It was 3:30am and the table was a battleground, strewn with barely tasted dishes and splattered with scarlet (not blood… we had just finished the ‘Red’ round the most of the sauces were coloured accordingly). We were – we had come to realise – pawns in the latest madcap experiment of gastrolunatics Bompas & Parr, famous for elaborate jellies, scratch ‘n sniff movie screenings and, most recently, Alcoholic Alcohol on the Southbank, a ‘walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail’.
(We’d actually met Sam Bompas a few hours before while we were waiting for the Red round to begin. He’d arrived in a perfectly tailored get-up of multi-patterned mustard, given us a masterclass in ‘egg healing’ and saberaged a magnum with an enormous cutlass that he just had, you know, lying around. Strange guy.)
It was probably one of the most surreal nights of my life. I was in attendance with Rosie of A Little Lusciousness, food blogger and pop-up chef extraordinaire, and we were sat on a single, brilliantly-lit round table in the center of a large South London warehouse. It actually turned out to be the set of Dragon’s Den, but instead of being eaten alive by ruthless entrepreneurs we were fed to bursting point by a succession of chefs, hand-picked by Bompas, the yellow-trewed egg fancier, and his business partner Parr. The whole event in its absurdity was actually devised by Bespoke Offers, which is a bit like Groupon, but posher. Tickets for each of the ten colour-coded twenty-course rounds had gone on exclusive sale for £49/head the month before, or a whopping £2,000 for the entire meal. (Needless to say, nobody took them up on it.)
We’d just finished Course 17/20, Sriracha Red Braised Pork with cherry meat fruit and cherry ginger jam, the tenderness of the meat shining through the piquancy of the cherries. Predictably, cherries popped up a few times in the Red course, most spectacularly in 3/20, Duck Carpaccio which was not carpacchio at all but a cooked lump of meat far too large to account for just a twentieth of a meal.
Four of our tablemates were journalists doing the whole 200, and were only now on 137/200. Fatigue and fullness had long since set in; my old schoolfriend Emily, reporting for The Sun, looked especially dishevelled, taking the teeniest bite of every dish before pushing it away. They’d eaten their way through a whole rainbow of food – literally – and still had Orange, Black and the multi-coloured finale to go.
But first we had to struggle through the last few courses, which I’d optimistically assumed would arrive as bite-size morsels that would leave a casual diner pleasantly full. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the portions were enormous…perhaps three or four would probably have sated most appetites for dinner. My first choice would be the Red Pointed Pepper with Chili Jam and Coppa di Parma, a combination of flavours unlike anything I’d ever tried before. It was sweet and tangy and delicately meaty all at the same time, a stroke of genius by chef Tom Whitaker, and I’d love to eat it again.
There was certainly a lot of creativity on the menu – hardly surprising with 200 courses to play with – though not every dish worked as well…10/20, Salmon Skin Crackle with Tomato Gel, Pomegranate, Karachi and Red Basil was unanimously agreed to be ghastly. 18/20, 90-day Dry-aged Beef with Lime Leaf Coconut Cream was presented to us as raw meat on a charcoal log, which, although pleasing in theory, was not hot enough to actually cook the meat. A quick burst with the blow torch though and we were all set, a lightly scorched sliver of rare beef with a hint of rosemary char.
Other highlights included 9/10, the Tempura Cornish Oyster with XO Sauce and Red Shisho, so good I ate mine and two more, one belonging to a squeamish ITN journalist and another by a man called Paul Davies who had won a competition to eat all 200 courses, poor sod. He looked like he was going to pop. I’m not keen on oysters raw but they are marvellous when cooked, and if you’ve never tried one grilled or fried because oysters are ick you simply must give it a go. (A good starting point is Bob Bob Ricard’s Grilled Oysters with Truffle and Parmesan; they still occasionally dance across my dreams.)
By the end, I was heaving like an asthmatic sperm whale and the most full I’d been since the Great Pizza Hut Buffet Disaster of 2009. It was just too much food. The four who ate the whole thing wound up finishing around 10:00am, 26 hours after their first course of passionfruit and cardamom jelly. They actually ended up setting a world record, which, for everyone’s benefit, I hope stands for a good long while.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.