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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sat Bains at the Electrolux cube, London

The view from the cube
The table settings

   The cube is a mobile-ish pop-up restaurant created by Electrolux and temporarily getting installed on the rooftops of European cities and hosting some of the continents finest Michelin 1,2 and 3 starred chefs. The London instalment of this concept has been planted onto the roof of the Royal festival hall, overlooking the Thames, London eye, the houses of parliament and the rooftops of the city for as far as you can see.
   The 'restaurant' itself is glass walled on three sides, allowing stunning vistas of the city and it was a fantastic vantage point for the recent flotilla which travelled along the Thames to celebrate the Queen's golden jubilee.Each time the cube moves it is taken apart and rebuilt at a huge cost, previously to London it was in Milan, and they are currently building a second cube in Stockholm to allow multiple cubes to operate at the same time. One of the best parts of the cube experience, is that as well as offering stunning views of London, you get the chance to watch top chefs in action, and chat to them and ask questions as you go.
  First British chef to use the cube to showcase his talent and ethos on food is Two Michelin starred Sat Bains of Restaurant Sat Bains with rooms, in Nottingham. This is is first venture into the Capital of any length, following a two day stint last year at Fortnum and Mason.While it is hard to transplant all the feeling and ambiance of a successful restaurant into a plain white and glass box on a rooftop in another city, Sat has taken up the challenge and given the cube a real flavour of what he is about. Simple, natural presentation, strong flavours, plenty of umami and most of all a sense of fun and memory.
NG7 2SA part 1
NG7 2SA part 2
    Upon arrival at the top of the six floor festival hall, we are greeted with the usual champagne, and also a cocktail which Sat has developed especially for the event and called NG7 2SA, a very refreshing sparkling drink-like a slightly cloudy champagne in appearance, but with a slightly bitter quinine taste, lots of herbs -notably lovage, and just enough chase vodka to make it interesting.
   Once inside the cube, and the obligatory photos of the views are taken, we are given another 'NG7 2SA', this time in canape form, a savoury horseradish ice cream sandwich with biscuit and herbs. at the restaurant, there is always a dish of this name on the menu using ingredients found in the restaurant gardens, or foraged along Lenton lane, where it resides. As the seasons progress, so the dish changes as berries, nuts and herbs come and go in and out of season. A nice touch, and indicative of Sat's philosophy of using iconic British ingredients and techniques from around the world to showcase them.
   The first course requiring cutlery is the third instalment of Sat's postcode, this time a delicate horseradish panna cotta is topped with a gentle wild garlic soup and a couple of baked croutons. Whilst horseradish and wild garlic are ingredients which can easily overpower a dish, they were both mild and vibrant in this dish, and the taste of the soup was not as intense as the colour. Subtlety of touch another element of the chefs signature here.
Sat welcomes us
the patio on the roof of festival hall


   Next up was a simple looking dish of scallops, seared on one side only and dressed with vanilla scented sauce vierge with confit tomatoes and fresh diced strawberries. an elderflower mayonnaise, elderflower petals and torn basil completing the dish. a hint of raspberry vinegar in the vierge backing up the acidity of the tomato so this didn't become too sweet. Cooking the scallop on one side and then allowing the residual heat to warm the rest of the mollusc kept it incredibly tender, and this was a lovely summery dish, despite the grey day outside on festival hall roof.

Sat and his development chef, Emma

'Waldorf salad'
   Due to my Tuna allergy, which ironically I only discovered thanks to Sat, I was unable to have the next menu course, so an alternative was provided for me. This was a take on Waldorf salad, so all the components of the famous salad but not as you would know it- salted apple, raisin purée, pickled grapes, celery mousse and granité and a walnut nougatine shaved over the top. A clever and tasty interpretation of well known flavours. (Sadly the wine, which was paired with the 'proper' dish of Jersey royals cooked in dashi, was a less successful match to my dish.)

