I love food, but I’m not one to admire celebrity chefs or know who all the up and coming movers and shakers are in the industry. I’m a consumer, I just so happen to enjoy taking photos of it and writing about it to share the love. I hadn’t heard of Chef Ben Spalding or what Puzzle Projects was before last week, but I happily found out last Thursday night, in an unassuming 1st floor small function room in Clapton, and 13 courses later, here it is.
Immediately as we walked into the room, we witnessed the longest chef’s table ever – 67 people to be exact. Yes, it was a mixture odd tables stacked end to end, even though they were uneven heights and a mismatch of chairs, but that just added to the rustic hodgepodge the evening was going to unfold. We found our name cards and took our seats as we watched the team of chefs work in front us, an assembly line of worker bees performing a pre-dinner theatre show before us. (Later on we realised that they are plating up the 43 Ingredient Salad, read further).
Not before long, the table was full and a ceremonial gong was struck which signalled the start of the dinner. Ben introduced himself and talked us through the menu, introducing each dish and at times, explained the lack of cutlery (‘you slurp it up from the bowl!’). He’s charismatic, charming, modest, and seemingly a bit shy, but he sure knows what he’s doing. He’s worked at some of the world’s finest restaurants and travelled around the world with his culinary skills. And now he’s launched Puzzle Projects, a dining and events package of experiences that range from small plates (canape style), to intimate dinners, to full banquets, all cooked by him, and guaranteed to push the envelope in taste and flavours.
Each dish had such strong flavours that all balanced together so well, like the Lasagna of Umami Shortrib (which construction of the lasagne itself apparently took over 4 hours). And texture – the #TurkeyWars which was flaky, smokey, crispy turkey meat in the richest broth with mushroom. The contrast in the Hot & Cold Soup just left us all one finger shy of licking the bowl clean. And of course there was the 43 Ingredient salad, complete with its own checklist, and eaten with chopsticks so you can savour each bite.
I can’t and won’t write about each dish, it’s impossible and it won’t do it justice. The whole approach just works. Over the course of 4 hours we laughed, we cried (from laughter), made new friends (as you would while sat on a communal table), and spent a lot of time going ‘mmmmmm’ only to then realise the entire table of 67 people also doing the same. If fine-dining with crisp white linen and a fancy wine sommelier is more you, then maybe this isn’t your thing. But if you’re up for some Michelin-quality food, a whole lot of fun, in a relaxed, laid back evening, then definitely go check out his next supperclub. He’s currently got dates over the next upcoming months with the #AllGunsBlazing concept: a 12-15 course menu created jointly by Ben a guest Michelin starred Chef for one night only, at £55 per person.
And for all those wondering what the balloon was, it was ‘Lick it! Inhale it! Drink it!’. And yes, there was helium involved and a lot of singing.
‘A self-proclaimed vegetarian but will eat anything in the name of culture. Loves food, photography, people, and a slight unhealthy obsession with dogs’ -Michelle Chen