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For my girlfriend’s father’s birthday we went to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. We sat at the chef’s table which is the only way you can have the full 9 course tasting menu. The restaurant, currently ranked 1st in the UK and 9th in the world1 creates its dishes by mixing old English recipes with molecular gastronomy. The following collection of references stems from this dining experience: the privileged restaurant, its use of history, contemporary culture and my discreet iphone browsing throughout the, at times awkward, family meal. 

The Captain’s Table

At the large table we are each given a little brown box. Inside a rolled up piece of paper is held together by a metal ring embossed with the restaurants logo. The paper scroll is printed with the lunch menu on one side and the background information to each dish on the other. It is the size of a standard A4 sheet.

The sommelier appears with a bottle of champagne, he comes up to us and he speaks Portuguese as we have requested. It turns out he spends a lot of time in Brazil and my girlfriend’s father and him enter into a long conversation. The sommelier touches the bottle but doesn’t open it, he just keeps on talking. He puts the bottle into an ice bucket and talks some more and my girlfriend and I make impatient faces to each other. He is about to reach for the bottle when her father interrupts him with a question and a joke, and they keep on talking. Finally he grabs the bottle, holds it with a white serviette, opens it and pours it into our glasses while telling us about the champagne. It’s all in Portuguese and I don't understand a word. The table is slightly too big and he has trouble reaching the glasses at the far end. I look at the father who smells the champagne in his glass and says “Mmm.” and then holds his glass to toast. We all toast and drink. My girlfriend is in a bad mood.

Lobster & Cucumber Soup (c.1730)

The head Chef introduces himself, he can only speak English and I am relieved. I notice that he directs his introduction mainly towards me and I am aware that the father probably can only understand half of what he is saying. I feel awkward in between the two figures of chef and father - one not understanding the other.

Our first dish is a lobster and cucumber soup and consists of poached lobster, lobster salad, onion and sea rosemary. The backside of the scroll we were given states that the dish is based on a recipe from “1730 The Complete Practical Cook by Charles Carter”. I put a bit in my mouth and close my eyes trying to fully experience the textures and flavours and the way each changes through the act of chewing, releasing new bursts of taste before I swallow. I open my eyes and look at my girlfriend’s mother. She smiles back. I am a little under whelmed but I refuse to acknowledge it. The lobster tastes like lobster and the cucumber “soup” tastes like cucumber juice, they are the same temperature and the lobster is neither satisfyingly chewy or meltingly soft. I have a sip of the wine we have been served, 2010 Montagny 1er Cru Vieux Château Jean-Marc Boillot.

We make another toast.

Yes, things are bad, but the canteen is great

It was the opening night of our final show and I was starving. Megan and I went across the street to Perfect Fried Chicken and I bought three chicken legs and chips, which I was eating on the sidewalk when Suhail walked by and said “gross” and made a face. Why did he find it disgusting? Was it just that he doesn’t like the flavour of deep fried chicken or that it is unhealthy? Was it because I was eating it with my hands and it was sloppy? Would he react the same if I had been eating a nice burger from Byron?

When Neo is taken out of the Matrix2 for the first time and he wakes up on the hovering ship Nebuchadnezzar he is served a greyish porridge poured from a dirty bottle into a depressing looking metal tin while he is told it tastes like a bowl of snot. Things are really not going well for humanity in the war against machines. But had he instead awoken by a lovely smell coming from the canteen, things would have been slightly different. Even if living underground and killer robots are trying to use you for energy production, your problems still come across pretty insignificant if you’re served delicious multi-course meals with delicious drinks twice a day with your friends.

Roast Marrowbone (c.1720)

Our waiter, who is Spanish, tells us to turn and look behind us.  When we do, what was a mirror, has become a window into the kitchen. We view our next dish being prepared. He explains the dish is bone marrow, based on an old English recipe, ending his introduction with a small shrug. We remain quiet and look at him, then back through the window. Bone marrow. The first time I had it was at St Johns last year and I thought it was slightly disgusting until I put some on a piece of toasted bread. I loved the salty creamy flavour of the fat filling my mouth.