Jersey royals-dashi-onion juice-ham
 Although I couldn't eat it, the gentleman next to me on the table was happy for me to take a photo of his. Sat let me taste the ham, which was developed under his guidance- an air dried and aged ham made from pigs local to his restaurant. Amazing smoky and earthy flavour, and a luxurious mouth-feel from the plentiful fat. Also, the onion juice which is distilled from onions, spring onions and garlic had a light green colour and pleasant allium flavour which I'm sure would have been lovely with new potatoes.

Spring lamb-leek smoked-charred
   For our main course, Shoulder of lamb cooked in a pressure cooker is topped with a ragout of the trimmings which have been gently stewed with kombu seaweed for richness and a hint of umami. The flavour of both is very pronounced, without having the heavy stickiness normally associated with braised meat. Combined here with a black purée of charred leeks, a piece of grilled leek, an ash goats cheese mousse and a lemon emulsion, this again was a nice summery dish, perhaps missing a bit more vegetable or even some starch? Although it was a seven course menu, this was a very light meal.
   The wine pairing for this dish was a Moss Wood Pinot Noir, from the mornington peninsula, and for my limited wine appreciation skills, it worked well despite the acidic cheese and lemon elements, with a bold flavour which didnt overpower.

Banbury cake-beauvale cheese-port syrup
   Next we had a brief food history lesson from Sat, where he told us about the Banbury cake, which is similar to the Eccles cake but pre-dates the Lancashire one by a hundred years. To match up the Eccles/Lancashire cheese pairing, Sat has used Beauvale blue cheese, from Cropwell Bishop, one of the finest Stilton makers in the country. Beauvale is a soft blue, similar in texture to a taleggio, but with the salty flavour you expect from a blue. With the cake and the syrup of tawny port, this was a lovely example of what Sat serves as a 'crossover' at his restaurant, bridging the savoury dishes with the sweet.
Banbury cake-beauvale cheese-port syrup

   Our first real sweet course was a small but perfectly formed chocolate 'cake', cooked in a very low oven (Electrolux of course...) without a fan, to create a very gentle environment for the cake, which was more like a soft ganache than a traditional cake. On top was a delicate set yoghurt, and cumin caramel, micro coriander cress and freshly grated zest of lime finished the ensemble. Sat explained that at the restaurant, he always serves chocolate as the penultimate course due to the mouth-feel of chocolate, and he likes to finish with the palate fresh and clean. This was lovely, and would be a fantastic dessert on its own, rather than as part of a multi course experience, as the other elements helped counter act the chocolate.
Treacle sponge-lemon-pine
    Our final course was again simple looking, but a lot of technique went into it. The sponge was created using el Bulli's Albert Adria's technique of cooking sponge in the microwave after forcing the batter through an isi cream whipper for lightness. This results in a delicate sponge which takes flavour very well. A surprising element in the dish was parsnip, which has a natural sweetness and with the douglas fir pine and apples in the dish tasted great. Instead of a wine pairing, we were treated to a first for me- sparkling saké. This was yeasty and had a slight apple flavour which matched up superbly- a great choice.
beetroot parfait-white chocolate-raspberries
    One final treat was bestowed on us, Sat/s version of one of his childhood favourites- the mivvi ice lolly. This version was a beetroot parfait cased in white chocolate, and then dipped in chopped dried raspberries. The beetroot flavour was delicate, but held its own with the strong raspberry.
   All in all, this pop up by Electrolux has gathered some of the most talented chefs in the UK ( Daniel Clifford of midsummer house is up next) and Sat Bains has set the bar very high. Although never matching the amazing multi course extravaganza of his own establishment, with the limitations of being in a box several floors up from your prep kitchen, he has shown why he is so respected in the industry.
   I look forward to the opportunity to check out what the other chefs- Tom Kitcin, Daniel Clifford, Claude Bosi and the Sanchez brothers- get up to on top of festival hall.
   As for Sat, he has a book out in September, and from what he told me about it, you will want to own this book!
The menu 

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