The Art of Style – The Samling guest chef evening at Harvey Nichols, Leeds
Ian Swainson of the Michelin Star restaurant, The Samling, has designed a thought provoking, visually eclectic and at times, slightly challenging menu exclusively for the Fourth Floor Restaurant at Harvey Nichols in Leeds.
I joined a small group of diners to try this 6 course tasting menu, and I’m just going to drop the spoiler right in here… it was wonderful.
The difference with this menu, is that Ian has taken inspiration from iconic works of art and interpreted them through his food. It can’t have been an easy task, taking almost 6 months in development, from initial conversations with Harvey Nichols.
Ian spoke to us after the meal and explained that he explored the artists’ back catalogues, until he found a piece that sparked that creativity – some dishes were borne more quickly than others – but each course (as you’ll see) has some innovative techniques or flavour combinations that are outstanding. Especially impressive, as this is a menu created for a limited 2 day service, away from his usual kitchen at The Samling.
We started with a cocktail. ‘Lavender Fields’ takes inspiration from the works of Claude Monet – and it’s easy to see why. The dream-like cloud of lavender syrup swirling up from the bottom of the glass instantly put me in mind of Monet’s style. Our non-alcoholic version was made with fresh lemon juice and topped with fresh blackberries, the rim decorated with lavender. A really pretty, very sweet but refreshing start to the meal.
Our table was then served a red pepper and chorizo risotto with saffron and squid. The bright colours a stark contrast to the pale table (and the grey Leeds sky we could see). A deep flavoured, well balanced sweet and spicy dish, as full of life as it’s muse – Orange, Red, Yellow by Mark Rothko.
But what is a snail cigar, you may well ask (we did). I can finally answer that question! Oxtail and snail braised in a bourguignon, encased in a crisp ‘cigar’ with intensely flavoured garlic and parsley sauces. This felt quite decadent – rich on the palette with a fantastic sweetness coming from the garlic. Inspired by Yorkshire’s own David Hockney and his ‘More Felled Trees on Woldgate’. Not just a visual interpretation of the art, by any means… a perfect taste delineation.
When you see the words Damien Hirst, it’s a safe bet to assume whatever follows is going to be challenging and divisive. ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ or ‘that shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde’ as you might less-formally know it as, doesn’t instantly make my mouth water with anticipation, but that’s the beauty of this next dish. Swainson explained that he enjoyed playing with perception here – this dish just eradicates all expectations when it arrives – and that gives him the chance to surprise and challenge the diner. Unapologetically a ‘chef’s dish’, but I loved how provoking this was. The appearance of the whole sardine, eyeballing the diners, sliced into 3, with bright ‘raw fish flesh’ coloured radish sauerkraut seemingly spilling from its insides, and chunks of dehydrated bread between. It wasn’t a ‘pretty’ dish to say the least. However, it was playful, clever, interesting and extremely well put together. I’m not a sardine fan, but even I could appreciate the flavour that was packed in here. The radish sauerkraut was utterly delicious and unexpected. This is one dish that will absolutely be a talking point for anyone fortunate enough to experience it on this run.
Compared to the previous course, duck, carrot and spinach sounds very tame doesn’t it? The menu gave nothing away here, except that this dish was inspired by Jackson Pollock’s No.8. On reading that, I had images of the chef having real fun at replicating Pollock’s style, on a plate.
It arrived and I’m sure the whole table was as delighted as I was. Vivid splashes of orange (carrot), purple (red cabbage), and green (spinach) adorned the plate in true Pollock fashion. The carrots were intensely flavoured – that’s not something I’ve said before! But they were a real crowd pleaser. This was definitely a foodie dish. The (local) duck, flavourful and tender, the sauces with real depth and contrast, and of course, the appearance – just really pleasurable to behold, and eat.
Pre-dessert was delightful. A Monet-inspired lemon posset with vanilla sky vinaigrette. The dehydrated, crisp milk foam (technically challenging to produce) and vanilla dust, sent wafts of beautifully scented vanilla up from the plate. That was the first thing I noticed, and I love it when a dish really does get all your senses stirred up. Visually it was beautiful too. Photographs don’t do justice to the shimmering silver on the deep ‘night sky’ blue.
Breaking through the ‘jelly’ (sky) was a fun challenge, but it was well rewarded. Once cracked, it revealed an opulent purple colour, and a soft, thin layer of lemon posset, flavoured with basil. This was such a joy, and brought some stifled giggles in our corner, when trying to break the milk foam without sending it across the table!
Five courses down and I’ll admit, I was struggling for room (even though I didn’t eat all of the fish course). I think I need to train before taking on a tasting menu again. But, you know, for the cause… for you, I had to power on through and eat dessert. I’m so glad I did.
Salvador Dali is one of my favourite artists, and it made me so happy to see the dessert was inspired by the melting clocks of The Persistence of Memory . But it’s not straightforward to make a dessert worthy of the great Surrealist. Ian Swainson told us how he commissioned bespoke moulds to be made for the ‘clock’, and sizing was a challenge – how to get it to be visually striking and ‘melt’, but not be too large for a tasting menu dessert? Not only that, but making sure the liquorice iced parfait was sufficiently chilled beforehand, and taken out at the right time was essential to get the effect he wanted.
The melting parfait was delicious – even diners who didn’t love liquorice were won over by it. It draped over a wafer-thin brandy snap that bulged with boozy cream with blackcurrants spilling out from either side. It looked incredible, it tasted divine. Easily one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted.
The sheer volume of development and work that went into this menu is very clear. To have Michelin star standard food brought to Leeds and be accessible in ‘Harvey Nics’ is a real treat. Although this has made me look at booking into The Samling as soon as I’m able. Chef Swainson told us that this is a glimpse of things to come for him. He likes to create his own art, and loved that this menu allowed him to reduce the number of elements to a dish and really focus on making simple ingredients really spectacular.
It’s an exciting thing, to be able to enjoy such a well put together ‘themed’ menu, but also to be able to speak to the creative mind behind it. Thank you to Harvey Nichols – Leeds for inviting me to the lunch. It truly was a wonderful afternoon.
The Art of Style event is at Harvey Nichols, Leeds on Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th September at 7pm, and tickets are 75.00 per person and include cocktail and canapes on arrival, a 6 course dinner and coffee. There are limited spaces left at the event, so if you want to try this amazing art and food crossover in Leeds, call 0113 204 8000 to book.