Transparent Platform: An Evening With… at L’Escargot
1930: caught up in the flux of the evocative modernist movement, a collection of Italian writers, artists, philosophers and general flâneurs published what’s still considered one of the most divisive cookbooks ever put to print. To many, it was the beginning of food’s elevation into art and a recognition that the culinary sphere was worthy to touch with painting, music and sculpture.
For all the foppery and pseudo science, Futurist Meals bore a striking resemblance to the ideas that would come to define modern culinary giants like Blumenthal and Adria. In the promotion of the use of scents and vapours, the refined presentation of food, the idea of tiny experiences of food instead of great plates, the movement paved the way for many modern staples of dining at the highest levels. It also raised a question that still causes controversy: can food be art?
L’Escargot is a restaurant that has always understood the link between these two worlds. Their walls are frequently adorned with art, boasting original pieces by Dali, Matisse and Peter Blake. So it should come as little surprise to discover that they’re playing host to a bi-monthly event designed specifically to unite the pair. Transparent Platform aims to immerse diners in the experience of creation, both in culinary and artistic terms. A work is created as the meal goes on, and those participating are invited to discuss the process, as well as the finished piece. Tonight, nude portraiture is the means of expression but subject and medium will change with every event.
It’s an interesting concept, and one that has promise. A heady mix of theatrics and artistic expression has worked for the likes of Bompas and Parr, whose delightfully off-the-wall parties are the stuff of legend among the capital’s elite. Of course, for every such success there are five failures: rooms stuffed with diners who cannot stop their eyes from rolling as they’re treated to the 12th haiku of the evening, minds clouding over with growing desire to grab a Shake Shack on the way home.
Excellent curation at L’Escargot skirts that danger with seeming ease, particularly in its choice of Stephanie Griffiths, a transgender model, as the muse. Capturing as complex a theme as gender dysphoria on canvas is certainly a challenge. Eleanor Johnson creates a strikingly brutal piece that lays bare the naked truth of transgenderism without compromise, reflecting on the harsh expectations society places on its ideals of beauty, both male and female. It divides opinion somewhat: lovers of Lucien Freud are delighted, whilst others find Johnson’s masculine lines and dark backdrop a little unforgiving. By contrast, Venetia Berry creates a far more ethereal, emotional piece that reflects less on the muse’s physical state and more on her identification with the female form. On their own, both pieces are intriguing but there is something quite enthralling about seeing them side by side with each other and the muse, a rare insight into the usually private process of creation that makes this event quite remarkable.
The menu plays things a lot safer, opting for the traditional French fare for which L’Escargot is known. Steak Tartare and Lobster Bisque are the starters, both classics perfectly prepared and generously portioned. Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb offers a little bit more of a surprise, eschewing the usual parsley, thyme and rosemary blend for an unconventional kick of horseradish. It provides a much-needed bite to cut through the fatty lamb and rich gravy. The rack itself is a varied bunch, some ribs butter-soft, as they should be, and others a rather tough proposition. A Crème Brûlée is again simple but perfectly executed.
This evening of art and cuisine is a thoroughly enjoyable one, but the food feels almost like a distraction, a way to keep us amused while the real artists work. The experience, the art, the idea of bringing strangers together around a table for a wonderfully social evening, all are born from a spark of adventure and daring. There is something of a missed opportunity here to inject that same wide-eyed passion into the dishes on offer.
As teething issues go though, missing the chance to hit perfection and having to settle for merely “excellent” isn’t going to give the event organisers many sleepless nights, nor should it curb any reader’s interest in what was an otherwise exceptional experience.
To book a table at L’Escargot 48 Greek Street Soho W1D 4EF, call 020 7439 7474 or visit here.