Our Spanish waiter struggles to get the dishes over to the far end of the table and he looks annoyed. He says it’s a pretty big table and we laugh approvingly as if he had made a joke. The bone marrow is served in what looks like a long “U” shape made from bone and my girlfriend’s mother asks if this is the actual bone that the marrow came from. The waiter says, “yes it is from bone.” and I feel he has misunderstood. I ask him if this is the specific bone that contained the bone marrow we are eating, he says it isn’t, it is just for decoration. He shrugs a little bit again. I turn to my girlfriend’s mother and repeat “no.” 

Florida Man

The Miami cannibal attack occurred on May 26, 2012, when Rudy Eugene assaulted the homeless Ronald Poppo on the MacArthur Causeway in Miami, Florida. During the 18-minute filmed encounter, Eugene, who was naked, beat Poppo unconscious, removed his pants, and bit off most of his face, including his left eye. As a result of the incident's shocking nature and subsequent worldwide media coverage, Eugene came to be dubbed the "Miami Zombie" and the incident known as “Zombie face eating attack”. The assault ended with Eugene being fatally shot by a Miami police officer. According to Miami police, the first call of a disturbance came from a passing motorist who reported seeing a man stripping off his clothes and acting erratically. A Road Ranger called to the scene also called 911 and used a loudspeaker to call for the naked attacker to cease. As the attack dragged on, two other motorists called police, as did another cyclist, Larry Vega, who later told reporters that Eugene “just stood, his head up like that, with pieces of flesh in his mouth. And he growled”.3]

Meat Fruit (c.1500)

The chef comes over to our table and tells us about the next dish. I am excited because I have seen this dish on youtube and read about it in reviews. In a very gentle voice the head chef explains that around the middle ages, people were very sceptical of fruit. In order to make people more comfortable with fruit, meat would be camouflaged and presented as a fruit dish. He continues to say that at one point in history, people were believed to be witches if they consumed or were even just seen with fruit. The story is impressive. It makes sense to me to be skeptical of a new sort of food, with an unknown colour, particularly during a time when you could easily die if you ate the wrong thing.

The dish arrives. It looks exactly like a mandarin, but it is in fact chicken liver parfait. The chef says we cannot eat the twig sticking out of it and I immediately feel a little disappointed. Why did they not have the twig edible too? Why not have it cast in liquorice? My girlfriend’s mother says it looks like a mandarin. The sommelier comes up and serves us Sauternes. The wine is unbelievable. For the first time during dinner I feel blown away by the intensity of the flavor. It is perfectly sweet and has no trace of bitterness. Combined with its cool temperature the wine is incredibly fresh. I imagine this is what the nectar of fiction tastes like. I cut into the mandarin and the orange crust is the same texture as the parfait inside. It is fantastic. Sweet and salty with just a tiny hint of mandarin. I feel that this dish is what I have been waiting for. From now on all the dishes will play with my senses and surprise me in unexpected ways.

My girlfriend’s father raises his glass to the mother and they toast. I look at my girlfriend and tell her this dish was really good and the wine is crazy, she nods and puts another bite in to her mouth. 

Food Fight

The spontaneous food fight is the best food fight. It playfully bursts out from the rules of eating. It ignites a complete upheaval of all the systems of etiquette and ritual that have been more or less subconsciously followed. It is an outburst that has no aim, no intention to change the ‘system’ of eating, but rather the temporary eruption creates a fleeting instant of chaos, until someone comes in and shouts to stop or when something slightly too dangerous gets thrown.

In Steven Spielberg’s version of Peter Pan there is a scene where Peter is coming to terms with who he is whilst the Lost Boys4 are throwing imaginary food at each other. Rufio decides to break this imaginary play by getting an actual coconut to throw at Peter’s face. As the coconut flies towards Peter he is thrown a sword and slices it in half. Turning in a pirouette he fully embraces the imaginary world of Neverland.

