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Sunday, 4 October 2009

London Supper Club – The Loft


The Loft

Over the coming year, I will be visiting as many of London’s underground restaurants as I can get into, and will be posting my reviews here. I have been intrigued by this new eating concept in the London food scene, and am curious to find out where this will lead us. So watch this space, more reviews to follow.

Reputedly the most upmarket of all London Underground Restaurants, The Loft is run by ex El Bulli chef Nuno Mendes and his partner Clarise, from their stunning apartment on Kingsland Road, Hackney.



At £115 per person for cocktail, food and wines, I was not sure that a visit and write-up of The Loft would be in keeping with the aim of The London Foodie – which is to bring good quality, value for money London restaurants to friends and followers. I am glad that my curiosity got the better of me – because as I was to find out, at £115 per head, The Loft is surprisingly good value.



There were about 16 guests, a rather beautiful and well dressed crowd of mid-twenty and early-thirty professionals; the lighting and decor were elegantly thought out helping to create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Guests arrived from 7:30pm and mingled, sipping lychee martinis whilst nibbling on lovely cheesy choux pastries and other yummy canapés until about 8:30pm when the first of 12 courses was served.


 


#1 - To start the evening, Nuno presented us with a ravioli-type morsel filled with a whole fresh oyster and mango pieces, topped with green chilli, radish and with accompanying jelly. The pasta was paper thin, bursting into the mouth to release the tastes of fresh sea and tropical fruit - a heavenly and most original combination.



#2 – This was followed by our second dish, described in their menu as “harvest vegetables and fruit salad”. This consisted mainly of thinly sliced tomatoes of varying sizes and colours, mange-tout, chick peas, strawberry and watermelon in a clear and much reduced tomato consommé, and dotted with small “spherified” cheesy bubbles.


Reminiscent of bocconcini (small mozzarella balls), the cheesy bubbles would burst in the mouth releasing the essence of mozzarella cheese and cream; the flavours and sensation were both delicious and intriguing. This was my first encounter with what Nuno later explained to us as the process of “spherification”, a cooking technique invented by Ferran Adria of El Bulli. As the name suggests, spherification refers to the process of taking liquid and reshaping it into a sphere. The liquid is barely solidified on the outside – a ravioli with “invisible pasta” as the same ingredient, in this case cheesy cream, makes up both the delicate skin and the liquid filling. 


 

 

The technique relies on a simple gelling reaction between calcium chloride and sodium alginate. In brief, the main steps are: enrich a tasty liquid (cheesy cream, Cointreau, Bailey’s, choices are endless...) with alginate and then drop it with a squeezy bottle, syringe or spoon, into a bath with calcium chloride. After a certain amount of time (the longer the time, the thicker the jelly-shell that develops) gently remove and rinse them in clear water. This process was kindly demonstrated to us by Nuno as he prepared his heavenly cheesy bubbles.


#3 – Next on the menu was “Marinated and Charred Sea Bass, Green Apple, Daikon and Crispy Ponzu” – the raw fish was delicately marinated/cured giving it a slightly meatier consistency than a more straightforward sashimi. The Ponzu sauce, a very popular Japanese sauce made mainly from yuzu juice, dashi stock, mirin and vinegar had been jellified, frozen and grated and then served as an accompanying granita. The addition of green apple puree was also interesting making the dish well balanced.


#4 – This was followed by a warm cream of soya milk, heavily infused with truffles, and served with aubergines and “umeboshi”, a very sour & sweet Japanese pickle made of unripe plums. To accompany this, Nuno also served us a small tumbler of aubergine consommé flavoured with dashi stock. As a Brazilian-Japanese, I found his fusion cuisine very inspirational.


 #5 – The “Prawn Confit, Chilled Pea Puree and Buttered Hazelnuts” was also very successful and beautifully presented.


#6 – Our next dish, rightly named “L’Explosion Thailandais” was very intriguing, and one I find the most challenging to describe. It was a tumbler that conjured up the flavours of a nation – coconut milk, nam pla, holy basil, and the like. Flavours were complex and incredibly well balanced. It was served with a nutty, spicy mixture and grated daikon.


#7 – I love razor clams, and was delighted to see his next dish, “Razor Clams, Pickled Carrots, Enoki Mushrooms and Basil” – it was again beautifully presented with the curly pea shoot greens giving it a delicate and elegant look. It was topped with a delectable dried coconut crumble.


