Saturday, 8 June 2013

Stripped Back @Street Feast

 The name says it all really - Ben Spalding's pop up restaurant at London Street Feast show cases his sophisticated cooking in a street food market. 

I wasn't sure what to expect of Stripped Back. We know Ben Spalding is great, but how much can he possibly do in such a small 'kitchen' with so limited equipment? The setup couldn't be more stripped back (!) - a long wooden table in the middle where Ben plates up; a double hob in the corner where two / three chefs crowd around, a sink and boxes of ingredients.

Bread & Butter
The machine kicked into gear pretty much the moment we sat down. We were hit by a torrent of creative nibbles.
First bite was a miso mayonnaise and brown cheese powder on a thin cracker - slightly sweet from the miso and slightly salty from the sprinkles of cheese. Nice.

Whipped malt loaf - squeezed onto the back of our hands - this was a breath of warm buttery fragrance, like butter heated to the point of browning. So rich in flavour yet so light in texture. I wanted another shot.

Nettles picked yesterday on the coast, creamy ricotta, black rice & Senia olive oil
This silky soup was savoury, and ricotta added body and fullness. The toasted crispy rice contributed a nice crunch and a subtle dose of smokiness. Beautiful start.

Cake & Holy Fuck
Langoustine claw meat, brown & white crab, octopus head & dried tuna roe & Holy Fuck tartar sauce
The team has been frantically cooking on the small hob in the corner ever since we were nibbling on the breads, and by the time we had our soup, Ben was already plating and assembling the this dish. His concentration and insistence in getting each item on the plate right was somewhat sexy.

The "cake" was almost like a seafood omelette, moist and oozes with shellfish juice with an eggy coat. Not sure if the Holy Fuck tartar sauce has anything to do with the famous Rib Man Holy Fuck sauce - this one is not hot - so I am guessing it is simply referring to well-justified its greatness. The shellfish stock base in the tartar added a punch of unami, supported by gently acidity, which complimented the luscious cubes of salmon sashimi. It was an incredibly complex ensemble of ingredients and flavours that worked perfectly together.

Piggy Piggy
Glazed in chocolate ketchup, roasted lettuce puree & greasy pig gravy
The small cube of pork belly was divine, barely held in shape that slowly disintegrated into a mouthful of nutty, piggy goodness. The shredded pork on the side was sadly less impressive, it was overcooked to pieces of parched, sinewy muscles, even the sweet sauce couldn't save it. The lettuce puree didn't quite gel the flavours together, its meek flavours confused the equation.

Mary Ann didn't fall in love with this dish either. I agree with the apparent awkwardness of oriental touches in the recipe that didn't click with the rest.

Boozy Fudge & Preserved Fig
Apple liqueur fudge, preserved fig with pastry & buttermilk
I think we were sprinting towards the final 100m now. 

The fig was pressed into a thin sheet in an almost jam-like form and toasted between delicate filo pastries - it reminded me of red bean pancakes. The fig paste wasn't overly sweetened so it could pick up the strong syrupy fudge, which was overflowing with fruity alcohol. Very moreish.

Jelly & Custard
Blueberry vodka & tonic jelly, blueberry jam & sweet lime custard
Another boozy sweet - this mini dessert was equally tasty with the small lumps of alcohol jelly and pressed blueberry fruit. I thought the sweet lime juice was a particularly good finish to such an eventful menu.

So did Chef Spalding deliver? More than one could possibly imagine. The apparent 4-course menu plus all the nibbles and bits were mind-blowingly impressive, and watching the team at work under such immense time pressure fuelled the excitement of the entire experience. The food was stunning, and in particular, temperature of each course was perfect. I was half expecting cold dishes throughout, but the soup was served piping hot and the shellfish cake was fresh off the pan. I didn't feel there was any compromise on the quality or creativity of  the food because of where we were. Instead I felt each dish was given extra thought and design to bring out the best of our environment.

I thought I'd have space for a Big Apple hot dog or perhaps a sandwich from the Rib Man. Haha - silly me. Ben mentioned Stripped Back will run for another month or so, and then he's moving on to his next project... 

317 Kingsland Road
E8 4DL

You may also like: Dabbous, Corner Room, Duck & Waffle

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