Tuesday 31 July 2012

Back To Basics - Stripped Back by Ben Spalding, London E8

As far as chefs goes, Ben Spalding is not not a newcomer to the culinary scene. He had spent the last 10 years or so working in some of the world renowned Michelin-starred restaurants including The Fat Duck, L'Autre Pied etc, most recently as the Head Chef in Roganic. Since his departure, he had done a few pop up Sunday Roast events and now this is his latest project - Stripped Back.

Occupying a small corner of London Field's Primary School playground in East London, right next to the famous Broadway Market, is this unassuming little venture of his. The idea is to bring Michelin quality food to the masses in a friendly and laid back surrounding. With only a capacity of roughly 8 covers and on a first come first serve, no reservation basis, this is definitely a cosy seating and not without its merits. Due to small volume of diners, both Ben and his amiable sidekick sous chef, Steve were able to pay full attention to all the dining guests throughout the meal, with occasional humorous conversation repertoire and comprehensive descriptions on all the dishes served. This personal and friendly service from the chef is a far cry from any snooty fine dining restaurants. On the day we went, he extended the seating to 10 by setting up two ladies onto the side table whom they paid equal attention to.

We were first offered slices of yogurt, muesli and malt bread which was mildly sweet and tangy alongside some bright yellow Jersey butter. Along with this, we were presented with glasses of refreshing fizzy drinks made with meadowsweet and New Zealand's 42ºC below vodka.

The first course was then meticulously assembled before our very eyes (the perks of having an open kitchen), first the dried cherry tomatoes, then some toasted macadamia nuts and green beans and peas; followed by a squirt of the thick, chilled pea and mint sauce soup. Finishing lastly with the delicate drops of the mugwort oil and the pièce de résistance - greasy chicken skin. Packed with intense flavours, with the odd contrasting burst of juicy sweetness from the tomatoes and the nutty crunch courtesy of the nuts proved both beguiling and addictive. The addition of the crispy skin further add to this cornucopia of flavours.

This tantalising start continued with the delicate cured wild salmon that had been gently sous-vide in 50ºC, paired with creamy sweetcorn mash; sweet nectarine (which worked beautifully with the salmon I might add); roasted almond flakes and bronze fennel top along with the inventive gourd juice seasoned with Japanese shiso vinegar. The taste was both delicate and refreshing, each component stood out and worked together in perfect harmony.

Next up was the humble Angus beef wrap, although not as impressive as the predecessors, was still of a high calibre. The beef was rich and flavoursome and the blowtorched lettuce harked back to Ben's previous works in Roganic.

The pudding came in the form of the brownie rocks with a scattered of mahleb seeds, Kentish cherry halves and greengage, along with the unusual combination of aromatic dill puree and lemongrass cream. A moment of silence momentarily overtook the up-till-now buzzing dining premises - a sure sign of enjoyment and appreciation to this delectable treat.

As Ben had said it himself, this is ideally what he hope to continue - to  introducing a whole new dining experience and to complete that missing link in the otherwise mundane and cold familiar environment of just another restaurant. In doing this, he is also giving diners a chance to enjoy seriously top-notch fine dining in a comfortable setting. And for just £15 per head for these amass of technical advanced cooking, what a bargain. At the time of writing, this has gone up to £17.50 with the promise of even better ingredients sourced which, if you ask me, still cheap as chips!

The set menu changes regularly so for more information, follow Stripped Back on twitter for up-to-date menu @_strippedback

Stripped Back
London Field's Primary School Playground
Westgate Street
E8 3RL
(Every Saturday 11:00am - 5:00pm)

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