Some chefs make the mistake of labelling molecular gastronomy a cuisine, rather than the culinary toolset that it actually is; hence, underneath all their faffing with foams there’s nothing but hot air. Fortunately, the duo behind the Tippling Club, chef Ryan Clift and award-winning mixologist Matthew Bax, is not mistaken. The humour and sensibility throughout their delightful, thought-provoking menu – a champagne- and-kümmel cocktail is called F*** the Sub Prime – are proof of this.
Left: Chocolate saffron, right: Roast cod
The idea behind the five-, ten- and 15-course dinner menus is that every course is a food-and-drink duet, each tailored to match the other. Consider fat Hokkaido scallops in crisp golden shells of ‘potato spaghetti’, garnished with basil jelly dice and sweet onion purée: alone, it’s merely a pleasant jumble of sugar, starch and umami, but thrown into sharp, delicious relief when washed down with acidic Rocky Valley Riesling. Similarly, braised Wagyu beef is served with horseradish-potato purée and wrapped in a transparent beetroot gelatine envelope to match its velvety Malbec counterpart.
The most striking combination on the five-course menu came with the dessert: chocolate-curry mousse and sweetcorn ice cream under a dome of pineapple and saffron bubbles. The fruity, Japanese-style curry melded perfectly with the bitter chocolate. Partnering the plate was Pharmacy, a cocktail tribute to British art provocateur Damien Hirst (it’s named after the Notting Hill restaurant he co-owned). Served in a pill bottle filled with gin, diners are instructed to squirt a syringe filled with Aperol liqueur and drop in an intensely tart lime-sherbet capsule, before shaking and taking a sip. Sweet, vegetal, astringent and sour notes mingled in witty mimicry of cough syrup, harmonising with the mousse’s cardamom accents.
An overdose of creativity does occasionally overshadow the execution. In one appetiser, lovely Sauternes-infused basil seeds and frozen powdered foie gras totally outshone the lumpen cromesqui they were only meant to garnish. The chicken and chips fell flat too, combining deep-fried, paper-thin wafers of chicken breast purée and juicy chicken ‘oysters’ for a jokey take on junk food. It left me with greasy fingers and a disappointed palate, so I was grateful for the cleansing tartness of the yuzu-choya cocktail on the side.
A golden scallop
Dining in the daylight affords an opportunity to appreciate visual details that get lost in the murk of romantic lighting: a natural spotlight is crucial in picking out, for example, the three shades of cauliflower served with barramundi. The juicy, slow-poached fish is covered in a lick-the-plate-gorgeous cauliflower-cheese purée (‘inspired by my mum’, Clift says), and served with pickled purple cauliflower and a garlicky ‘couscous’ of crumbled green cauliflower – the dish is topped with coriander leaves and candied slivers of orange zest to add a few extra shades.
Don’t even think of driving home if you’re opting for the works. Upon departure, dinner guests are presented with a sachet of ‘tippling tea’ as a morning-after remedy, which I’m grateful to report worked like a charm. Dinner prices are rather steep for these times, but innovation of this calibre never comes cheap.
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