I’d meaning to go to a supper club for a long while so when my foodie companion suggested a tasting menu by Carousel’s current chef-residency, Toshio Tanahashi, I seized the opportunity. Carousel is a new pop-up venue near Baker Street with an open kitchen home to an ever-changing line-up of talented chefs from around the world. The chefs share a philosophy on what eating out should be all about: amazing cooking, friendly service, a relaxed environment and a shared experience from one table to the next. Split over three floors, their revolving creative hub is not only home to a carefully curated programme of chef residencies, but also art exhibitions from up-and-coming talent in their Upstairs gallery space.
The ethos of the chef on stage in December did sound very me: Toshio Tanahashi is a Buddisht chef, whose diet is entirely vegan. The shojin-ryori cooking isn’t just a matter of technique, but a spiritual experience which he hopes will lead towards greater understanding of the way we view our food and our dietary habits. 56 year-old Toshio is the master of his art, respected the world over by leading chefs such as René Redzepi. In fact, he’s off to Noma after his fortnight at Carousel. And our choice of Carousel tonight felt very timely as Tashio had been featured in an interview special in the Guardian that same day (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/10/japanese-chef-toshio-tanahashi-kitchen-encounters), which reported his love of, inter alia, ponzu, tidying as you go and his search for happy vegetables!
Shojin cooking was first introduced to Kyoto monasteries by the Chinese in the 7th century. Sho means “purify” and jin comes from the word for “advance.” In other words, it means to “move forward whilst respecting the old, and keeping oneself pure.” This is a truly unique opportunity for us to open our minds to the infinite possibilities of vegetables and to truly engage with the food on our plates. Indeed, his five reflections before a meal epitomise mindfulness: (1) engage with the food; (2) reflect upon your day and yourself; (3) observe whether your own spirit is pure like the food; (4) chew slowly and enjoy every bite; and (5) be thankful for all, and eat with gratitude.
Our appetizer for the evening was Goma-Tofu, Celery Root and Beetroot Sauce. Whilst it was something I’d never tasted before and I do enjoy experimenting with new flavours, I’m not convinced about raw tofu and felt the dish could have done with a lot more flavour and heat.
Then came the Menchin-Jiru Miso Soup with Winter Root Vegetables, Fried Tofu and Mizuna. Again, I’m not that familiar with miso, however, I may just be a miso soup convert. It was oozing with flavour and I loved the more chewy and crunchy texture of the (fried) tofu – an exception to my usual healthier choices!
The highlight of the evening for me, however, was the next course: a salad of Romanesco, Long Bean, Shiitake Mushroom, Kaki (Sharon fruit), Sesame and Basil Dressing. The dish also featured wonderfully textured cauliflower romanesco and sweet potato. I’m still in awe of the salad dressing – I’m going to have to put my thinking cap on to recreate it.
Equally as impressive was the Spring Roll of Purple Sweet Potato, Apple, Lemon, Shiso and Shimeji Mushrooms. Each course seemed to be getting better and better. Purple potatoes are rare to come by and I’d only ever come across them in Mexican dishes so I was delighted to find them here.
The finishing piece for the evening was Grilled Onigiri, Vegetable Sauce and Rice. The shimeji mushrooms this came with and the crispy rice were outstanding and the ponzu – made by Tashio’s companion – is exceptional. Ponzu, like yuzu, is an Asian citrus spice and my companion’s yuzu-infused sake was a show-stopper.
All in all, the evening felt like our Eastern take on Christmas. The flavours were clean, rejuvenating and not overly heavy at all. It does reflect the beautiful purity of Japanese culture. I’m definitely tempted to go to Japan next year. Indeed, Carousel was set up by four cousins (Ollie, Will, Ed and Anna) who explain their inspiration for Carousel as follows: “When the four of us aren’t talking about food, drink or travel, we’re dreaming about it – so what if we were able to work side by side with the people behind our favourite restaurants from around the world, right here in London?” Sounds entirely logical to me and the evening’s courses tonight certainly felt like a culinary adventure.
Carousel, 71 Blandford Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 8AB