The theatre of hospitality

Ever since food became a TV spectacle as well as a sensory experience, ornamentation has come to be as important as taste.

And decoration isn’t confined only to cakes. Take a look at the artistry in this version of meat and two veg at the Cedar Manor Hotel and Restaurant.

meat and two veg cedar manor

We are now taking our seats in the theatre of hospitality and when the curtain goes up, nothing is quite what it seems.

This theme dominated the recent Clerkenwell Design Week where thought leaders gathered, and I was inspired by Seymour Powell in a lecture about Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant at Bray. Theatre doesn’t have to mean “arena”; look at the intimate small space at the Fat Duck which is nevertheless a shrine to theatricality as well as Britain’s holy temple of ‘culinary alchemy’.

Nothing is what it appears, at the Fat Duck, as this video shows.

Seymour Powell is a multidisciplinary group of design researchers, strategists, brand experts, designers and makers. Their track record of imagining and then creating award winning designs and world-first innovations stretches back over 30 years, and includes, among much else, industrial design and transport design, as well as restaurants.

We were taken – in the lecture, that is – to The Mandarin Oriental Hotel where Blumenthal is also hosting ‘Dinner’.  Here the floors are uncarpeted hardwood (dramatically raised a few feet to improve the view of the park) and there’s a very un-hotel-like absence of curtains. Jelly moulds adorn the walls – specially designed Bernardaud Limoges jelly moulds, of course – and in the symmetrical, open kitchen, a collection of blue-glass apothecary jars pay homage to the alchemy.

The food? There’s a Mandarin signature dish, obviously, a small and perfectly formed mandarin orange, with a few fresh green leaves still attached to the twig. So simple, so classy.

But what’s important about the theatre of hospitality is that the substance must be as good as the style. It’s vital to have top quality ingredients, a top quality chef, and top quality levels of service, otherwise all the ornamentation in the world will fall flat as a deflated balloon.

Take a look here inside the Fat Duck and you’ll see the master raising the curtain on his latest performance.

Hospitality now is all about customer experience and expectation. As a reaction to the high tech world we seek to immerse ourselves in wonderful experiences, creating fabulous memories, enriching our lives, giving us positive thoughts and things to enthuse about. And recording and sharing on social media, of course. (Though at Grasmere’s Michelin-starred Forest Side restaurant they will frown very severely if you try to Instagram your plate.)

Top class theatre need not be prohibitively expensive, and you won’t need a seat up in the gods to experience the latest show in town, in the Lakes, where Ryan Blackburn has opened a second food palace in Ambleside. Now, alongside the award-winning Old Stamp House, comes Kysty, a daytime café and take-away with a very strong emphasis on both style and sustainability. And look at their  chocolate fudge for true theatricality.

chocolate fudge at Ryan Blackburn's new daytime cafe Kysty in Ambs

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