Roast Turbot (c.1830)

At this point I am wondering where the greetings from the kitchen are because so far all of our courses have been listed on the menu. The Spanish waiter comes in and asks us what we thought. I answer it was amazing. He removes our plates and sets out new cutlery, for fish. The next dish is Roast Turbot and Cockle Ketchup. The waiters warn us that the plates are very hot and they struggle to hold on to them whilst reaching across the table. The sommelier is translating the chef’s explanation of the dish to my girlfriend’s father. When the sommelier leaves her father asks what turbot is in English and my girlfriend tells him. He turns to me and asks if we have turbot in Finland, I say I’m not sure. I don’t know what turbot is but I google it on my phone, held under the table, and I realise it is one of my favourite smoked fishes. But the restaurant dish, when it arrives, is not surprising, it tastes like normal white fish.

I am getting drunk and eating very quickly. 

Chicken cooked with Lettuces (c.1672)

Still no greetings from the kitchen. Whilst my girlfriend and her father take a trip to the toilet I ask her mother what she thought of the fish. She answers that it was delicious. The following course is served as soon my girlfriend and her father return to the table. Chicken cooked with lettuces based on “The queene-like closet or rich cabinet by Hannah Wolley 1672”.  My girlfriend’s father asks my girlfriend and her mother something. My girlfriend turns to me, “my father was saying that he always thought the wine glass was on the right side of the others glasses”.  I look and see that I have the water glass to the right of the wine. I want to say that it was because I was drinking the water but I don’t, instead I rearrange the glasses as casually as I can.

I eat the chicken. 

Beef Royal (c.1720)

The chef, radiant, comes to tell us about the next dish. Again, he mainly directs his explanation towards me. The short rib of beef is vacuum-sealed and then cooked for two days. The vacuum process enables the meat to remain medium rare and gives the flesh an extreme tenderness. It is served with smoked anchovy and onion, ox tongue and red wine. The meat is very good, juicy and soft but ever since I went to Kobe in Japan I have struggled to find a meat that matches the soft beef I had there. In Kobe the beef was served raw on a metal plate with only salt and pepper. A small stone pot sat on the table filled with burning coal and covered with a grill. The beef on the plate was cut into perfect bite sized pieces. It was so marbled with fat that white speckles often outnumbered the deep red of the flesh. Each time I placed a piece on the grill and into my mouth it would completely melt. There was no sense of the fat, just fresh pure meat. I had everything they had on the menu; raw tongue, raw liver, fillet, sirloin, tenderloin, rib, and everything was mind blowing in flavor and feel. By comparison, Heston’s slow cooked rib was a good steak with a funny texture. 

I am looking forward to the desserts.

Inside Beef

The brazen bull, bronze bull, or Sicilian bull, was a torture and execution device designed in ancient Greece. Its inventor was a metal worker named Perillos and he proposed it to Phalaris, the regent of Akragas as a new method of execution. The bull was made of bronze, it was hollow and had a hatch on the side. The condemned was to be locked inside the bull and a fire was set underneath it, heating the metal until it became extremely hot, causing the person inside to roast to death and, due to the acoustics of the metal the sound of their screams came out similar to a bulls bellowing.5

A cow has four stomachs, the reticulum, rumen, omasum and abomasums. To keep an eye on the digestive system of cattle a window may be installed with a view into the rumen. This is called a cannula and the reason for a producer wanting to access the rumen with a cannula is due to the activity that takes place with this particular stomach. The rumen is located on the left side of a cow and serves as the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed. Testing this helps determine which forages are optimal for the feed to produce the desired results in the cattle’s growth. The hatch is opened and the rancher sticks in his hand and collects some of the digested feed that can then be tested.6

In an episode of Bear Grylls we see him making his way out of the Saharan desert. He comes across a recently dead camel. He takes his knife and starts cutting the lover part of the camel’s belly, being careful not to puncture its guts. He removes the intestines and flays the carcass, making a blanket. He then climbs into the camel’s ribcage and drapes the blanket over the opening, sealing himself inside, protected from sandstorms and the cold desert night.7

Tarte of Strawberries (c.1591)

The desserts are next. Our Spanish waiter is telling us that the Strawberry tart we are about to be served is based on an idea from the sixteenth century. We tell him that he can speak Spanish with my girlfriend’s father, but he takes no notice. When the tarte arrives it is beautiful and I take a picture on my phone. It is like a miniature landscape of tiny leaves, miniature berries no bigger than needle pins and a small forest of strawberries cut in half, all laid out on a slide of raked vanilla. Next to the vanilla is a drop shaped strawberry sorbet. The tarte does not taste as good as it looks, but it is nevertheless delicious in a way that a good cake is always tasty.

