The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - The Telegraph Magazine
William Sitwell ‘Gastronomic wizardry – and don’t they know it’
I’m at the coal face. Chipping my way through a menu and demolishing dish after dish as they pile in, chalking up the plates just as Asterix biffed Romans and tallied helmets.
The place is called Humo. It’s in Mayfair, on a site once occupied by Antony Demetre’s delightful Wild Honey and before that Marco Pierre White’s Drones Club. Now it’s a sleek grill, no expense spared on the refit, all dark wood and brick, and flames from the open kitchen that operates all the way along the wooden bar. Lord knows how the maths work but your hefty bill suggests that the sums involved are dear.
The menu is divided into categories: Ignite, Smoke, Flame, Embers. Achingly, next-level grilling-concepttrendy, then.
The food glistens; each plate is immaculately balanced in design and colour. For an appetiser, a pair of de-boned chicken wings seasoned with Japanese sansho pepper transports the humble wing to delicacy status. A tender curing of yellowtail combined with a citrus sauce and Colombian coffee was pure culinary alchemy: the fish, lent some earthiness from the cure, was extraordinarily both fresh and bitter from the citrus and coffee – an exhilarating combination. And on it went, from heavenly trout decked with caviar to lamb, rudely pink, soft as a downy pillow, and, further enhanced by a beetroot sauce, richer than Warren Buffett.
Technically complicated, mind-boggling wizardry. And don’t they know it. Because between every mouthful come the explanations. Draw breath and a smartly dressed, exacting waiter shimmers in to deliver the next plate of food and a glass of wine along with a lecture.
Thus halfway through lunch, for example, on a horizontal blackboard that looks like a piece of charcoal, come a couple of two-inch bits of langoustine
A heady cocktail of complex, sublime cookery – give me a superlative, and I’ll match it to a dish
with pine twigs protruding from one end, accompanied by a pair of rustycoloured round tortillas and a delicate gathering of micro herbs across each one, resting on a neatly folded black napkin.
I turn to look at the man giving the lecture, who is saying something like: ‘The langoustine are humanely, whitegloved-hand-extracted from Scottish waters by marine biologists wearing hitech diving suits that emit calming, pulsating rhythms and Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel. Later, caressed to a serene passing, their flesh is chilled at precisely 1.5C in Brazilian-lime walled caverns in Orkney for 36-and-a-half days before being laid over sustainable English willow-sapling coals and brushed with the milk of a suckling lemur, and served with a sprinkle of cedar-smoked Ürümqi galangal. To eat, brush each of your cheeks with the leaves of the pine twig, take a sniff of the tortilla baby leaf then consume, chewing three times before swallowing.’
OK not exactly that, but really quite like it. I mean actually, in summary, grilled ‘in direct contact with AB55 whiskey barrels’ and served with fermented Kissabel apples and ‘brain flatbread’.
I could have asked him what any of those things were, but he might have never left the table. So we said thank you and it was back to the fun chewing bit.
Nine courses shared, wines paired. Yellowtail, trout, salsify, langoustine, scallop, lobster, lamb, turbot, pudding. A heady cocktail of complex, sublime cookery. Give me a genuflecting superlative, and I’ll match it to a dish.
Food and wines delivered along with explanations fatter than Larousse Gastronomique and I left grateful at least to be your hospitality conduit. Go if you dare, and maybe ask if there’s a menu with a no-spiel option.