Back to the future at Retro Feasts | Embassy Mayfair, 29 Old Burlington Street, London, W1S 3AN
Retro. What does it mean to you? To me it’s my old ZX Spectrum, gate-fold vinyl albums and a grey Sergio Tacchini roll-neck jumper. So what about retro food? I think of boiled sweets in paper bags, Findus crispy pancakes, boil in the bag fish and coconut and jam sponge with watery custard.
So I Googled the word – Wikipedia says ‘Retro is a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode, or fashion, from the overall post-modern past, that has since that time become functionally or superficially the norm once again. It generally implies a vintage of at least fifteen or twenty years. For example, clothing from the 1990s could be retro.’
So why my concern over all things retro? Well if Wiki is to be believed then Chef Luke Thomas (born October 1993) is only just old enough to be considered retro! The 19-year-old chef who caused quite a stir on the BBC3 show ‘Britain’s youngest head chef‘ has once again paired up with self-styled rock & roll hotelier Mark Fuller.
The first time they hooked up was at the Sanctum on The Green Hotel where Luke’s Dining Room takes pride of place. This time they’ve teamed up to take over the ground floor restaurant at the Embassy nightclub for a six month pop-up.
Retro Feasts (now you understand my earlier retro ramblings) promises ‘a food and drink concept inspired by our childhood favourites, cleverly revitalised for today’s open minded diners. Not to be taken too seriously…’
We expected wall to wall Rubik’s Cubes and other late 80s and early 90’s bric-a-brac, a bit like the brilliantly styled Breakfast Club. But the decor was rather subdued. There were a few nice touches, the table football being one, the rest was more vintage than retro. That said we were here for the food, not for a hit of nostalgic interior design! And to be fair what’s the point of a massive decorators bill when it’s only a six month run?
The launch party made the tabloids and the online gossip pages, mostly thanks to the attendance of the cast of Made in Chelsea and TOWIE. Tom Rayfield, bar manager and creator of Retro Feasts‘ amazing cocktail list, told us that the guests drank their way through 800 cocktails and over 100 bottles of wine, talk about being thirsty!
We settled down at our table and had a quick scan through the short but varied menu. This was the first time that we’d seen what was on offer as, unusually the menu wasn’t online.
First thing first, let’s get the cocktails sorted, and what amazing cocktails they are too. Tom has done a brilliant job on these little beauties, it’s worth a visit just to work your way through all twelve of them. We had two each and we really found it hard to pick an overall winner.
Saff kicked off with a Sherbet Fountain £9.50, she loved the hint of liquorice from the Pernod Absinthe and the lemon from the flavoured vodka and limoncello. But it was the crumbled Buzz buttons that was the real reason that she chose this drink, the first (and last) time we had this little flower bud was at the amazing rooftop bar at Petit Ermitige in LA (read our review here). They send your taste buds into a tingly frenzy that highlight all the flavours in the cocktail.
My first cocktail was the Cheeky Vimto £8.50, from the favourites section. All the fruity flavour of the soft drink but with the alcoholic hit from the white port, Absolut Apple, Chambord and Blue Curaçao. Both these cocktails were served in jam jars, but not your usual jam jars, Kilner jam jars nevertheless!
We tore ourselves away from the cocktail list to order our meal. I simply had to try Luke’s interpretation of the humble yet very kitsch Cheese and Pineapple £5. The tangy breaded balls of goat’s cheese were, as always, a great combo with the juicy squares of pineapple that were sprinkled with toasted coriander seeds.
I also ordered the Peas and ham £7.50, purely because I loved the sound of the crispy egg, and I wasn’t disappointed. The block of ham hock ‘terrine’ was ever so slightly smoky, whilst the fresh garden peas and bread beans added a sweet crunch. Loved the piped dollops of pea purée too but the star of the dish was the halved soft-boiled egg in its thin yet incredibly crispy coating.
Saff’s starter was the classic Prawn Cocktail £5. A few king prawns and a good handful of the smaller atlantic prawns. Along with the usual shredded lettuce, there was some mini cubes of tomato, cucumber and avocado and creamy Marie-Rose sauce.
At this point we decided to go for another cocktail. I must point out that they do have a good wine list and a fully stocked bar too. But we were so impressed by the first cocktails that we couldn’t resist another. Tom suggested that Saff had an Earl of Mayfair £10. Served in a teacup and saucer with a huge chunk of crystal sugar. The idea is to add the sugar to the Earl Grey infused gin and grapefruit bitters but not stir it. As the sugar dissolves the taste of the drink evolves – a very grown up drink.
I, on the other hand, embraced my inner child and asked for the Rhubarb & Custard £9.50 from the ‘sweet shop’. This vodka based drink’s sweet frothy Advocaat ‘custard’ topping was incredible and struck the perfect balance with the sharp rhubarb purée and cranberry juice. Saff’s Dad will be pleased that Advocaat has a starring role in this cocktail. He’s determined to make the Snowball trendy again!
On to the grown-up meals. You can’t beat Fish fingers and skinny fries £12.50, although these fish fingers weren’t what I expected. They were more like fish cake fingers and maybe a little under-seasoned. The fries were really good, and tasted a little like how I used to prepare a box of ‘micro chips’. I used to microwave them as suggested but then shallow fried them to give them that chip shop crunch. Hey! Maybe I was first to make triple cooked chips?
Saff’s Sweet and Sour Chicken £12.50, was a tad off the mark. Perhaps this was because Luke was busy with his day job and wasn’t working his magic in Retro Feasts‘ kitchen. The food he cooked for us at Sanctum on the Green was stunning (read our review here.) The sweet and sour sauce did exactly what it says on the tin. The egg fried rice was more like scrambled egg rice, a really unusual texture – a little like a savoury rice pudding. I loved it, but Saff wasn’t so sure.
Talking of Rice Pudding £5, that’s exactly what I had for desert. It almost instantly formed a skin, a good thing in my mind. The rice had a real bite to it and wasn’t overly sweet – well until you mix in a huge dollop of strawberry jam that is… Saff also really enjoyed her Peach Melba £5, so much so she didn’t even offer me a taste! The poached halved peach had a caramelised sugar topping with a very satisfying crunch. A few fresh raspberries and a raspberry sauce prettied up the plate which was finished off with a big scoop of ice cream topped with toasted almonds.
Messing with people’s food memories is dangerous game to play. Nostalgia is a very powerful emotion and can evoke very strong criticism. But overall I reckon that Luke’s done a great job. Add to this the fact that Tom has created some of the best cocktails we’ve had. So get down to Retro Feasts because before you know it’ll be Christmas and this pop-up will become its own little slice of retro history.
29 Old Burlington Street,
London, W1S 3AN
Telephone: 020 7494 5660
Tuesday – Friday – Open from 12pm – 3pm & 6pm – Late
Saturday – Open from 6:00pm – Really late
Sunday & Monday – Closed
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus & Piccadilly Circus