House of Wolf, 181 Upper Street, London N1

Might the experiments at House of Wolf be better left in the lab?

Experimental dining is a baleful concept. It takes two wonderful habits in which our species excels and, by conjoining them, besmirches both. Dining is wonderful because it elevates food from the realm of nutrition to that of culture. Experimentation is wonderful because it was only when our forebears threw off the shackles of organised religion, and dared to know through science, that our lives went from being nasty, brutish and short to stuffed full of newspapers with pompous restaurant critics. But experimental dining? No.

When I turn up at a restaurant, I want the experiments to have been finished, boxes ticked, conclusions drawn, perfection on each plate. What I don't want is the sense that the kitchen is making it up as they go along. Particularly when you're paying more than average for the experience.

Worse still, when you book, the following text arrives as part of the email confirmation. It's all in capitals, but I'll save you the headache: "By booking and attending House of Wolf you are entering into an experimental dining scenario. This means you accept things may stray a little out of the ordinary in terms of both the food you will be served and the manner in which you consume it. Please use common sense at all times when handling sharps [sic] and using the various implements you will be supplied with. We can accept no responsibility for injuries sustained in this manner."

There are two points to make about this. The first is that it is wholly irrelevant to the experience of House of Wolf. The second is that a paragraph could hardly be better crafted to destroy the appetite in advance of arrival.

House of Wolf boasts "pop-up chef residencies" and November's comes courtesy of Blanch & Shock, whose tasting menu is £45 (there is an accompanying, but not compulsory, drinks list at £25). A full 87 minutes after we arrive, all we've eaten is the first of six courses: an Einkorn wholegrain bread and yoghurt whey butter, the latter coming from a churn in the kitchen, apparently. We are told that by a waitress called Katie, who seems to be the only one of the waiting staff to have a clue what is going on – though the fact that the menu changes monthly may help explain why they often haven't the foggiest what they're serving up.

It's almost an hour-and-a-half in by the time we get raw prawns in British lardo, with hogweed (also known as cow parsnip), mallow oil and salad burnet. The leaves are fine and flavoursome, the prawns lifeless in every sense, and the salty, ultra-fatty lardo is half-left by my mate Eve but gladly gobbled by Henry, Charlie and I. Next is a wild sea bass that has been left in dill vinegar for 20 minutes to "cook", Isle of Bute dulse, purple oxalis leaf, chervil root and celery cress. If you're struggling to keep up, so are we. This tastes like a tour of Monty Don's childhood, except for the sea bass, which is too tough.

Then there is excellent wild mallard duck with chestnuts, scarlet hawberries, Jerusalem artichokes and melliot; dry beef with under-powered fermented turnips (missing from two of our plates), dandelions, and a lovely oyster emulsion; and finally "textures" of Brogdale apples, quince, sourdough brioche eggy bread, yoghurt curd and buttered black tea.

That's a lot going on. Experimental dining indeed. I have huge admiration for the young, ambitious chefs here with brilliant imaginations, but taken together, their menu tastes more like an argument between courses than a conversation. This point hits home when, finally, we are given a bonus cocktail – a horrendous, boozy beetroot mixture – and then, dear me, told to bite on a szechuan pepper, which makes our tongues fizz and converts the House of Wolf, however briefly, into the House of Flying Daggers.

This is yuppy central, by the way. Everyone is under 35 and the music is Finley Quaye, Tenor Saw and Barrington Levy. It's well-intentioned, but a long way from the finished product. Anyone who has worked in a new opening knows it takes time to get the process right, and I am loath to be harsh about an ambitious start-up. But seriously, guys. Experiments are for your lab, not for our dinner table.



House of Wolf 181 Upper Street, London N1, tel: 020 7288 1470 Dinner daily, about £180 for four, plus drinks

Daring to be different

The Fat Duck

High Street, Bray, Berkshire, tel: 01628 580 333

Heston Blumenthal’s mind-blowing theatre-on-a-plate offers a transcendental experience; the only thing more incredible than the food is the bill…

Gourmet Spot

The Avenue, Durham, tel: 0191 384 6655

It’s not the location (off-centre), the wine list (pedestrian) or the dining-room (too small) which makes this basement restaurant stand out… but cuisine that’s not afraid of experimentation

Midsummer House

Midsummer Common, Cambridge, tel: 01223 369 299

The daring cuisine delivered  in a tasting-menu format by Daniel Clifford currently ranks it among the UK’s top-10 culinary destinations

Reviews extracted from Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable