Do we ever really think about what it is we are eating and why we are eating that particular thing? Of course we think about how much we enjoy that food (hopefully), but most of the time, eating is never really a very meditative experience. Ilyas Kassam, an old university friend and now a writer of philosophy, begs to differ, believing that food can indeed be tied to thought. Taking this a step further, by associating food with the specific thoughts of well-known philosophers, Ilyas set up The Thinkers Balcony, a secret supper club, to encourage his diners to ‘engage with their desires, their beliefs, and of course their stomachs!’
The Thinkers Balcony is not like any private kitchen we know in Hong Kong; it is located in a beautiful traditional London town house in Notting Hill, in fact in Ilyas’ very own living room. The room is artistically decorated, with a gramophone, stacks of philosophical books, unusual hats, and most importantly a low table made from old wine cases, around which diners sit on cushions on the floor. As we sipped on glasses of Champagne (it’s BYOB – it would have been rude not to!) whilst we waited for the food to be presented, we took in our surroundings and knew we were in for an unforgettable experience.
Normally, diners coming to The Thinkers Balcony are aware of who the philosopher inspiring their meal is before they begin their feast. Ilyas had something different in store for us, however; our meal was entitled Mystery and the Unknown: An Existential Adventure of the Stomach, so the philosophy was not revealed until the end of the meal. Until then, each course led us on an inquisitive journey where we were encouraged to think really hard (seriously hard in fact) about what the thought governing the meal could be…
The first course, or the ‘prelude’, was Bergamot Ponzu Oyster with Ikura. I’m not always enamoured by oysters, yet I definitely was by these. The citrusy flavours of the bergamot and ponzu shone through and contrasted with the delicate chamomile leaf oil to create a delicious yet not thunder-stealing backdrop for the oyster.
‘Chapter 1’ was an incredible Japanese Tuna Tartare beautifully presented with edible flowers. With strong hints of sesame, buttery chunks of avocado and of course melt-in-the-mouth tuna, all you could hear around the table was the sound of delighted diners and cutlery scooping up every last crumb.
Our main course, ‘Chapter 2’, was Smoked Cognac Chipotle Beef and Tamago Donburi. As you can tell, Ilyas takes most of his inspiration from Japanese cuisine (and quite rightly too, as it’s one of my favourites). This dish arrived in three parts: first the sticky rice topped with tamago (Japanese omelette) and sesame, followed by a wooden board laden with rare chunks of steak that caused a tablewide round of ‘oooohs’, and finished off with a jug of chipotle sauce. Although the beef was a little chewy, it was beautifully infused with cognac, which tasted even better with a generous dash of the smoky, slightly spicy chipotle sauce.
‘Chapter 3’ was dessert: Black Truffle Ice Cream with Argan Baked Fig served on a pumpkin, date and hazelnut ‘sand’. Putting truffle in a dessert is a very brave move, as it isn’t to everyone’s taste. So, although there were a few confused and perhaps displeased palates around the room, those who did like it (including me!) made up for the haters and made sure every plate was licked clean. The combination of the unique flavours and textures really demonstrated Ilyas’ passion and skill in the kitchen.
Last but most certainly not least, for the ‘Epilogue’, we were presented with a plate of homemade Saffron Chocolates, the perfect end to a delicious meal. I wish I could have taken a box of these home with me.
Aside from the Champagne and wine we had brought ourselves, we were also served some exceptional teas from Ilyas’ vast collection from around the world; a unique touch to complement such a fun and adventurous meal.
After we had racked our brains to try and determine who the philosopher behind our feast was, we lifted our plates to reveal the absurd answer. I’m not going to give the secret away, just in case Ilyas uses this idea again, but I can tell you that it definitely surprised us and made us think.
Dinners at The Thinkers Balcony occur roughly every three weeks and cost between £20 and £40 per ticket (HKD240-480) depending on the nature of the meal and number of courses. You can be added to the mailing list to find out about upcoming events by entering your email address here. There are only six tickets each time, so make sure you get yours early. You will meet some interesting people, eat some incredible food and be wowed by how philosophy can be reflected in what we eat…
The Thinkers Balcony
Notting Hill (exact location will be given when tickets are purchased)