Space: the fi­nal fron­tier of des­ti­na­tion fine din­ing

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Mak­ing hol­i­day plans around a spe­cific restau­rant is now com­mon prac­tice. Lists in­clud­ing the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants and the Top 100s com­piled by lal­ and opin­ion­ated­about­din­ have brought in­ter­na­tional renown to high-end restau­rants that might pre­vi­ously have been known about only lo­cally. Such ex­po­sure puts them on the radar of switched-on food­ies in Bri­tain and around the world.

Since it was first named the world’s best restau­rant in 2010, Noma in Copenhagen, with its menu of for­aged Nordic in­gre­di­ents, has epit­o­mised the “des­ti­na­tion restau­rant”. But Noma closed in Fe­bru­ary, and although chef Rene Redzepi plans to re­launch it in a new “ur­ban farm” set­ting on the edge of Copenhagen, there was some­thing sym­bolic about Noma’s last sup­per.

Fine din­ing at the high­est level is fash­ion-led and needs to rein­vent it­self con­stantly. Hence the launch of Ves­per­tine (ves­per­, a rad­i­cal new Cal­i­for­nia restau­rant that has turned the “farm to fork” trend on its head. Chef Jordan Khan has es­chewed bu­colic, ro­man­tic no­tions of food plucked fresh from the field for some­thing… well, out of this world. Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, “Ves­per­tine is a place of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance that de­fies cat­e­gori­sa­tion, ex­plor­ing a di­men­sion of cui­sine that is nei­ther rooted in tra­di­tion nor cul­ture… from a time that is yet to be, and a place that does not ex­ist”.

It does ex­ist – on a rather drab yet hip stretch of semi-in­dus­tri­alised road in Cul­ver City, 10 miles west of Down­town Los An­ge­les. Lux­ury coun­try house ho­tel it isn’t, although it does oc­cupy a strik­ing, red retic­u­lated steel “waf­fle” build­ing de­signed by LA ar­chi­tect Eric Owen Moss. Chef Khan de­scribes it as “a ma­chine arte­fact from an ex­trater­res­trial planet that was left here like a bil­lion years ago by a species that were [sic] moon wor­ship­pers”.

The 20-course meal (or “din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in four acts”) costs $250 (about £190) a head and can last up to five hours. It is a the­atri­cal and avant-garde af­fair, which early re­view­ers have made sound more like Matthew Bar­ney’s ex­per­i­men­tal art films than din­ner. Khan greets his guests at the el­e­va­tor door, sil­hou­et­ted by bright light; front-of­house staff in an­drog­y­nous sack-like uni­forms ef­fect a blank, ro­botic at­ti­tude; a spe­cially com­mis­sioned am­bi­ent sound­track plays through­out and the food is ren­dered un­recog­nis­able in dishes re­sem­bling tiny mod­ernist sculp­tures. For ex­am­ple, the hal­ibut ap­pears to be an empty black bowl.

Whether this sounds ap­peal­ing is de­bat­able, and crit­ics have had mixed feel­ings. “The meal felt quite like tor­ture,” wrote Be­sha Rodell in

while also declar­ing a dish of yucca, al­mond and caviar to be “play­ful, gor­geous and de­li­cious”.

What Khan has done is pull the rug from un­der the lo­cal, sea­sonal for­ag­ing pack and left them look­ing de­cid­edly last cen­tury. He has re­alised that din­ers want a great meal less than a great anec­dote. Try telling some­one about the ex­quis­ite, vivid flavours and match­less in­gre­di­ents of

Ves­per­tine’s ‘mod­ernist’ white as­para­gus

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