Alston Works in leafy north London was once a dental factory producing everything from orthodontic equipment to toothpaste. Now the industrial estate in High Barnet is home to one of the UK’s most innovative chefs and a culinary experience for all the senses.
Inauspicious surroundings shouldn’t put you off visiting Alston Works this summer. The tall, narrow building in one of north London’s sleepy suburbs is home to movie directors, special effects producers, technologists, designers, architects and artists.
Perhaps most interesting of all its residents is Michelin-trained chef Jozef Youssef, who founded Kitchen Theory in 2010, and works closely with Professor Charles Spence – a specialist in multi-sensory food perception and head of Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory.
For the last seven years the duo have been creating culinary experiences where cooking meets cutting-edge science. Their latest venture, Gastrophysics, brings together everything they’ve learnt during that time, set in Youssef’s apartment-cum-culinary design studio on the top floor of the Victorian factory.
The 13-course menu is a journey through the science of incongruous sensory perceptions and inspired by psychological phenomena such as synaesthesia – where sensory input is mixed up so that for instance, people see sound and hear colour. One of the dishes, The 4 Tastes is an amuse bouche of four flavours; sweet, sour, salty and bitter; diners are asked to taste first with their eyes and then guess which is which.
Another of Kitchen Theory’s signature dishes, Bouba and Kiki, tests the connections between speech sounds and the shape of the food. Most of us associate the word ‘bouba’ with softer, rounded objects and ‘kiki’ with angular shapes. Diners are asked to decide which part of the dish is Bouba and start with that, before finishing with Kiki – going on how the sounds of those two words relate to what they see.
Believe Nothing of What You Hear tests the relationship between auditory stimuli and taste. Listening to a specially recorded soundtrack through headphones, diners were asked to pay attention to how different frequencies affect flavour and texture on their palates.
‘We don’t manipulate or distract the senses, the chef’s table incorporates lights, sounds, aromas and even a projection mapped table to create a rich multi-sensory experience that works to support delicious food. Our desire is simply to heighten the guests’ mindful and sensory appreciation of our dishes and the flavours within,’ explains Jozef.
The educational experience is a must-visit for anyone with a passion for food and will seriously make you think twice about the little details next time you sit down to a meal. Even the orientation of the food on the plate has been proven to affect flavour, as does the colour of the cutlery. Bon appetit!
Gastrophysics is open Tuesday to Sunday, and costs £160 for 13 courses and a selection of drinks paired to the dishes. The chef’s table accommodates up to 10 diners and can be booked for exclusive use, with reservations taken up to two months in advance. For more information visit gastrophysics.co.uk.