Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bompas & Parr pancake magic at Harvey Nichols

Culinary alchemists Bompas & Parr unveiled their latest set of tricks at Harvey Nichols last week, celebrating Shrove Tuesday in style with an evening of pancake-flipping frippery at the 5th floor restaurant. The event, in collaboration with Lyle's Golden Syrup, kicked off with a pear Bellini, which, when stirred with a magic swizzle stick, turned purple.

While enjoying my now grape-tinged Bellini, I'm ushered to my seat. The restaurant is packed with expectant spectators. At the crashing of a cymbal, Bompas & Parr appear, handsomely dressed in black tailcoats and white bow ties. Overflowing with energy, the boys explain their aim for the evening – to woo and wow us with their magic skills – then quickly launch into their first act: electrocuting a gherkin. Bompas stabs electrodes into the gherkin while Parr mans the mains. It sparks a little a first, but doesn't create the fireball they were hoping for. The second attempt proves more fruitful – the gherkin lights up like an engorged glow-worm, and leaps into the air from the 240-volt shock.

Having made the humble gherkin magnificent, there is a two-course interlude in which to get down to the serious business of eating. The paper-thin discs of beef carpaccio served beneath a rocket and parmesan salad are delectable, as is the hearty, silver-skinned sea bass piled high atop a new potato throne, though I was slightly disappointed at how un-magical the food was, given the theme of the evening. I'd rather hoped for something more ludic and Heston-like, or at least a sprinkling of popping candy here and there.

Before our magical pancake pudding, the boys reappear. Bompas is holding a huge black goblet filled with moonshine. He passes it round the restaurant, asking everyone to take a sip. When it gets to me, I stick my head in. It's the most intoxicating smell I've ever experienced – like pure ethanol mixed with nail polish remover, making me instantly light-headed. My lungs object to the onslaught and I begin to cough. Soldiering on, I take a sip. It's lethal. A few more and I'd be on the floor. The salty aftertaste leaves me craving for something sweet.

For their next trick Bompas leaps inside a black box, while Parr attempts to make liquid nitrogen ice cream on Sam's stomach. He cracks a few eggs, pours some cream down a test tube, fills the black box with nitrogen, then proceeds to saw Sam in half to the sound of the Top Gun soundtrack. Having been put back together, Sam emerges, Humpty Dumpty-like, covered in egg. "Some things are best left across the road", Parr quips, in reference to Heston Blumenthal's runaway success Dinner at the neighbouring Mandarin Oriental hotel.

After a quick outfit change, the boys have two more tricks up their sleeves before pudding. Having traced the enzymes that make fire flies glow, they show us the enzymes in action, making the clear liquid inside a medicine bottle glow turquoise for a few glorious minutes. For their final flourish, they blow up a tin of Golden Syrup, causing a bang so loud my ears nearly bleed. The violence of the explosion is offset by the beauty of the resulting Time Square-style ticker tape shower.

Finally, it's time for pudding. We're presented with a pair of pancakes, upon which is a silver spoon. Upon the spoon is a red pill made from the miracle berry – a small red fruit grown in Africa. Along with the pill is a note, stating: "In 257 years of production, there have been no known side effects, but please take the pill at your own risk." Always keen to push culinary boundaries, I can't wait to try it. Sucking the pill blocks your bitter receptors, causing sour foods to appear sweet.

I give mine a good go, sucking it almost into non existence, and then, having doused my pancake with lashings of lemon juice, take a bite. It has worked. The sharp sensation has been replaced with an overriding sweetness. Still unconvinced, I chomp on a wedge of lemon, expecting to wince, but it's perfectly sweet. My tastebuds have been hypnotized into thinking sour things sweet. I'm seriously impressed, if a little concerned that my sour receptors may never return. How clever to have tricked my tongue. Alas, I didn't go home with one of the 10 food and magic kits the boys were giving away, but I did bag a box of Golden Syrup chewing gum, which tasted of childhood.

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