As much as I love Barnet, I never imagined I would have one of my most distinctive and memorable culinary experiences so close to home. However, Alston Works is now home to one of London’s most innovative chefs, Jozef Youssef, his wife Lulu Razzaq and their Kitchen Theory project and monthly chef’s table.
Although Lulu recently contacted High Living to invite us along, I’d already heard about them and their multi-sensory culinary research from the Head at my daughter’s school where they also have a child, having moved to Barnet from East London last autumn. Since the end of March on the last weekend of each month ten diners get to enjoy an immersive dining experience demonstrating in a range of ways the theory that other senses have a strong influence on taste.
Having researched the history of Alston Works, it was exciting to visit it properly and especially for something so appropriate. One of the chefs is stationed outside to direct you to the top floor where you receive a glamorous welcome from Lulu with glasses of Champagne and then wait for the other diners to arrive. The evening starts with the screening of a couple of short films and then a taste test upstairs in their study and a short discussion about the perception of taste. Back downstairs you watch the chefs at work with the experience unfolding with the aid of lighting, colour, sound, aroma and textures. It’s reminiscent of Heston Blumenthal’s hi-tech approach and whimsical ideas, but Kitchen Theory struck me as less childlike and more academic, attracting a diverse group of adventurous foodies from across London (we were the only locals).
In the stylish industrial surroundings of this old factory with gorgeous views of the sun setting over Barnet, you almost felt part of an art installation. Kitchen Theory apparently has the first “projection mapped” chef’s table in London and the loft studio includes a minimalist open kitchen, gallery, screening room and study.
As well as featuring outstanding cooking, the evening includes music, sound effects and recitals making it a uniquely inspiring and cerebral experience. You are taken through an artful sequence of thirteen dishes accompanied by well-edited selection of drinks to partner the food (more of the Champagne, a Mezcal-based cocktail with ginger ale, basil and lime, Grüner Veltliner from the Wachau, Valpolicella Ripasso and whisky). Jozef Youssef’s culinary inspirations include Japanese, Mexican and Basque cuisines and he uses some unexpected combinations to great effect. A lot of it is highly technical allowing him to express his research findings very powerfully, but it’s on par with London’s finest restaurants. I am reluctant to say too much about the food when it would spoil the element of surprise. I strongly recommend you go and experience it for yourself.
Kitchen Theory was originally founded in 2010 by chef Jozef Youssef, who as well as working in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants (The Connaught, The Dorchester and The Fat Duck), authored the book Molecular Gastronomy At Home and conducts ongoing research into multisensory gastronomy with Professor Charles Spence head of Oxford University’s Cross Modal Research Laboratory. He is also an associate editor at the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. Research is at the core of what they do, looking at how our senses can shape our perception of the world around us and flavours on the plate. Terms like “nuero cuisine”, “gastrophysics” and “sonic seasoning” express these ideas and, although it all sounds rather geeky, research is demonstrating the beneficial effects they can have on diet and appetite.
As well as having such a fabulous culinary experience so close to home, it was also a pleasure strolling back towards the tube with other diners who were impressed by our beautiful Barnet on a glorious early summer evening.
The chef’s table takes place on the last Friday and Saturday of the month, but check website.
The evening begins at 7pm and lasts three to four hours and costs £225 per head, fully inclusive of drinks and service.
Bookings can be made for exclusive use for up to 10 people on other days.