 

#8 – I had come across the concept of Sous Vide cooking before but had never actually tried it until The Loft (Sous vide is French for « under vacuum » and describe a method of cooking in vacuum sealed plastic pouches at low temperatures for long times). I was blown away by Nuno’s “Slow Cooked Eggs, Potato and Iberico Crumb, Pear Puree and Thickened Milk”. The eggs had been cooked for 45 minutes or so apparently at 63˚C, and were deliciously runny. The Iberico ham and potatoes were nice additions giving the dish a very hearty feel. It was definitely one of the simplest but nicest dishes of the evening.


#9 – Nuno’s “Onion Soup Moderne” was indeed a very sophisticated and modern take on one of the most classic of French dishes. Again, we were presented with his delicious “spherified cheesy balls”, and very good it was.


#10 – One of the stars of the evening however was the “Sirloin of Beef, Mushroom Caramel and Spiced Mushrooms” dish. Using the concept of Sous Vide, Nuno’s sirloin was cooked for 3 ½ hours at 65˚C. The meat was the most tender I have ever tasted, bright red inside but not bloody, intensely flavoured, it melted in the mouth.


 

#11 – The least successful dish of the evening was the “Cauliflower and Strawberries” dessert that followed. It was an interesting concept, but one that did not quite work for me. The vegetable taste of the cauliflower was very much at odds with the sweet strawberry. It was a fun dish, but not one I would order at a restaurant.


#12 - Our last dish of the evening was Nuno’s “Warm Chocolate Fondante Mango and Black Olive”. This was an interesting dish, with rich and distinct flavours that worked surprisingly well together.


I had one of the most memorable meals I can remember at The Loft, and was pleased to have overcome my concerns about the cost and to have persisted with my attempts to get a reservation at this much sought-after spot.  The wines, a mixture of Portuguese and French, were carefully chosen to complement the dishes while not distracting from the excellence of the food. 

Nuno lead a small team of chefs and helpers, they were highly professional, friendly and welcoming. It was obvious that there was an excellent team dynamic with much friendly camaraderie among everyone in the kitchen. At around 1am, there was a sense of shared excitement and wonder as all guests merrily bid their goodbyes at The Loft.
 

Verdict – Haute Cuisine to rival the finest restaurants in London in an intimate, contemporary setting. Nuno’s open plan kitchen and his encouragement to ask questions and engage with the chefs made this an inspiring learning experience, as well as providing one of the best meals I have ever eaten.

7 comments:

  1. Great review Luiz. What a night eh, one of the finest evenings of gastronomy I've ever experienced. If by chance, you want to see what I thought, I've put it down on my very sporadically updated blog...

    http://duckseggsandradishes.blogspot.com/

    Keep on eating.

    Jules

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am so inspired by this! Thank you again for bringing us these underground reviews.
    LL
    P.S. Great photos too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @ Jules - Hi mate, nice to see you here. I was not aware that you were a fellow blogger, you kept that quiet or maybe it was me who talked too much! Anyway, I like your blog a lot, your writing is great. Don't be a stranger, keep in touch.

    @ Lori - Dear Lori, your encouragement is always so invigorating, I am glad you liked my ramblings on The Loft. I will be posting another entry on MsMarmiteLover this week. Funnily enough, the night I was there on 26/09, the BBC was filming and it was aired a few times last Saturday. She has become the most popular underground restaurateur in the UK. She has a lovely blog called The English Can Cook, worth checking it out.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Luiz

    Great review. the place and food looks great.

    How did you book a table?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Kano,

    Great to hear from you! It is dead easy to book, you only need to send them an e-mail to nunomendes@googlemail.com. It is his fiancee, Clarise who looks after all the bookings. Nuno and Clarise are away this month (Oct), but it is worth calling and putting your name down for a date, they are booked up for sometime now but cancellations do happen and they will call you when places become available.

    I hope you will be able to go to this, I would highly recommend it. Send me an e-mail with your contact details if you would like me to send you Clarise's mobile number.

    All the best,

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

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  6. hey Luiz, great to meet you the other night at F&L. Looks like I really missed out on the Loft whilst Nuno was there! Daft really since I live right across the road from the place, but looking forward to trying out his Viajante place sometime soon.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey Jones, nice of you to stop by! I was reading your review of The Loft (under Greeno), it was a great write up! Hope to see you again at some other foodie event soon. All the best mate!

    ReplyDelete

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