The prospect of Secret Sensory Suppers was beguiling and terrifying, inviting diners to reassess the way they eat, helped by ‘masked assistants’ who would ‘lead guests through a ritualistic supper.’
The reality was a decadence and theatricality unseen – literally at times -with the use of blindfolds and masks.
An experimental outpost of The London Design Festival, it is the work of trend forecasters FranklinTill and we are in a former Mason’s meeting room, conspicuously known as the Masonic Temple – an elaborate chamber now within the Andaz Liverpool Street hotel. Gold gilt, rich dark woods, stone and marble pervade.
Caroline Till, co-founder of Franklin Till has been prompted to present Secret Sensory Suppers in the light of people’s ‘desire for experimental events that stimulate and tantalise the senses.’
‘Appreciating that there’s more to life than ‘stuff’, we have noted consumers begin to value activities and events over possessions, displaying an increasing thirst for creative and unusual non-material experiences,’ says Till.
Three evenings have taken place this week, each a collaboration which invites participation in what Till sees as ‘an experimental sensory adventure.’
Architectural jellymongers Bompas and Parr, sound design consultancy Silent Studios, and food writer Caroline Hobkinson have been brought together with the Andaz chefs to realise the experiment.
Presented by Caroline Hobkinson, writer of food blog Stirring With Knives – a sort of shamanic master of ceremonies this evening – our experience is a sentient one where ritual is everything, cutlery doesn’t exist, but touch, taste, sound and smell are worshipped.
Design Week and 21 guests are standing in a wood paneled anteroom wearing gold masks when double doors are heaved open to reveal 21 masked figures dressed entirely in black, lining the steps of a spiral staircase.
Funneled through one by one, ‘this is your assistant’ we are told. Slightly overwhelmed with subservience issues, we whisper to our assistant ‘I feel as awkward as you do.’
In the next two hours, our assistants will wash our hands between courses, at times feed us, and pour wine whenever we raise our hand.
Awkwardness soon dispelled, this has the effect of allowing us to concentrate purely on the food.
Rich, gamey and always surprising, it is all ludicrously exciting, and presented with Blumenthal-esque twists there’s a backdrop of laughter and shrieking from guests punctuating the incantations of Eucharistic background music.
Over the course of around 15 courses, Design Week shamelessly rips apart a suckling pig with it’s hands, drinks gin through a two meter straw and chews through a balloon string to get a piece of bread, sending it barreling up to the ceiling – although we probably weren’t supposed to do that.
All photography courtesy of Mischa Haller