It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jews love their food. It is also fair to say that many members of the tribe like to drive when they dine out. But, if you get the chance to enjoy the 10-course tasting menu at Kitchen Theory, the car is definitely best left at home.
Down the road from Barnet’s town centre, in the lobby of an old Victorian warehouse, my husband and I made the acquaintance of our eight fellow diners – all of whom were foodies and interested in unusual gastronomic experiences.
We watched a video explaining the principles behind the Chef’s Table multisensory dining experience, which takes its inspiration from science, gastronomy, nature and art.
To further explain and test out this reasoning, chef Jozef Youssef –
who has worked at some of London’s top Michelin starred restaurants, establishing Kitchen Theory in 2010 – got us to taste some unusual nibbles, including a flavoured piece of paper, noting who was a ‘non-taster’ (this was apparently sometimes a good thing) and who was a ‘supertaster’.
Jozef has collaborated with experimental psychologist professor Charles Spence of Oxford University, who has carried out research proving the interrelation of all the senses. A case in point was when we tried a jelly bean while wearing a nose clamp and then with it removed; we surprised ourselves at how much all the senses inform our perception of flavour.
This was further illustrated with the colours of food; we were given identical looking nibbles with notably different tastes. In our second course, we appraised shape, texture, flavour and mouthfeel to evaluate whether the ox cheek encased in a pillowy doughnut or the octopus with
a blue corn tostada (we had a vegetarian option) was a ‘bouba’ or ‘kiki’ taste (these made-up words relate to a round or spiky shape).
Food was immaculately presented and, at times, served on the large oval table – somewhat dispensing with traditional table manners. Regular cutlery was not always used, in a thought-out effort to encourage mindful eating and challenge our preconceived ideas about food.
Quetzelcotal, the third course, named after a god represented as a feathered serpent in Mesoamerican culture, served up corn, beans and chilli in an elaborate honeycomb cell design, which we ate with our hands.
Images were projected onto the table to enhance the visual experience. During the course entitled Ryujin’s Servant (Ryujin was lord of the sea in ancient Japanese mythology), while we had the vegetarian option, one diner was surprised to find herself enjoying jellyfish – which Jozef explained should become more widely offered as a sustainable food source.
Served in delicate glass dishes, the course included fermented cucumber and seaweed, and projections turned the table into an ocean scene, with underwater sounds delivered through headphones. This concept of ‘sonic seasoning’ seeks to discover whether sound affects one’s sense of taste.
In Scriptura Vitae, the rich black risotto mimicked the work of artist and film-maker Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic, whose video we had watched earlier, and was topped with a small golden-coloured square of chickpea tempeh.
Tsumikasa was an ‘earthy’ course and my favourite savoury one – New Jersey Royal potatoes with truffle and shallots served on tree trunk discs accompanied by a beautiful Valpolicella Ripasso. Accompanying the image projected onto the table were piped in sounds and smells of the forest.
Jastrow’s Bite, meanwhile, with the optical illusion of the rabbit depicted on the plate – or was it a duck? – emphasised the theory that flavour, like art, is a matter of perspective.
To translate fear, lightbulbs with working lights were smashed (Shattered Glass course) and their shards (sugar) placed atop our rhubarb ice cream served with white chocolate. Vanilla and the bee course served up torrija – a delicious and delicately sweet Spanish-style French toast – with honey kombucha, a drink made out of fermented tea.
Finally, the Sensploration course, consisting of Irish cream and cheesecake, sought to determine whether the type of glassware and feel (we were encouraged to feel a ‘texture cube’ while eating) used affects the perception of taste.
Individual portions were relatively small but well considered and, towards the end of the meal, we were feeling extremely full – some of the courses are considerably rich.
The cost isn’t cheap – £180 per person – but alcohol, which is paired with the food, is plentiful, and dining at Kitchen Theory is not your average Saturday night experience of eating out.
Alston Works, Unit 9A Falkland Rd, Barnet EN5 4LG