It’s one of life’s niggles that food never looks quite as good as it does in the picture. Be it glamorised packaging or botched recipe attempts, so often one is left thoroughly underwhelmed. This ambivalence is the theme for The Art of Dining‘s latest pop-up restaurant Say Cheese – The world of Martin Parr in five courses, a unique photo-culinary experience offering some very interesting twists on some quintessentially English dishes.
The evening celebrates the food photography of esteemed British Magnum photographer Martin Parr, a champion of suburban England with a taste for clichéd foodstuffs. The idea is to dine on recreations of Parr’s most iconic food photographs that look but perhaps don’t taste exactly as they did in the 90s.
Guests are welcomed with a Gin Cassis Fizz garnished with red berries (identical to the aperitif in the postcard book of Parr’s work offered as menu and souvenir) and encouraged to soak up the surroundings before finding their seats. Set designer Alice Hodge nails kitsch in transforming the Rose Lipman Building – a modest community centre in Hackney into Rosie’s cafe; complete with gingham table cloths, net blinds, old copies of The Sun, plastic flowers and pictures of Princess Di in what must be the most English room in London.
Appetites poised, the congregation assume their positions. The first course is three modest radishes (second prize radishes in fact), again identical to the postcard, served on a doyley on a paper plate. They are quickly put into context as crudités with taramasalata and anchovies sauce, and the contradiction on which the evening is based begins to come into focus.
This is exemplified for the second and third courses when Chef Ellen Parr (Martin’s daughter, who cut her teeth at Moro) demonstrates her Asian influence transforming the classic jam scone into a chilli jam and goats labneh cumin scone, and substituting breakfast tea for a beef and mushroom massaman style Thai broth – still served in the willow pattern crockery of old. Two remarkably disguised dishes.
Throughout the evening Parr floats between tables, meeting and greeting and signing beer mats. A theatrical compère plays the long serving café employee brilliantly between courses with stock greasy spoon patter and tombola raffle. Prizes include a bottle of Robinson’s fruit squash and a Soreen malt loaf.
The main course is a roast chicken and vermouth pie, served in a traditional foil tray with additional props from the baker’s display cabinet. The pudding is a lemon curd mousse (this time 1st prize) with cardamom and a sour cherry biscuit, both remain as true to the aesthetic as is physically possible and taste far superior to any preconceptions.
Each course is a triumph in its own right. Between them, Martin Parr and the Art of Dining have achieved what they set out to do, successfully reimagining the notion of food expectation/ reality and at the same time showcasing the cream of food photography and pop-up dining, in fine English fashion.
The Art of Dining: Say Cheese – The world of Martin Parr in five courses ran from 26 – 29 March at the Rose Lipman Building 43 De Beauvoir Road, Hackney, N1 5SQ. For more information visit www.theartofdining.co.uk.
1. Martin Parr 2011. FRANCE. Paris. The Goutte d’Or. Prayers in the street. 2011.