72 hours, and I’m beginning to struggle.
Breakfast: Fake Bacon Sandwich: There’s nothing better than the taste of bacon in the morning unless, of course, it’s manufactured by our old friends at Redwood Foods. Having sampled a few different items in their ‘cheatin’ range, Im beginning to wonder what the point is. These rashers look like they’ve been moulded out of play dough, even down to the fake fat, and they taste dreadful, like some kind of vaguely savoury, slightly salty crepe paper. I’m not going to dispute for second that vegetarian cuisine isn’t capable of throwing up wondrous combinations of texture and flavour, but why anyone would want to include this godsforsaken alternative is genuinely beyond me. If you’re vegetarian and care for a moment about the pleasure food can provide, why would you settle for a seriously flawed, faux-version of a food you’ve already decided to give up, when there’s so much else on offer? Worst of all, it keeps repeating on me, even after lunch.
Lunch: Fake ham sandwich: My final attempt at fake meat is another failure. Redwoods are responsible again, this time for some forlorn circles of water and wheat protein masquerading as ham but performing like a tasteless, stale approximation of cheap spam. I manage three mouthfulls before gagging and tossing the whole sorry mess in the bin, then made my way to Pret to pick up an egg and cress sandwich and a slice a banana cake. Never again.
It’s an interesting experience. The waiting staff are wonderful: very friendly, attentive without being overbearing, and happy to explain how everything works. In a nutshell, the idea is that food should be plant-derived, uncooked and unprocessed. We’re told that the food remains uncooked because at temperatures of 48°c and above the beneficial enzymes naturally present begin to break down, and the nutritional value and flavour of the food decreases. Now I’m no scientist, but this does sound reasonable, and while there’s plenty of ciritcism of the concept, it does make for an adventurous meal.
My starter is ‘caviar’, a cheerful combination of chive pearls, sweet potato latkes, apples and sour cream that somehow manages to taste like none of its ingredients. It’s nice enough, though, and beautifully presented. The main course is a ‘lasagne’ made of courgette bolognese, sage pesto, olive relish, pine nut parmesan and pepper coulis. It’s very tasty, and Amardeep’s croquette of truffle alfredo, wild mushroom and rosemary even better. Things are rounded off with a truly delicious ganache tart with drunken cherry sorbet, berry compote and balsamic cocoa.
By the end, I’m not really sure what I make of it all. The food looks lovely, but there’s nothing on the savoury side of the menu that makes your tastebuds tingle with joy or your stomach demand seconds. Many would argue the latter is a boon, and I’m willing to be convinced that occasional forays into raw food cuisine are not necessarily a bad thing, but once again the idea of food being something to take serious pleasure from seems to have been neglected. There’s nothing here to salivate over – where’s the tingle of anticipation? The bliss? The thrill? The smell? Despite the presentation, the food still feels no more than functional. Instead, you leave the restaurant unsatisfied, and (at least in my case) keen to wrap your gob round something more substantial. Like a kebab.
Suffice to say, I resist.
Until tomorrow, here’s some alternative wisdom from the great Jeffrey Steingarten: