New friends in red and blue peer into the surrealist world of Le Petit Chef, riding magic carpets through a Middle Eastern Bazaar and tasting spices in an Indian Wonderland. The falafel dances on a bed of tofu noodles and the cauliflower gobi flies into creme brulee, as your taste buds come alive under the magical spell of Le Petit Chef, whose waiting hand you take, cautiously at first, as you travel far and beyond your imagination. There are forays into amuse bouche land with a quail’s egg nestled in a dainty white square, washed down with a wine pairing that glides down your throat with the finesse of an ice rink dancer. Or perhaps you might prefer following the mini chef on his journey to the Middle East, as you watch mesmerized by the vivid colours of the Dinner Time Story, where a large treasure chest unveils vine leaves soaked in lemon and stuffed with rice, with crispy pumpkin balls and moreish falafel, hopping into your stomach, 1, 2,3. In India you come alive under the scent of a thousand spices, gobbling cauliflower gobi panacotta with devilish hunger and in the Himalayas you are amazed by pink grapefruit and lychee sorbet, served with dry ice, as you pour water into the bowl and watch the steam cloud your aperitif with scientific wonder. But it is in China where you find your vegetarian appetite truly whetted, a glorious concoction of Szechuhan tofu and rice noodles, layered with glazed peppers, washed down with wine that is smooth and velvety. And so your journey ends in France, where fine dining flourishes, a caramelized creme brulee eager to be tasted by your waiting mouth. But where does this journey begin I hear you ask?
The lady in red and the friend in white clamber into Dinner Time Story’s latest London offering in Great Portland Street, a small unassuming cafe esque location that seems rather odd for a immersive dining experience with a £95 price tag label. Still despite its small rustic aesthetic, with some light the quiet intimacy of the interior is rather pleasing, trellises of plants trailing across the ceiling, caressing quotes emblazoned across crisp white walls. But it is the storybooks in front of us that catch our attention, as our adventure begins and we follow Le Petit Chef into his gastronomic journey across the world, in a six course fine dining extravaganza. Our first stop takes us into Marseilles, the port city of Southern France, where fishmongers sell their catch along the boat-lined quay. We are given novelty paper boats that swim invitingly across our story books, with a small slip of paper tucked inside shedding light into what we would have as our amuche bouche. Handed small treasure chests, we opened our boxes with surprise delight at what was nestled inside. Lo and behold two small porcelain containers with a moreish mouthful waited us eagerly, a hard boiled egg with a purple flower peekaboo, black grains on a bed of leaves. Not a dish to satisfy your hunger for sure, but one that was dainty and petite, an amuse bouche that was delightfully French, sipping wine on the fly.
At the outset, the Middle Eastern Course appeared to be the ‘largest course’but oh how devious appearances can be as a large box of tricks unveiled miniature bites that were made with Le Petit Chef in mind. Still even a glutton like me could relish and indeed revel in the doll like course, the vegetarian options including the vine leaves filled with rice, mint, parsley, tomato and onion, cooked in lemon juice and olive oil with a spicy tomato dip, that were ever so perfectly matched to my grumbling stomach. The one singular ball of falafel kebbeh was rather flummoxing, as was the pumpkin croquette, but nevertheless the small portions did not take away from the flavours of the Middle Eastern course which payed attention to the incredible mix of herbs, natural, almost Mediterrenean esque flavours and the authenticity of the immersive dining experience. Due to my allergies and vegetarian diet, I was grateful for an adapted menu for each course, demonstrating how seriously Dinner Time Story took dietary requirements into account while serving customers, which was evidenced by the inclusion of alternative meal items like the tomato ‘caviar’ in a filo cup with tomato garnish, instead of the original smoked aubergine caviar with ratatouille garnish which I would have been allergic to. The strongest dish was undoubtedly the vine leaves, even though the spicy tomato dip was not ‘spicy’ but nevertheless its tart flavour complimented the acidity of the vine leaves beautifully.
