The iconic world-renowned dance theatre Sadler’s Wells conjures images of elegant dancers, contemporary styles and visual arts. When H&C News received an invitation to take a sneak peek at the venue’s new autumn menu, we got just a little bit excited at the prospect of a rather special culinary performance…
If the idea of a theatre makes you think of stuffy auditoria with expensive snacks and a sticky carpet, Sadler’s Wells dismisses this image in an instant with its contemporary glass façade, steel framed interior and light, open spaces for receptions and pre-performance dining.
We were welcomed on the mezzanine level, often used to host receptions and ‘Supper at Sadler’s’ during the Christmas show season. We had been promised an array of delights, featuring vegetarian and vegan options to showcase the versatility of the in-house catering team.
Kelly McGibney, Events Executive (Corporate), explained the catering offering at Sadler’s Wells: “We cater for so many types of receptions, pre-show dining and corporate conferences, not to mention breakfast briefings and we run our public café. Everything is managed in-house with a small, amazing team in our kitchen, led by our creative Chef Kenny Warren, whose constant inspiration seems to know no bounds.”
Our pre-show amuse-bouche began with cucumber cups, filled with crab, light mayonnaise and a hint of dill. Perfectly formed, dainty and refreshing, the cups provided a palate-cleansing opener, hinting at the sea without an overpowering flavour.
The bounty of the sea featured heavily in the range of canapés on offer. The crab cups were followed by smoked salmon, pink grapefruit and pawpaw spoons. Enough for an explosion of taste without becoming a mouthful that inhibits chit-chat and networking, the delicate smokiness of the salmon was complemented by the sweet acidity of the pink grapefruit, while the pawpaw brought a hint of the exotic. A creamy avocado purée added richness to the texture while a slither of crisped skin served as a reminder that the salmon was the main attraction.
The final offering from the sea was a beautifully formed morsel of fleshy red mullet, a hint of crisped ruby skin confirming its identity. Bolder than the other canapés, the red mullet was enriched with a salty tomato and sardine fondue base, balanced with a ribbon of fennel to add a hint of sweetness and crunchy texture.
The vegan highlight of the canapé selection had to be the carrot falafel with a crispy crumb exterior that belied its smooth filling of blended chick peas, carrot, mint and coriander.
For the meat lover, duck was the order of the day. A daring choice, with tough competition from the seafood options, the discs of duck topped with celeriac purée and a crisped triangle of duck skin did not disappoint. There was a delightful surprise as the intriguing poppy seed coated ‘truffle’ topping exploded in the mouth to reveal a crisp, refreshing apple centre that complemented the duck perfectly. Mini potato skins, topped with pulled short rib of beef on a chive mousseline gave a warming alternative to the duck, contrasting the crunch of poppy seed and apple tang.
“It’s important to offer a balanced approach with a canapé selection,” said Kelly. “Our team go to great lengths to devise delicious morsels that appeal to all dietary requirements and don’t get in the way of talking with your peers.”
As we moved on to Act II, bowl food, you might be forgiven for expecting a fairly unimaginative standard offering, but there is nothing ordinary about bowl food at Sadler’s Wells. First to perform was a soy and peanut pork belly on a bed of Asian slaw. Tender and tasty, the pork protagonist was imbued with classic flavours of the East, bejeweled with a golden peanut topping and sat on a bed of crisp, refreshing slaw. Vermicelli-like ribbons of cabbage, sprouting broccoli and radish lent a crisp backdrop while nigella seeds added crunch and texture.
From the East we moved to the Mediterranean, as gnocchi took centre stage, but with a comfort food twist. Served with a leek fondue, the sautéed gnocchi had no sign of doughiness, merely a smooth, creamy texture complemented by the ribbons of buttery leek and peppered with sweetcorn kernels for a golden crunch.
The scents and senses of the Indian sub-continent were brought to life in a vegan dish worthy of special mention. Gently broiled cauliflower florets sat amidst a warming red lentil dhal, infused with classic flavours of cumin and turmeric and topped off with fresh coriander for stunning visual impact and colour contrast, while a soy yogurt side added cool, creamy texture. The jewel in the crown of this dish was the sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, lending refreshing contrasts and lifting the humble dhal to new heights.
Kelly explained the concept behind Sadler’s Wells’ bowl food ingenuity: “We always try to create new, interesting dishes to offer on our bowl food menus, mindful of what is in season and working closely with our fantastic suppliers to accommodate varying requirements, which can change within just a few days’ notice. Our dishes are cleverly designed to scale up or down. If we are catering for an evening reception, the café menu that day will reflect what is being prepared for the evening. That way we can minimise waste and keep everything fresh and current.
“As an international dance theatre, we welcome many professional dancers and conference delegates from around the world with a whole host of special requirements. Vegan is growing in popularity too and we are proud to offer numerous vegan and vegetarian options. We also need to ensure that our bowl food provides good sustenance: dancers need to be fueled up before performing on stage and our chefs prepare the same food for visiting artists and troupes.”
For a winter warmer or just ‘because’, a hearty bowl of braised beef cheek, polenta mash and baby carrots provided the perfect comfort food for meat lovers. With melt-in-the-mouth burgundy beef, perfectly complemented by the creamy, enriched mash and glazed baby carrots, this was a bowl of winter perfection.
In contrast to the meat lovers’ bowl of beef, a heritage tomato burrata salad provided a refreshing alternative. With a creamy consistency more reminiscent of a mousse than a cheese, the delicious saltiness of the burrata was perfectly complemented by the colourful red, green and yellow heritage tomatoes and a hint of basil for the classic ‘tricolore’ effect. An olive tapenade secreted at the base of the salad provided a surprising twist, with a hint of balsamic fitting with the Italian theme.
The final act was beautifully presented in delicate, miniature glass teacups, providing a nostalgic theme and conjuring images of a children’s tea party. A perfectly sized portion of coconut rice pudding, topped with toasted coconut flakes, tiny diced mango and passionfruit compote and a perfectly pink slice of passion fruit provided an impressive act to round off the performance.
Restaurant Openings and Reviews Editor, Majella O’Connell