The Loft Project is the old cooking lab for Nuno Mendes that he used in his pre- Viajante days. Guests would come and he would road test some of the dishes that would end up on the menu of the now very popular restaurant in Bethnal Green. Since he now has his own restaurant(s) Nuno has opened up his old loft apartment to other young chefs around the world to showcase their skills and take over the kitchen for the weekend. They’ve had some great chefs over the last couple of months, most recently the young gun Ben Spalding who has been cooking up a storm at Roganic. The name that caught my eye was Sam Nutter who at the age of 25, that’s right 25, is currently the sous chef at the world’s best restaurant’s research and development kitchen. I can think of few more creative places to be in cooking right now so I was very eager to sample some of his Danish influenced food and signed myself up for his first night of his stint at the Loft.
I’d read bits and bobs about the space and the format but as with any supper club type thing I had no idea what to expect, £120 was a lot of money to hand over before you’ve eaten but when I found out that this was including wine along with the 10 courses planned it seemed eminently reasonable. We arrived at the sparse, uber cool, converted loft to find Sam manning a pop up beer tap with accompanying pub snacks. The ale was smooth and refreshing while the pub snacks consisted of some lovely pickled quails eggs, light as air pork scratchings and fresh nuts. It was a lovely, simple way to start the evening off and a good chance to meet a few of the people there.
The set up for the evening is one long communal table which gives you a decent view of what is going on in the kitchen. This is half the reason for coming in my opinion; I’ve never had a chance to watch a top chef at work and it was fascinating to see Sam and his team rustle up such incredible food in the small kitchen. It’s sort of like the best dinner party you’ve ever been to, where the host doesn’t eat and you pay for your food.
And the food was as good as I hoped it would be; Sam followed the Noma ethos of fresh, simple, and local flavours although obviously with an English feel rather than a Danish one. His cooking reminded me of my meal at Roganic, all about intense flavours and beautiful simplicity. I really can’t wait to get myself over to Noma.
We started off with some light and tasty salmon roe with cucumber and dill, something that sounds like it might lack a bit of flavour but was full of texture and bite while still managing to taste light and airy. The leeks done three ways were again a picture of simplicity; delicately brushed with parsley, hazelnut and ash, these weren’t necessarily mind blowing but just freshness personified.
After these little amuse bouches we were ready for the first of the proper courses which read mussels, potato, shallot on the menu. What was presented was a delightful little potato soup that beneath the surface hid plump juicy mussels in a shallot and white wine jus. This had a lovely taste of the seaside with the flavours and textures working beautifully together.
Up next was turbot, caviar and watercress and this was another brilliant dish; a lovely bit of fish with the added richness of the caviar and the most amazingly tasty watercress I’ve ever had. I don’t know what he did to it but Sam really made that watercress sing; it was positively bursting with flavour and crunch.
The next dish was the best of the night and up there with the best thing I’ve eaten all year; Wemmegil grouse with blackberries. I watched Sam plate this up and I was already drooling as I watched him fry the grouse breasts in a ton of butter. They were cooked to perfection, seared on the outside, red and bloody on the inside and just melt in your mouth perfection. This was truly, truly awesome food and something I dream about daily. Sam had specially prepared some Sloe Gin that had been infused with some of the bones from the grouse. I’d never really got to grips with the Sloe Gin but this was lovely and really complimented the grouse.
This was the pinnacle of the evening for me but others around me made similar noises when the next dish was served up; mushroom, yolk and chickweed. These were the purest tasting mushrooms I’ve ever had, they tasted like they’d been plucked from the earth a minute before and were bathed in a rich black broth that only accentuated the flavours more, brilliant again.
The final savoury was a lovely piece of pork belly with rhubarb and onions, I love me a bit of pork belly and this was done the right way; homely and tasty. By this point the pace was slowing and I was nearly sated after many glasses of wine which had been brilliantly sourced by another young talent Laura Atkinson from Berry Bros, each one picked for the accompanying food, with my favourite being a particularly punchy Rioja.
The puddings were both light which is all I could probably handle at this point but provided some interesting combinations flavours. The beetroot, hip roses and yoghurt was a combination I’d never tried before and was a lovely mixture of savoury and sweet with the hip roses giving a really unusual but welcome taste to the beetroot while the caramel, apple and malt was as delicious as it looks, just those three flavours but boy they were all so good together.
And so by 12:30 the night was over sadly, I was full but could have gone a few more rounds I’m sure which is probably the right way to feel. Sam’s cooking had lived up to my high expectations and positively surpassed them. It would have been nice to hear a bit more from him on the food we were eating but I think this being the first night he was more concerned with the food coming out alright to stand around chatting, I did manage to grab him for a few minutes and he’s a great guy who sounds like he’s having an epic time in Cophenhagen but I’m sure it won’t be long before we see him open up his own place on these shores so watch this space.
The Loft Project is one of a kind, a great space with a lovely atmosphere. Obviously a lot depends on who you get at the table but I think one thing is guaranteed and that’s that everyone there is mad about food. I think I am right in saying that they are moving locations so they’ll be a bit of a break in chef nights but when it starts up again make sure you get yourself a ticket, it’s the best £120 you’ll ever spend.