Visually India was a beautiful course for the interactive storytelling alone, as we watched our miniature chef fly a bird across the desert, before diving into a sea of spices in magenta, gold, orange, green and red, as we sampled a buffet of glorious colour through his shamanistic world. It was a kaleidoscope of feeling, a patchwork of colour, a hegemony of culture and we ate up every morsel in this Dali-esque magical surrealist universe, where disjointed narratives stood parallel to human condition. At times the storyline made little sense, but as someone who appreciates a narrative with Alice In Wonderland esque wonderment, I was nevertheless appeased, swept into its fantastical world. Except unlike Alice and her anthropomorphic creatures, Le Petit chef had no fantastical obstacles to overcome, although a mini human in a large scale world made for fantastic entertainment. Regardless the Indian course was beautiful with cauliflower pannacotta with gobi aloo, rich and intense in the mouth, while the tomato poppadom with mint was rather refreshing. Arguably out of the two it was the pannacotta that I was most enamored with, and I couldn’t help but wish that portion sizes were larger.
The heat of India was cooled down with the iciness of the Himalayas, as our little friend adventured into the frost tipped mountains, shivering through iced winds. Yet despite the chill of the mountains, it seemed like Le Petit Chef had found us a delightful palette cleanser to whet our appetites, served in a minimalist glass bowl. Lo and behold a pink grapefruit and lychee sorbet, that was wonderfully tart was eager to be perched on the tip of our tongue, as taste and sensation collided in glorious symphony, it felt like heaven. But nothing could have had as more spellbound than the dry ice, poured over our sorbet in a clouded scientific experiment. It was the part of the meal where we were able to bring interactivity to the fine dining experience and we were living for it, boomarang-ing vaporous steam that shrouded our sorbet in endless delight. But the show wasn’t over just yet, just how far would Le Petit Chef go to secure us the ultimate international meal?
Wiping imaginary frost and snow off fantastical boots, we joined our chef in China, where we had to battle dragons crested in red and gold that snaked across our table cloth in slithering finesse. And while the dragons were mighty and fierce we conquered them with kindness of course, before treating ourselves to a flight in a rocket, watching Chef’s voice get higher and higher until his helium pitched words exploded into random gibberish in our ears. But despite the nonsensical dialogue, it was China who served us our wondrous main course, the dish that we (and our stomachs) had been waiting for all night. And what a glorious gastronomic delight it was, Szechuhan tofu delightfully fried with garlic and soy sauce, with moist-but not soggy- noodles laced with rice, peppers and carrots that was the perfect blend of all things spice, sugar and vegetarian delight, giftwrapped in one humble dish. It was a foodgasm, a pleasurable feast, a sensuous carousel that caressed our senses and coated our stomachs with culinary sublimity. No words were needed as we munched our way through our main course, this was the meal that would take centre stage and take first place at the fine dining awards.
Our journey had almost come to an end, but no matter for dessert was here, a creme brulee with endless possibilities. Unlike the other five courses, we watched Le Petit Chef make our sweet treat before our very own eyes, as he struggled to pour milk into a blue china bowl and lifted saffron and spice into a large scale spoon. It was a touching way to end the meal and a seamless method of including us in the narrative, washed down with a glass or two of Dessert wine that was crying out to be drunk, liberally, a free spirited drink. The wine had notes of toffee and caramel so paired well with the saffron of the creme brulee, which was everything a good dessert should be: sweet, sensual, seductive. While slightly heavy on the stomach, it did counteract the smaller dishes in the start, and was a welcome end to a beautiful dining experience.
Novelties: The Bonus Round
The ‘Passport Books’
Our bellies were full and our hearts were warm, but the entertainment wasn’t over just yet. We feasted on the food of the Gods and we drank manna lifted from heavens. But lo and behold something magical was here, small pleather bound books that contained an array of past visitors secrets. For at Dinner Time Story we weren’t just thrust into a futuristic 3D world, nor were we just mere spectators in Le Petit Chef’s story; handed small passport books, we read through previous diners entries that ranged from the generic, obscure right through to the crude and rude, with a series of amusing chat up lines and profanities galore, creating a stark contrast to the ‘stiff upper lip’ formula of fine dining. It was wonderfully refreshing and we added our own dining tales to the books, in hope that we could bring entertainment to our predecessors, who would look back on our experience and smile. Warmly.
Have You Ever Been To An Immersive Dining Experience Before?
Please note I was invited to Dinner Time Story’s pop up with Love Pop Ups London in exchange for this post but all thoughts are my own and not affected by complimentary services.