My girlfriend leans over to me and asks me to discretely ask the sommelier if he can arrange something special for her father as it is his birthday. I say that I have already done it while making the reservation but that I will go and make sure. I excuse myself, walk around the corner, find the sommelier and tell him. He says that it is all taken care of.

Tipsy Cake (c.1810)

We are presented with a small iron pot containing something that looks like a mixture between a bun and cake. On the side of the plate is a slice of grilled pineapple. We have seen the pineapple slowly spinning on a kebab type skewer through the window into the kitchen. It has been spinning throughout our dinner. The chef explains why this method of preparing the pineapple makes it extraordinary, but I have stopped listening. The wine is Pacherenc du Vic Bilh ‘Larmes Celestes’, Alain Brumont 2010. I drink it in big gulps. The waiter brings a small plate with the words Happy Birthday written in chocolate and some sort of chocolate pudding in a small glass cup. We pass it around, each having a spoon.8

For dessert I’ve arranged something special. At power breakfast at the
‘21’ Club this morning with Craig McDermott, Alex Baxter and Charles
Kennedy, I stole the urinal cake from the men’s room when the attendant
wasn’t looking. At home I covered it with a cheap chocolate syrup, froze
it, then placed it in an empty Godiva box, tying a silk bow around it
and now, when I excuse myself to the rest room, I make my way instead to the kitchen, after I’ve stopped at the coat check to retrieve the
package and I ask our waiter to present this to the table “in the box ”
and to tell the lady seated there that Mr. Bateman called up earlier to
order this especially for her. I even tell him, while opening the box to
put a flower on it, whatever, and hand him a fifty. He brings it over
once a suitable amount of time has elapsed, after our plates have been
removed, and I’m impressed by what a big deal he makes over it; he’s
even placed a silver dome over the box and Evelyn coos with delight when
he lifts it off, saying “Voi-ra” and she makes a move for the spoon
he’s laid next to her water glass (that I make sure is empty) and,
turning to me, Evelyn Says, “Patrick, that’s so sweet,” and I nod to the
waiter smiling, and wave him away when he tries to place a spoon on my
side of the table. “aren’t you having any?” Evelyn asks concerned. She
hovers over the chocolate dipped urinal cake anxiously, poised. “I adore
Godiva.” “I’m not hungry” I say “dinner was . . . filling”. She leans
down, smelling the brown oval, and catching a cent of something
(probably disinfectant), asks me, now dismayed, “Are you . . . sure?”
“No darling,” I say. “I want you to eat it. There’s not a lot there.”
She takes the first bite, chewing dutifully, immediately and obviously
disgusted, then swallows. She shudders , then makes a grimace but tries
to smile as she takes another tentative bite. “How is it?” I ask, then
urging, “Eat it. Its not poisoned or anything.” Her face twisted with
displeasure, manages to blanch again as if she were gagging. “What ?” I
ask grinning. “What is it?” “It’s so. . .” Her face is now one long
agonized grimace mask and, shuddering, she coughs. “... minty.” But she
tries to smile appreciatively, which becomes an impossibility. She
reaches for my glass of water and gulps it down, desperate to rid her
mouth of the taste. Then, noticing how worried I look, she tries to
smile, this time apologetically. “it’s just” – she shudders again -
“it’s just . . . so minty.8

