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

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Magazine - - Upfront -

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.

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