It is so busy at work these days, I decided that unless it is an amazing experience, I would not be bothered writing about it here. Aulis at Fera is certainly one worth spending the time for!
There have been too many chef’s table on offer in London lately and to be honest, I am not particularly excited eating in a busy kitchen. Aulis is different. It is a Chef’s table in a private kitchen within the professional kitchen at Fera at Claridges, a 2 Michelin Star restaurant famous for its creative and natural take on modern British cuisine. The chefs who prepared the meal are from the development team of Fera, and the dishes are yet to be offered in the menu of the restaurant outside. Yes, we are guinea pigs in that sense and what a pair of happy guinea pigs we have been!
Beautiful and glamorous as it is, Claridges always feel a bit too formal and restrained. The journey from its main entrance, through Fera’s reception, dining area hall, via the professional kitchen into the compact private kitchen full of gadgets set the scene to something more playful and experimental.
First, a series of amuse bouche was prepared right in front of us. Compact but complex – they brought ”finger food” to another level. The chef’s table had 6 diners and as we did not know each other, eating with fingers helped us to feel more relaxed.Above: Pig and eel, apple and sage; malt, goat’s cheese, ale vinegar; beetroot, roe deer, spiralina; beef tendon and black garlic powder
We were intrigued particularly by the beef tendon cracker (photo below), and the transformation of its texture. No longer chewy (even after slow cooked), it felt like a prawn cracker, only a touch more sticky on the teeth. As I like doing cooking experiments at home, it is fascinating to watch chefs preparing the food and be able to ask questions. ”At what temperature did you steam the egg to get a perfectly smooth texture (for the dish below, Mussel custard, custard, onions and beef)? (The answer is 80 degrees for 15 minutes.)
And, for Westcombe dumplings, squash and black truffle, ”What is cheese water (the dumplings are made from)?””At what temperature did you cook the egg to get the yolk in this consistency?” The answer is 65 degrees for 1.5 hours.
Head Chef Dean has great interests in Japanese cuisine and some of the dishes have an oriental influence in terms of food preparation process and ingredients. It is not fusion for the sake of it but rather a careful execution on complimentary flavours and textures. Raw scallop, smoked cauliflower, radish and bergamot (below)
It is also very interesting to try not-so-common ingredients like hemp seeds and to experience how ingredients could have their flavours/textures enhanced through special processes like baking in salt coat and air drying. The dish below, Salt baked celeriac, kale, hemp and apple marigold, will be Fera’s special dish for an international gastronomy congress to show how vegan food could be delicious.
My favourite dish of the night was Mylar prawn broth, parsnip, nasturtium roof and leaf.
The prawns were live when they got delivered to the restaurant. This means that they are fresh enough to be eaten raw and this is exactly how we had it! (And I love prawn sashimi!)
Putting the immaculate plating aside, the dish was full of awesome tastes and textures. The chefs have been very experimental in using off cuts that are usually forgotten from different parts of the animal and plants. In here, the heads of the prawns have been cooked to dry them, then they were turned into a powder. Fantastic touch! I had the wine pairings with the tasting menu and this fruity non-filtered wine called Haggis (Morningtown Peninsula, Patrick Sullivan, Australia, 2014) complimented this shellfish dish amazingly well.
I was very curious to understand how a tasting menu was created. Is there any hidden rule on numbers? Sequence etc? Ingredients? At Aulis, the chefs noted that it is a combination of hot/cold and flavours. Head Chef Dean supports reduction of meat consumption. Thus, its tasting menu has more vegetable dishes to keep it refreshing and light and would end the main course with a strong meat like beef. It is true. I do find that sometimes tasting menu could be a bit too heavy and over-indulging not only on meats but also on the use of oil and butter. This certainly has not been the case at Aulis.
I never had salsify before so Roasted black salsify, trumpet mushroom, elderflower (photo below) was fascinating. Love the tiny mushroom pearls, ”dyed” in squid ink.
