Blanch & Shock kick off the Endurance’s Food Spectrum project with a bang
I hardly know what to expect as I walk to The Endurance to sample the first menu from their Food Spectrum venture. Vague visions of ambitious yet slightly flawed dishes and harassed-looking kitchen staff come to mind. What I don’t anticipate is the most innovative, intelligent food I’ve ever eaten, elegantly executed and bursting with unexpected flavours and textures – which is exactly what we get.
Food Spectrum is a new initiative aimed at nurturing and promoting the remarkable culinary talent London has to offer. While the city is home to many brilliant chefs, not all of them have the resources, business experience or exposure necessary to open their own restaurant. Food Spectrum aims to change this by providing chefs with a permanent, fully staffed venue for a month. Resident chefs – most of whom specialise in pop-up venues or events catering – get to experience the day-to-day operations of long-term food service in an established venue without the external pressures and distractions of a newly opened restaurant.
This month’s resident chefs are the team at Blanch & Shock Food Design. These guys have been working together for the past five years, creating bespoke menus for special events and pop-up ventures. They approach method and technique magpie-fashion: seizing every opportunity to learn and incorporate new materials, ingredients or techniques, and transposing traditional methods into a modern kitchen environment. Powders and infusions alongside smoked, dehydrated or cured products feature heavily in their food, as do local, sustainable, and foraged ingredients. They are largely self-taught, the vast resources of the internet their primary textbook, and they really, really like hay – but more on that later.
Lunch begins with a generous platter of bread and butter. It’s cultured butter, made the traditional way in the kitchen upstairs, and it’s absolutely delicious. We follow it up with the Chicken skin & red gooseberry powder and the Goat’s cheese, sourdough, peas & thyme flowers. Both arrive promptly; the crispy pieces of skin perched atop two green gooseberries and dusted with a powdery maroon snow, and plump green peas nestled in slightly molten clumps of cheese with a scatter of tiny purple flowers. The waferlike slices of sourdough are crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle, while the thyme flowers give a subtle new angle to the classic pea and cheese duo.
It’s always a good sign when two unlikely bedfellows – like gooseberry and chicken skin – match so well that one seems like an extension of the other. The piquancy of the powder brings out the flavours of the skin so well that it’s hard to believe the two aren’t paired in every Sunday roast around the country – and not remotely surprising that The Endurance sold out of it two days straight.
From there we move on to the Tomatoes, dill seed vinegar, prunes & nasturtiums, the 17-hour pork belly, smoked wild plums & baby gem, and the Cured bream, watercress & pickled radishes. The tomato and prune dish is pretty, strewn with micro coriander and nasturtium leaves and finished with a drizzle of vinegar. The tomatoes are flawless, the prunes velvety and seductive, while the peppery leaves and subtle dill overtones of the vinegar bring the dish together perfectly.
Meanwhile, a golden chunk of pork belly arrives, resting in a puddle of puréed smoked plums and topped with what looks like crisped rice, but turns out to be bubbles of deep fried pork skin (Blanch & Shock let nothing go to waste; just another good reason to like them). The dish is finished with half a baby gem lettuce, lightly seared to give it a hint of smokiness. The pork is excellent, with just the right amount of fat, the meatiness offset by the fruitiness of the plum sauce and the refreshing, crisp lettuce cutting across the richness of the dish. The dry crunch of the deep-fried skin rounds out an entire textural spectrum on one single plate.
But the bream is definitely the superstar of the savoury dishes. Small semi-transparent chunks peek out from under discs of bright radish and emerald green cress. Cured in salt and sugar, it’s like eating textured seawater. The radish is tender and delicately flavoured; the cress is sharp and peppery. Each separate element is superb and taken all together, is somewhat mind-blowing.
As I mentioned earlier, the chefs of Blanch & Shock love hay. It’s in the potatoes, it’s in the pork, and it’s in the dessert. Rumour has it the kitchen looks like a farmyard and the kitchenhand spends most of his time sweeping. We watch small stacks of it going past on plates and wish we’d tried the hay potatoes too. Luckily there’s Hay & malt tart, strawberries & lime blossom on the menu to satisfy our curiosity, and Single origin choco milk for the chocoholic (… me) amongst us. And just when we think the food couldn’t get any better – it does.
The tart comes in a dark malty flavoured base with a gritty texture somewhat resembling coffee grounds suspended in butter. The filling is firm but creamy, and subtly infused with – yes – hay. It has an intense, semi-sweet earthy flavour, like how I always imagined the soil would taste in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Meanwhile the liquid sweetness of the strawberries lifts each mouthful and the woody, subtly flavoured lime blossoms add texture and the faintest citrus overtones.
The choco milk is made with vintage chocolate: chocolate made from cocoa beans that are aged before use. It’s rich and incredibly complex, the kind of drink you can only appreciate in tiny sips. It tastes exactly like intensely dark chocolate melting on your tongue while somehow remaining light and milky, like a cold version of European hot chocolate – and it steals both our hearts on the spot.
Another thing that sets this menu far, far apart from any other is the prices. Already stunningly affordable for any Soho lunch menu, the sheer quality of the food makes the prices verge on the ridiculous. This was a very deliberate decision on the part of the chefs; tired of their friends not being able to afford their food, they priced it to fit within almost any budget. Be prepared to walk away feeling like you’ve robbed a Prada store. And at £2 a pop for the best chocolate milk you will ever have tasted (I say that with complete confidence), it would be criminal not to try.
Blanch & Shock will be at The Endurance until 1st September. No need to book for lunch (Monday – Saturday 12pm-3pm) or Snack (Tuesday – Thursday 6pm-9pm) menus. Bookings essential for Saturday tasting menu, phone 0207 437 2944. For more information, visit Blanch & Shock.