GRACE AND FLAVOUR
Grace Dent gets up close and personal with the food at Aulis at Fera at Claridge’s This isn’t dinner. It is an intense, delicious tutorial on the sublime madness of chefs. God love these unhinged, razor-focused geek-gourmands
The modern run-up to Valentine’s Day has become an arduous, highly perilous game of brinkmanship. ‘I’m not fussed,’ your loved one might say. But you are secretly slightly fussed. ‘Me neither,’ you’ll probably reply, feeling a little bit hurt. Neither of you wish to spend a cold February evening at your local trattoria eating bolognese that tastes like Whiskas Oh So Meaty. Neither of you, it is agreed, crave the soppy card, the roses or the public togetherness. Cut to the day and only one of you will have kept true to their word — buying and doing nothing — leaving the other in a terrific state of passive-aggressive nark.
At this point, one might look to Grace and Flavour for sage wisdom about how to make things better. And I’m not going to lie, I know exactly how to wow and flabbergast your lover, but it’s going to cost you. Aulis, at Fera, within Claridge’s, is a six-seater development table. It’s for that upper-level foodie who adores Simon Rogan’s brave, speculative, mind-melding cuisine, currently being served in Fera, one of London’s most opulent and shimmery settings, yet needs it to be much more exclusive still.
‘Rogan’s monkfish on sea purslane and black saison is delicious,’ one might think. ‘But if only I could eat the next eight or nine, personalised, laboriously hewn, brain-addling dishes while actually inside the kitchen in a private test-kitchen, away from all the supermodel and A-list celeb hoi polloi, with the chefs themselves doing my bidding.’ Clearly, if one thinks things like this, like I do, come the revolution, we’ll be first against the wall. But we’ll not go down hungry or remotely sober. At Aulis, after being whisked through the kitchens, one finds oneself in a culinary nerd’s paradise of Rotavapors, sous vide machines and hot infusion syphons. Pull up a stool next to the dehydrators and the captivating display of mid-distillation homemade woodland saps. Savour the soothing opening and closing of Lock & Lock stackable airtight boxes filled with obscure Cumbriannurtured microherbs. Rest your weary Valentine’s bosom by the Sonicprep Ultrasonic Homogenizer. Don’t worry if all of this sounds like gobbledegook, Aulis’ earnest chefs will explain as they go.
This isn’t dinner. It is an intense, delicious tutorial on the sublime madness of chefs. God love these unhinged, razor-focused geekgourmands. The world would be a duller place without their devotion to creating tiny mouth explosions of parsnip bark with verjus and parsley. Why not spray an egg yolk gold, or titivate halibut with a barely there layer of intense, moist gingerbread? Why not serve truffle custard with a dehydrated roasted beef tendon cracker, followed by a dish of jet-black roasted salsify in a frogspawn of squid ink-laced mushroom pearls. The menu, naturally, is ever-evolving. The chefs — who are close enough to touch — will lovingly unravel the initial test phases behind any foray, mouth frisson or surreal fermentation.
Puddings, on the evening I went, were a pretty plate of forced rhubarb with a buttermilk custard, rosemary and brown butter, then a stout ice cream with fermented buckwheat. The Aulis experience will set you back £150 per head. Adding the services of the sommelier will cost you considerably more. So, too, will a suite at Claridge’s post-dinner, because if you really cherish your partner, then why would you subject them to an Uber and their own bedsheets?
I tottered up the stairs, after coffee and a cocktail, with my other half for a night of sensuous abandon. OK, we lay in bed drinking champagne and watched the World Darts Championship live from Lakeside, but when it comes to real love… well, the heart simply wants what it wants.