The fascinating ingredient in this dish, Halibiut poached in seaweed, jerusalem artichoke and oyster, for me was actually not the fish but the jerusalem artichoke and the oyster sauce. Its skin was roasted to crispy and the inside cooked for a long time. The texture was transformed. Being Chinese, we are used to ”oyster sauce”. This one is nothing like that of course. It’s a sauce that’s had oyster meat blended into it and oyster leaves. The flavour was subtle. Together with the jerusalem artichoke, it completed the dish with the perfectly cooked Halibut.
Personally, I think I was happy without the beef dish, Belted Galloway beef, Turnworth, grilled carrot and turnip tops, as I was very full by the time we got to this course. But Gerald thought that he ”needed” it. I like the idea of using turnip tops as vegetable, just like I like using carrot tops as coriander.
There is always another stomach for desserts. Even though I was super full, I very much looked forward to the desserts. Head Chef Dean brewed his own stout and the ice-cream we had was made from it.
DC stout ice-cream, fermented buckwheat, melliot is the bridge between the savoury dishes we just had and sweet desserts which were yet to come. The dish itself had the contrast of both. It was earthy and rich but yet sweet and light.
The next dessert was Forced rhubarb, buttermilk custard, rosemary and brown butter. I am never a fan of rosemary nor rhubarb (in that order of dislike). But this rhubarb did not have the common annoying stringy texture and the sharpness of rosemary made the dish quite refreshing.
Birch sap mousse and Co’s apple meringue, which is really an aerated ice-cream created using a vacuum machine. I love the aerated texture!! I am so going to try this at home!
The final theatre was the serving of drinks in the form of coffee. I am a tea-lover and I wish there was a tea alternative on offer as Fera has a great Chinese/Japanese tea menu. I do not like coffee but I enjoyed watching its making. I could totally see what it was on the menu as it was fun to watch the drama and discussion among coffee lovers on the table.
We started at 7pm and by the time we finished it was already 11:30pm. (Apparently on it had gone on till 1:30am before!) Salute to the hard-working chefs! The professional kitchens outside was already cleaned and packed up! The little edible plants they are growing in-house were all laid out for some ”fresh air”.
It was a memorable dining experience and it is the certainly the best I have ever had in UK. I cannot believe I am saying this but I think it is even more enjoyable than my old favourite Fat Duck . I enjoyed the conversation with chefs very much. We felt that we did not only have a lovely meal, but also learnt a lot about ingredients, cooking and food preparation like kombucha and vinegar making, food trends, food ideology and even how it is like working in the catering industry!
We tried the ”product” the chefs are still experimenting with using their new toy, a rotary evaporator- one (by product of evaporation, transparent liquid in the small flask, photo below) smelled amazing like elderflower but tasting weird; another (reduced liquid, collected in large flask) had an odd smell but full of great and rich flavour. Head Chef Dean noted that they are not sure exactly what they would get but the next task would be to work out how to extract smell molecules from the good one and keeping the wonderful taste of the other. Sounds good to me!
We like growing our own food at home and we certainly left with many ideas as to what we could experiment next.
As part of the development team, I am hopeful that the menu at Aulis would evolve through time and season. (The chef noted that there were only two menus that were from just last week!) I also look forward to returning to try again. It would be an exciting experience, unlike that of Fat Duck, too many items on the menu repeated, even after a few years.
- I do recommend going with a group of 6 to fill up the whole development table though as I think it would be a more personal and fun experience. Our table was alright but like in any restaurant, there are always one or two people whom like the sound of themselves more. Unlike a normal restaurant, you cannot really ignore them because you would be in a private dining area.
- Special dietary requirements can be catered for provided that all 6 seats are booked together.
- Try the cocktail at the bar! I had a pea shoot one which has it infused with vodka- Raw but very interesting!
Address: Aulis at Fera, Claridges, Brook St, London W1K 4HR
Price: Tasting menu £150 per head (pre-paid at time of reservation), Wine pairing £130 per head, 12.5% service charge