Tuesday, 29 April 2014

After Hours Dessert with Mark Donald: Pop-up at Ozone Coffee Roasters, London

Last month, scrolling through Twitter, I stumbled across a retweet mentioning a four course dessert pop-up in London. A mere mention of dessert and my ears prick up. Anyway a few clicks and a couple of text messages later, I'd booked a place for me and a friend to go to After Hours on Good Friday - a perfect Bank Holiday activitity, especially considering my Easter egg stash gets smaller and smaller each year (I actually had none this time round *sniff*).

At After Hours, they champion modern and innovative dessert; inviting London's most exciting pastry chefs to create a spectacular four course tasting menu for sweet toothed attendees, held in independent coffee shops across London. They've worked with chefs from restaurants including The Fat Duck, The Ledbury, and Opera Tavern, but on this occasion - at Ozone Coffee Roasters in Shoreditch - Mark Donald from Hibiscus took centre stage.

Mark is currently sous chef at the acclaimed Mayfair restaurant. He's previously spent time at 2 Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie, as well as a five month stint at that famous Danish place, Noma. The £25 ticket, which seemed like an absolute steal, included the four desserts and a coffee with petit fours to round the evening off. There were three different sittings, of which we chose the latest option at 9.30pm, and beer/wine/cocktails/soft drinks were available at an extra charge.

Getting dressed up and going out solely for dessert is pretty much any girl's dream (unless you're health/diet obsessed, and if that's you, bore off). I'd not been to Ozone before, but it's a large idustrial styled space split over two floors; an espresso bar and open kitchen, completed with stylish booths and seating areas upstairs, whilst the in house roastery malarky goes on downstairs. They clearly run a well oiled machine.

We were sat in prime position at the open kitchen bar top, meaning we could watch all the theatrics of the chefs plating up the art-like desserts, and we could also get sneak previews of what was yet to come. Raising a toast to the long weekend with some prosecco, a little Easter inspired treat came our way. Nestled in an egg box, and in real egg shells, we had a coconut mousse with a passion fruit coulis. It's at this point that I will apologise for my lack of knowledge on exactly what we had; the menu teased us with listing just the names of each basic element, and I was too busy gawping at the dishes to take notes when they were served. So perhaps consider this an approximation on the After Hours pop-up..

The first course was 'Sweetcorn, Basil, Bergamot'A biscuit-y disk topped with a bergamot cream and adorned with plain and caramel coated popcorn, served with a glowing green quenelle of basil sorbet. It really was ALL about the sorbet, I loved how fresh and clean tasting it was.

Next up was 'Pistachio, Gariguette'. A pastry tart case, filled with 'Gariguette Strawberries' (an old and much-loved French variety that produces sweet and aromatic fruits early in the season) and a gorgeous pistachio crème pat/custard, sealed off with a delicate lid of caramelised sugar - as if stolen from a crème brûlée.The plate was sprinkled with pistachio and strawberry dust, and sauces of the same flavours. The vibrant red and green combinations looked fantastic on the white plate (it tasted as good as it looked too), and there really is nothing more satisfying than making that first crack in the sugar with your spoon.

The third course was a puzzler; 'Rhubarb, Ghruth Dhu'. The first part is pretty simple - rhubarb - we know that, having been only lightly cooked to still contain some of it's bite and sharpness. The other element seemed like a cheesecake of sorts, and it really did have that cheese-like taste.

Looking up the unusual name when I got home was a bit of a revelation. Gruth Dhu (or Black Crowdie) is a soft cream cheese with slightly sour, tangy milky flavour, which is what I was getting taste-wise. The actual cheese is rolled in pinhead oatmeal and crushed peppercorns, which explains the intensely black, black pepper custard, and the little oatcakes served with it too. The additional 'h' in the name must be to distinguish the fact that it's Mark's own clever take on the cheese.

Having this slight savoury course in amongst all the sweet was a good move as it prepared us for the last course. Titled 'Buen-no?' the only thing we could think of were Kinder Bueno's... Correct. I've not had a Kinder Bueno for years, and after this version, I very much doubt I'll have one again, at least not anytime soon; it simply can't compete. A wafer and hazelnut parfait, cased in white and milk chocolate, served with a scoop of wafer flavoured ice cream, splatters of silky chocolate sauce and crowned with wafer-y gold dust; majestic.

It was 'Coffee & Swedgers' before hometime. Apparently this word is commonly used in and around the Glasgow area (Mark is Scottish) to describe penny sweets bought from ice-cream vans. 'Swedgers', however, can also be used to describe pill or tablet based illicit drugs such as ecstasy; so the vintage sweet tin masquerading a wealth of bite sized 'sugar highs' is all very tongue in cheek

A strong caffeine hit in the form of an espresso and we dived in. Classic cinder toffee, with it's honeycomb appearance, had a wonderful honey flavour too. A lime curd filled macaron; subtly sweet and citrusy. A sugarcoated sea buckthorn jelly dome; bigger, better flavoured and less chewy than a Jelly Tot. And finally the opinion dividing bacon fudge; very soft maple-y fudge, coated in crumbs which resembled Frazzles crisps. I liked the weirdness of it, but my dessert night accomplice wasn't so sure.

All in all, a perfect night was had. We ate, drank and bascially watched an elaborate performance in the kitchen. For £25, it was a FEAST for the eyes and for the belly.

BTW: Amazing photos of the evening can be seen in cwiss's Flickr Photostream - puts my poor phone snaps to shame.

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