Rushing through the busy streets of Dalston, I am en route to what my friend assures me is going to be a sensory experience I’ll never forget. One designed to awaken and educate my taste buds, if not fill a hole where my breakfast should have been. Thankfully the Jameson Sunday Senses TASTE lunch achieved this and more.
The taste exploration lunch at Dalston Roof Park, was the last in the Jameson’s Sunday Senses sessions, a project brought about by the social enterprise charity Bootstrap Company and curated by the Robin Collective. Five sessions exploring Touch, Sound, Smell, Sight and Taste were held over the course of the spring/summer.
As with all pop-up events I am slightly nervous about what to expect, especially when there are last minute, weather laden venue changes (the rain forced the event to be moved from the idyllic rooftop garden to a space inside the building). My trepidation, however, quickly transitioned into anticipation, as we followed neon floor graphics across a fire escape, down a corridor and into the main TASTE room. Lush green plants, palm leaf plates and cutlery, take home (unused) handkerchiefs as serviettes, sage filled party poppers and specially blended Jameson fudge were amongst the delights that awaited us on the TASTE trestle tables.
On arrival every guest was greeted by a mad food alchemist, and given a green balloon containing a bespoke mist of helium and Jameson – the first of many taste tests. Unfortunately for me I failed miserably, and all I could taste was the faint whiff of mischief as the 15 year old in me inhaled and squeaked out mundane sentences in my new found soprano voice, much to the amusement of my fellow diners. Joking aside, this was an ideal icebreaker that hinted nicely at the overall theme of the lunch.
The food was prepared by The Russet, a café/creative venue who creates local, seasonal and fresh menus with a strong emphasis on the re-localisation of the food production system. They were a strong fit with the theme as I was left comfortably full, taking time to savour each of the individual flavours presented on the taste buffet. You were taken on a journey through the five tastes: salt, sour, umami, bitter and sweet. The most surprising for me was the sour as a method known as ceviche was employed where raw ingredients are cooked using acids as oppose to heat. In this case it was Romanesco, cauliflower and broccoli (Brassica Ceviche) along with the pickled baby English cucumbers that caught my taste buds, not sour at all and quite refreshing.
Next, I moved onto the Chicory, Colston basset blue, crushed walnuts and grape salad from the bitter section. The combination of texture along with the delicate balance of the cheese, grape and walnuts made this a very flavoursome dish. From the salt, I made a beeline for the Pulled pork in Jameson marinade balanced atop a Russet apple, finished with a pork crackling hat. It tasted just as mouthwatering as it sounded. In the umami section some delicious crusty sourdough bread and a tasty tomato panzanella salad could be found, whilst in the final, and maybe most important section, the sweet, there was a rush to grab one of the bitter raw chocolate truffles and a snaffle victoria sponge tower.
I’d like to point out that I achieved to aquire both of these, much to my taste buds delight and my fellow diners dismay as there were none left when they went a-looking, and returned empty palm leaf in hand only to be greeted with my smug sponge filled face. The food was refreshed halfway through the afternoon with more helpings for everyone, but you had to be quick as even those went quickly.
It was at this point that we were offered some taste tests in the suspicious form of white powder and white tab in plastic baggies. We were told that only 30% of people are with super tasters with a sensitivity to sour tastes and that if we licked the white tab we would tell if were in that unique percentage. If we tasted a sourness, we were a super taster, if we tasted something then we were sensitive but not super, and if we just tasted paper then we most likely belonged to the 70% of the population who were just normal tasters. Not being one to turn down a challenge I accepted with open arms (or tonsils should I say). It was the second failed taste test for me that night – I am NOT a super taster, although it turned out my friend is. Next came the powder we had to taste which I didn’t do too bad at which ranged from sour to sweet then back to sour again, meaning I had some sensitivity (yay, my taste buds aren’t dead!).
I think it must be said that I’m not one to mess with my taste buds, we have an unspoken agreement that I won’t expose them to extreme bouts of sourness or extremely sweet flavours and in return I shall retain an exquisite sense of taste well into retirement age. So with this in mind when the sour marshmallow came round my hand shot up as I beckoned the white coated taste wizard over to our table. We were given (another) tablet which apparently reversed our taste so that sour tasted sweet. To test this theory we had a slice of lemon on hand, which after the administration of the mysterious tablet made it taste like sweet sherbet. Confused doesn’t even cover it. Even the sour marshmallow that turned my eyes inside out and made me look like a bulldog chewing a wasp, was palatable.
My overall experience of the Jameson Sunday Senses was pretty darn good. I felt like Violet did when she encountered Willy Wonka’s Three course dinner chewing gum, although without the nasty ending, as I was introduced to an array of flavours from surprising sources. If an event like this was held again I would definitely make another trip down, the atmosphere was nice and relaxed, the food was fresh and interesting and the execution of the theme was well placed especially considering the outside theme had to be canned due to our unpredictable weather.
My only grumble, at the risk of sounding like an old lady, was that the music was a tad too loud, and I was struggling to hear my conversation. Worse so for my friend as he ended up shouting grape at me across the dinner table when discussing one of the salads, naturally our fellow diners weren’t party to this information and awkward glances were exchanged. Still after all I had experienced this definitely leave me with a sour taste in my mouth, although that could have been the tablet…