encountered peppers giving in a slight fruitiness to flavour which matched the oiliness and body of the fish. The fish was cooked to well and it carried a silken wetness. Personally, I would have preferred it just abit undercooked, but I’m nitpicking. Beneathe the fish sits a dollop of rice. I was a little distracted with working the camera, and so failed to jot down the details of the rice. Memory suggested a slightly coconut infused long grain and spiced with herby shavings.
And so it appears Rachel can really cook. Overall, there was a slick mouthfeel, with the natural fishiness balancing well against the pepper topping, and the herbiness of the rice provided a foundation to cushion the palette. There you go Rach, not too bad at all.
Cheese before Pud
The next course was Strawberry & balsamic vinegar terrine with Petit Billy Goat’s Cheese.
Oh I loved this one. The sweetness of the strawberries came alive with the vinegar, one which is barely noticeable as it blended so well. I must confess, I’m quite new to the berry and cheese pairings and first experienced that at Sketch. It’s a successful combo with the chalky sour of the cheese meeting the tangy sweetness of the strawberry. A fresh dish that wiped the palette clean.
And finally, finally finally: the last dish of the evening: Pandan frozen frog, multi-coloured frogspawn in a chilled Darjeeling pond.
What a great description of a dish, I suppose Rachel is aiming for a big bang of a finish. Pandan is one of my favourite ingredients, popular closer to my folks than here in the smoke, and its greatest quality is the beautifully sweet and fragrant that has a calming purity, almost like a bamboo crossed with sugarcane and with the smell of forest leaves, and it makes for perfect custard infusions. Rachel has made a kind of iced custard (to make the frog); she has used tapioca pearls (used in Taiwanese pearl milk tea) for the frogspawn and she’s finished off the pond with a warming darjeeling tea. Much like a deconstructed milk tea, the strength of the tea was an excellent compliment to the custardy pandan ice, and yeah, a great finish indeed. If I were being critical, I’d say I want MORE of where that frog came from.
Three times a charm?
This write-up is in danger of sounding too much like a review, which I don’t intend it to since that wasn’t what I was there to do. But my opinion: it was a great night, Rachel was a gracious hostess; the Loft is a great venue and food was visually interesting and tasted great.
This wasn’t your average dinner; Rachel set out to create an electric menu adhering to a thematic backdrop and ambiance. I think the intermingling of the individual elements were successful. One cannot really hold these special dinners to the same set of criteria to judging proper restaurants, and I think one need to describe these dinners as a total experience. And in totality, I think she achieved what she set out to do.
You don’t have to take my one thousand words for it. Here’s the scene right at the end of the meal.
Clap. Clap Clap. I think that quite succinctly summarises the evening.
And here’s my favourite shot from the evening. You can see the entire set at Rachel’s website here.
(PS: Let me know if you need me to take down any pictures.)