Hands up if you haven't been to The Orbit Room. You big liar. If you're as old as I am you'll remember back in the '90s, staggering up a dark stairwell for some late night naughtiness. Rest assured, it hasn't changed much since then. Only now it's sharing space with The Feasting Room, the latest pop-up restaurant, where for the next six months an incredibly talented bunch of people (who all met on Craigslist, BTW) will hone their craft until a suitable location pops up for their first stand-alo
But as much as the bar-where-time-stood-still might be a trifle odd place to go for a feast, The Feasting Room delivers just that, a feast for the open-minded eater on the diningout circuit. And it all begins with a butcher-paper-wrapped and roasting-twine-tied menu. Charming with a capital "Ch".
Once unwrapped and unraveled, more cuteness and cleverness is revealed: like a butcher's chart divided into the nose-to-tail parts of the animal (in this case, lamb) you'll be dining on. And the option of not knowing what you'll be eating beforehand really adds to the mystery of this six-course tasting experience ($65; wine pairing, add $35). Knowing the pedigree of the chef, let's just say I'd let him put anything in my mouth while blindfolded. Chef and co-owner Noah Goldberg has worked for some the world's finest food talents: Susur Lee at Lee; Daniel Boulud at NYC's DB Bistro Moderne, and for top U.K. chefs Anthony Demetre at Wild Honey and Arbutus, and Fergus Henderson at St. John. Throw in tasty dish Mathieu Dutan (Bistro Bakery Thuet, La Palette) as GM, sommelier and co-owner, and you can bet this will be a night to remember.
The idea is this: each week they get in a whole cow or pig or sheep and between Thursday and Monday serve all the various parts, each day changing up the menu based on what's left. This week it's lamb and right from the amuse we're hooked. Love jerky? How about made from lamb heart? Marinated in hoisin, soy, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, garlic and parsley, and dehydrated for four to six hours, the result is one of the best ideas to replace a bread basket in eons. The adventure takes another turn with testicles. You heard right, balls on the table. Poached, snipped, then deep fried and served over an intensely lemony aioli. They are similar to sweetbreads with an omelet-like consistency, but you got to get over the castration anxiety, boys, or you're missing out on something extraordinary.
What follows is a tender confit of tongue on a bed of arugula. Much like a palate cleanser, this salad is surprisingly timid considering the blended flavours of parsley, dill, capers, shallots, garlic, thyme, mint and chervil. But it works.
Remember, it's all about honouring the sacrificial lamb and going that extra mile to ensure authenticity at every turn, and that includes ringing a cowbell when a new course is up or stocking the bathrooms with sheep's milk soap. But that pastoral image fades fast when something as sophisticated and urbane as a liver parfait arrives - something you'd expect out of the kitchen at Canoe. And as refined as it is, the kitchen deflates the pomposity by wryly naming the course "Silence of the lambs": Pan-seared and deglazed with sherry vinegar and chicken stock, the end result is a light velvety mousse in a glass jar under a mint fava bean puree and sealed with duck fat along with a lovely Chianti. Sheer brilliance - give this dish an Oscar Â©.
With ratings thus far off the charts, can it get any better? Uhmm, yeah! A marrow bone stuffed with lamb shank (from the hind and back) braised in chicken stock, mirepoix, garlic makes its way over. Once you get over the awe of the presentation, you'll devour every molecule on the plate. But the thrill is over so quickly you'll be tempted to pick up the bone to rip off any leftover pieces of meat. That alone would suffice, but this dish isn't over. Add to it the lightest, crispiest golden potato puffs, gravy and a little sheep's milk cheese and you are eating the most inventive, most decadent stylized poutine.
Next up "meatball faggots," says our waiter in a noticeably loud and proud tone. Excuse me? You heard correctly. Typically, this traditional British meatball consists of pork heart, liver, breadcrumbs and onions wrapped in caul fat. But for our dining pleasure it's comprised of braised ground lamb shoulder, heart, kidney, liver and lung with caramelized onions. Too bad it's a bit too dry and chalky and so far the only disappointment. But with the current track record, this is merely a minor misstep.
Mini tagines stuffed with lamb kidneys, Israeli couscous and chick peas has everything flying all over the table each time you try to cut inside these tiny ceramic pots. And while tender and tasty, by now we were kind of hoping for something a bit more run-of-the-mill like a lamb chop, for example, to go along with this stunning sheep's milk with pickled cucumber, eggplant and harissa.
The repast comes to a close with a crÃ¨me brulee that, not surprisingly, has added chunks of sheep's milk. Problem is it imparts an unwanted acrid sourness and roughness to an otherwise textbook perfect custard. But a lavender gelee is a Godsend.
The Feasting Room clearly takes itself very seriously. Even presentation of the bill in a Winchester 12 gauge shotgun casing honours the kill of the week. Again no surprise from a team who spends six days a week in the kitchen and a day on a farm to take this whole animal food show to market. Even God rested on the seventh. Next up: Horse, hare and venison and if anyone can help them source woodcock, let them know.
Despite few relatively minor misfires and some easily fixable flavour flaws, execution, technique, heart (literally!) and soul, and presentation like these are indeed rare. Let's hope they find a place of their own soon so they can vacate The Orbit Room for an ambiance more deserving of the kind of food they are turning out. But in closing, if I may add, doing wine pairings with fine wines in cheap dollar store glasses is a bit of a turn-off. Just sayin'