Bombay Sapphire launches the Grand Journey pop-up with Michelin-starred chef Tom SellersCultureFood & DrinksNews & features
There is a lot to like about Bombay Sapphire’s the Grand Journey. It’s immersive without feeling gimmicky; it’s a good value for money; it takes a novel approach to teaching about spirits production that is both informative and engaging.
The premise is simple but inventive. You board a train carriage and you are taken on a journey to discover the ten herbs and aromatics that are involved in the creation of Bombay Sapphire. The menu, curated by Michelin-starred chef Tom Sellers of Story and Ours, is split into cocktails and courses. A blackcurrant and juniper “ice block” is a pleasingly refreshing canape; scallop “two ways” is only half as successful. A nicely roasted scallop with lemon mousseline – essentially an aerated lemon sabayon – is light. A scallop tartare with bergamot and radish, on the other hand, manages to be heavy and cloying, somehow richer than the roasted one but lacking any real flavour.
A main of Iberico pork is much better with various almond incarnations – sugared, fresh, puree – although an amaretto jelly is largely lost, and a slice of roasted pear steals the show. Dessert is an excellent angelica ice cream with bitter chocolate and salted blackberries. Every element tastes delicious but the dish feels like it lacks balance due to a dearth of blackberry on the plate, the only thing providing any acidity to cut through everything else.
On the drinks side of things, a mix of Bombay Sapphire, mead and coriander is pleasing, reminiscent of a sweet coca tea. The gin cocktail with fig and bergamot liqueur, violet leaf tincture, bergamot and crème de violet is overpoweringly violet-scented and flavoured. My companion muses that it’s the drinks equivalent of his grandmother’s house. The final drink, however, is the highlight of the evening. A mix of coffee and cardamom, Benedictine and tri-pepper tincture, it’s like a beautifully balanced iced coffee. The cardamom kicking in towards the end, and the spice from the pepper lingering on the palate afterwards.
Between courses the conductor and sommelier regale the carriage with insights into the next botanical whilst large screens show passing scenery. The screens are a nice touch, the pattern is engaging and informative, and the actors do a sterling job. But the setup doesn’t always work: the information on offer is invariably overpowered by the volume of tables of people who are more interested in their drinks and food than in listening to the information on offer. The waiting staff do a polite and diligent job: seated in “booths”, a single waiter per table of six has the unenviable task of trying to distribute six plates of food and cutlery whilst holding the tray all this is held on. This might be solvable with a willing clientele, and a relaxed laid-back vibe, but unfortunately the time pressure applied to the event makes it an all but impossible challenge to pull off with any kind of grace.
Overall, however, it’s not completely clear what the Grand Journey wants to be: this is more than some canapes or snacks with drinks, but neither does the portion constitute a dinner. The whole evening feels frustratingly close to working, which is a shame because this is a novel concept that does an excellent job of imparting Bombay Sapphire’s story – if only they could iron out the kinks.
Photos: John Sanders
The Grand Journey takes place at Banking Hall, 75 Lombard Street London EC3V, from 17th until 23rd July. Fur further information and to buy your tickets visit here.