Nitro Ice-cream Trolley

The Spanish waiter comes towards us pushing an ice trolley that looks like a prop from the Cordoba Milk Bar or a gigantic Alessi product in the manner of steel kitchen ware and expresso machines. He is in a good mood and seems enthusiastic. He is speaking Spanish and making jokes with my girlfriend’s father whilst simultaneously saying things in English to us. He explains that so far the dishes of our meal have been about looking to the past, but this dish is about looking to the future. The trolley houses a container of nitrous oxide. The waiter takes a spoon of loose vanilla cream and dips it into the hole that icy smoke is coming out of. The cream instantly freezes. He places it onto a small cone. He allows us to choose some toppings: freeze dried raspberries, almond praline, dehydrated apple with popping candy or sugar coated fennel seeds. My girlfriend’s father takes almond praline, her mother takes the raspberry and my girlfriend, the apple. I ask if he could dip one side in each topping and he did. My girlfriend shakes her head and laughs. The raspberry is nice, the almond and apple slightly bland, the popping candy is fun but no different to candy you would get in a general store, the vanilla tastes like a standard ice cream. We sit for a while and my girlfriend’s parents talk in Portugese. My girlfriend’s father receives the bill in a little leather folder. My girlfriend’s mother reaches for it and they look at it together. I tell my girlfriend I could lie down, she yawns. We leave the table. My girlfriend’s mother stops to talk to the Spanish waiter. She tells him that she is old enough to be his mother and that he shouldn’t be afraid to speak his language. He looks surprised. We tell her she was right while walking down the stairs and request a taxi.

End Notes

Go to footnote reference 1.

The World’s Top 50 Best Restaurants, accessed online August 2012

Go to footnote reference 2.

Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowsi, The Matrix. Warner Bros. Pictures 1999.

Go to footnote reference 3.

Richard Luscombe, “Face-eating victim 'will recover' from horrific Miami attack” The Guardian, accessed online May 2012

Go to footnote reference 4.

Steven Spielberg, Hook. Tristar Pictures 1991.

Go to footnote reference 5.

Daniel Diehl and Mark P Donnely, The Big Book of Pain: Punishment and Torture Through History. Stroud: The History Press 2008. 37.

Go to footnote reference 6.

Cannulated Cow,, accessed online August 2012

Go to footnote reference 7.

Bear Grylls: Born Survivor – Sahara. Tony Lee, Discovery Communications 2007.

Go to footnote reference 8.

Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho. New York: Vintage Books 1991. 323-324.


Cannulated Cow,, accessed online August 2012

Daniel Diehl and Mark P Donnely, The Big Book of Pain: Punishment and Torture Through History. Stroud: The History Press 2008. 37.

Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho. New York: Vintage Books 1991. 323-324.

Bear Grylls: Born Survivor – Sahara. Tony Lee, Discovery Communications 2007.

Richard Luscombe, “Face-eating victim 'will recover' from horrific Miami attack” The Guardian, accessed online May 2012

Steven Spielberg, Hook. Tristar Pictures 1991.

Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowsi, The Matrix. Warner Bros. Pictures 1999.

The World’s Top 50 Best Restaurants, accessed online August 2012

Benjamin Orlow

Benjamin Orlow (b.1984, Turku, Finland) is a London-based artist who works with video, sculpture and painting. His video collage serves as a method to at isolate and interweave narratives. In this cinematic landscape, seemingly-disparate scenarios can occur simultaneously, enabling him to investigate the permanence of digitised media and the ephemeral nature of the captured moments they illustrate. This focus on the concept of temporality allows the audience to trace a line through his practice, whether it be filmic or sculptural, and highlights the varying degrees of tractability the concept encompasses. His recent solo and two-person exhibitions include An Opera in Eight Acts at Sinne Gallery (Helsinki FI 2017) Economy Plus at Elverket (Ekenäs FI 2016) The body as a domestic animal at the Abingdon Studios/Grundy Gallery (Blackpool, UK, 2016); Future Shoe and Box-Face at SØ (Copenhagen, DK, 2016); A long time ago, but somehow in the future at Sinne Gallery (Helsinki, FI, 2014) and Benjamin Orlow at Ve.sch (Vienna, AU, 2013). His work has been presented as part of numerous exhibitions and screenings, among them Artists Video Biennale at the ICA (London UK 2016); The Start of Autumn at the Hordaland Kunstcenter (Bergen, NO, 2015) and The forgotten memory guide at Fahrenheit (Los Angeles, US, 2014).