Samuel Muston: Step away from the Soylent and enjoy the pleasures of real food
We have arrived. We are in the endgame. What looked once like science fiction has become incontrovertible fact – or at least that is what Rob Rhinehart's publicity department would have us believe. The 25-year-old San Francisco-based entrepreneur claims to have spent the past year living almost entirely off a drinkable "food substitute" of his own invention called Soylent, a sort of Ambrosia for millennials, if you will.
The 25-year-old engineering student may live in the Tenderloin area of the Californian city but, as a long profile of him in The New Yorker last week reveals, if he has his way, we soon won't be eating anything so "inefficient" as meat. He has secured investment from "Silicon Valley venture capitalists" and a "blue-chip investment firm" to develop, market and then flog the product to the world. Already, in fact, he has "subscribers" for the drink which, Rhinehart claims, contains all the 35 nutrients we need to survive. Apparently, the taste is "smooth but grainy" and like "watered-down pancake batter". Lucky old subscribers.
At this point, like me, you may have two thoughts. First, Rhinehart sounds as mad as a box of frogs. And, two, why? Although, I can't account for the first, The New Yorker has a pretty good stab at the second. The whole project came about as a means to save money – he had already tried a McDonald's diet and another in which he ate only kale (!) – and also because he considers eating food to be a waste of time and a "hassle".
Although if he had his way, Rhinehart would do for gastronomy what the Evil Queen did for the apple trade, I am willing to accept that he probably does believe he is on the side of the angels. The problem, it seems to me, is that he has been eating in all the wrong places.
Twice this week, in two different restaurants, I thought about the sludge-drinking American. Once in the Typing Room, the new restaurant by 26-year-old wunder-chef Lee Westcott, at the Town Hall Hotel in East London and again, across town, at Angela Hartnett's Cafe Murano. Both are distinct in style, but alike in representing, in some small way, all that I love about food and restaurants and eating out.
Take the Typing Room first. I spent three lovely hours sitting around a table with four pals drinking wines – too many wines, in fact – and working my way through a six-course tasting menu of rare inventiveness and charm. Every little dish (see picture above) – from the courgette and basil profiterole snackette to the delicately cooked pigeon with baked celeriac and hazelnut – was clever and witty. It was as though Westcott were a painter, his plate the canvas and the ingredients his oils. I could have stayed for three more hours and the bill for the food: £55. Top marks.
Cafe Murano is a different kettle of fish entirely. The informal sister restaurant of Michelin-starred Murano, it is everything you want from an Italian restaurant: intimate, jolly, run with precision and style by GM Zoe Charlton-Brown, a place where you order an Aperol spritz and while away the hours treading water in your date's eyes. The food here is traditional Lombardian and features a brace of dishes that are made to Hartnett's mother's recipe. The pasta tastes as if freshly made that day (it is) and someone must have gone the length and breadth of Italy to get that charcuterie. They also do unknowable things with an octopus. Cafe Murano is not trying to reinvent the wheel, what it is doing is making the very best wheel possible.
So get on a flight, Rob, come out for an evening with me, rediscover the joy in food; stop pouring Soylent down your neck – put it down the drain instead.
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