Good Food Blog
Empire of the sensesPosted at 11:15AM, 27 August 2008 by Adrian Bridgwater - Journalist
Many will have heard that Heston Blumenthal famously serves up an iPod loaded with a soundtrack featuring crashing waves with his Sounds of the Sea dish. Many more of us will know of the simple pleasures of eating fish and chips on England's pebble-strewn beaches. The salt and vinegar mix headily with the sea salt and ozone to provide a sensory experience unmatchable in the Fat Duck or any other fine dining establishment.
The fact that all of our senses are important to us when eating is a resounding truism. For me, satsumas and clementines always taste better eaten cold straight out of the brown paper bag when you buy them on a winter market stall than they ever will once you get them home into the fruit bowl.
The taste is in the moment and can't be artificially replicated, although some will try.
Recreating blarney-enriched fishing village bonhomie in the middle of Soho with a few old pots and pans on the wall and a collection of Sean O'Casey novels just doesn't cut it really, does it?
When it's done wrong of course, it's done oh so very wrong. O'Neill's Irish Pubs must surely be among the worst offenders. Recreating blarney-enriched fishing village bonhomie in the middle of Soho with a few old pots and pans on the wall and a collection of Sean O'Casey novels just doesn't cut it really, does it?
Much has been made in the media of the so-called scourge of chain-style theme pubs and franchises that are stripping our nation of its food identity. As Jenni notes, we seem happy to succumb to the numbing opiate of familiarity that comes with knowing you'll get the same level of service and quality as long as you stay brand loyal. Even if the food and drink available is bland and soulless. Many people, it seems, enjoy safe predictability.
It may be just an urban myth, but I've been told that Pizza Hut sprays garlic butter scent around their ovens to get customers salivating as soon as they walk through the door. But it's a far cry from the pizza parlours of New York or the forno a legna of backstreet Rome.
Everyone surely has their own special "sensory taste memory moment", be it in a Tuscan trattoria, a Portuguese fishing port or even a dusty British country pub after a Sunday walk.
My own matchless food experience was on the steps of a temple in the Egyptian city of Luxor. A small Egyptian man was slicing bread rolls open and filling them with feta cheese, tomato and cumin seeds that were so fresh he ground them between his fingers before sprinkling them inside. I actually didn't like feta cheese when I ordered one, but it looked so good that I willingly succumbed to conversion on the spot.
Perhaps not even Heston Blumenthal can compete with bread and cheese when you've got the Valley of the Kings as your backdrop then?