We're always on the look out for unique new London experiences and were delighted when immersive dining connoisseurs 'The Art of Dining' popped up on our radar...
On a very blustery November evening we journeyed back in time to the glorious Victorian industrial age for 'The Engine Room'; a steamy and slick evening of delicious food and atmospheric set design at the London Museum of Water and Steam. Dynamic pop-up duo Alice Hodge and Ellen Parr are no strangers to the immersive dining game. Now in their fifth year of production, the set designing and chef team have perfected the recipe for a flawlessly executed and uniquely entertaining night.
The evening began with a complementary winter cocktail on arrival - a warming blend of orange and star anise mulled cider - and we were invited to explore the heights of the grand Ninety Inch engine that dominated the entrance hall. This impressive machine, of awesome size and scale, helped develop London into the city it is today - working for over 90 years to combat cholera and all manner of waterborne diseases that plagued the slums of Victorian London. As we climbed the stairs to explore the imposing instrument we were suddenly greeted by a charming young man introducing himself as Percy - the apparition of the engine designer's son, and our charismatic host for the evening.
After a delightful introduction to the history of the engines and the museum, we were led along a candle lit corridor and our dining room was revealed. Smoke filled the room as we entered and the grandeur of our setting slowly revealed itself as the smouldering grey fog faded and we took our seats.
We sat surrounded by magnificent displays of Victorian engineering and design; piston driven marvels serenaded us with their soft and oddly comforting rhythmic 'chug, chug' as we dined guarded by machines in emerald greens, mahogany reds, burnt umber and tarnished greys and golds. The set design was truly excellent and expertly considered - the lighting provided by bare bulbs strung overhead emitting a soft yellow hue much reminiscent of the gas lamps of Victorian London.
The theme of Victorian Industry didn't stop at the set design. For a fully immersive experience, each of our delicious five courses represented either Oil, Mineral, Steam, Smoke or Fire in a cleverly curated menu by Moro-trained chef Ellen Parr. For 'Oil', cuttlefish was braised in ink, fennel and tomato, served with pickled green peppers and garlic toast. Presenting the 'oil sauce' - a thick, black, tar-like accompaniment with a surprisingly delicate taste - in a silver tin can was a lovely nod to detail. Not only did the five courses represent different aspects of engineering but we were also treated to a global culinary tour. Our unusual salt dough baked vegetables were accompanied by Middle Eastern flavours of pickled za'atar, date puree and labneh, before we took a turn towards Asia with perfectly steamed salmon, ginger and lemongrass. Our favourite dish had to be the beautifully smoked lamb shoulder, the melt-in-the-mouth meat complemented by Mediterranean Kalamata olives and a tomato salad. The decadent meal was finished by a spiced apple cake with burnt apple puree and clotted cream - a comforting and classically English pud, and we finished every last scrumptious bite! The food was not the only cleverly crafted affair. The original cocktail 'Monster Soup' (taking its ominous name from the Victorian moniker given to the filthy Thames of the period) was a delectable festive blend of cinnamon, apple, plum and gin and the offerings from Borough Wines kept us well lubricated throughout the night. There was even a 'Wine Flight' option - where for a very reasonable £20 you could have a different glass of wine matched to each course.
Hodge and Parr certainly know what they're doing. The food was absolutely lovely, the flavours interesting and varied and the portions were more than generous (we started our seasonal plumping a little early this year as a result!). 'Immersive' is a path well trodden now in terms of London entertainment - but it's not always done well. Adding an actor into the dining mix could've been intrusive, but the entertainment was at all times interesting, charming and - most importantly - at just the right length. The hospitable atmosphere that the friendly staff created made for a relaxed and enjoyable evening, and it was a welcome change to share a table with strangers. As the wine flowed, so too did the conversation and the dinner party atmosphere thrived. A host of complementing and well thought-out attentions to detail really made the most of the impressive setting. An engine room might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a suitable dining experience, but it was a unique and special treat that we would happily enjoy again and again.
For more information about the latest sensory immersive dining creations from The Art of Dining visit their website: ww.theartofdining.co.uk