Eating-turned-theatre with ballsy flavours means chef Andrea Iannicella’s ‘Playground Progressive Food‘ concept will be popping up all over Berlin.
It’s a perfectly dark Autumnal night as we entered a candle-lit industrial space for chefs Andrea Iannicella and Clémence Fabry‘s pop-up dining experience, ‘A Walk in the Woods’.
The beautiful old-Berlin arched windows and metal fixtures used to belong to a chocolate factory, but now houses the office and showroom of Reform, a company who produce classic, clip-on facades to stylise your cheap Ikea furniture… a detail I observed as I straightened my shirt’s collar to fit in with the well turned-out crowd of genuine articles the pop-up has attracted.
The theme of ‘A Walk in the Woods’ was, as the name suggests, “an immersive experience aiming to transport guests to the depths of the forest on a crisp Autumn evening”.
Andrea Iannicella took this concept to encompass the ingredients and flavours, from venison to truffles and wild mushrooms; to the presentation, where different woodland scenes were created for each course. He took this theatre one step further with his fifth course, so-called ‘Sweet Memories’, where he invited us to recreate his own memories of camping in the woods as a child, roasting marshmallows on sticks over an open fire. In his recreation, the blowtorch-charred marshmallows were filled with a still-frozen sandorn sorbet.
“An immersive experience aiming to transport guests to the depths of the forest”
Iannicella cut his teeth on the Berlin food scene as sous-chef at Icelandic restaurant Dóttir. Dóttir proved itself as an experiment in minimalism – in creating world-class dishes with a minimal larder of ingredients and seasonings, letting only the quality of the ingredients and the chefs’ cooking methods do the talking.
An ever-revolving menu meant Dóttir’s chefs had to constantly find new creativity within their self-imposed constraints. With Playground, Andrea Iannicella’s new pop-up and catering concept, the chef allows himself a wider breadth of ingredients to play with, whilst still retaining this ‘Nordic-style’ of letting the base ingredients speak for themselves.
The meal started in a ballsy fashion, with venison tartar served within a pickled onion shell and topped with a raw quail’s egg. The pointed vinegar of the onion off-balanced the savoury meatiness of the venison, whilst the quail egg added a rich balm for your palate. Presented on wood-bark platters, this first course was a clear indication of Iannicella’s ‘A Walk in the Woods’ theme, bringing out our inner woods-people.
Then came the forager’s course: a theatrical woodland scene to rootle through, where root vegetable chips made up the fallen leaves and moss, and two “Mushroom Explosions” await the keen-eyed forager. These were deep-fried balls of semi-liquid wild mushroom with the pungent, enduring kick of truffle. Full-on flavours, heavily seasoned, these ‘explosions’ were some of the most exciting flavours of the night.
These ‘explosions’ were some of the most exciting flavours of the night.
The evening’s main course was the hunter’s course. We were each presented a plate topped with what looked like a piece of fallen tree bark, but was actually a roasted and smoked layer of celeriac. Peeling the bark back brought memories of woodland adventures as a child, expecting hundreds of woodlice to scatter from the light. Instead, this celeriac bark concealed a beautifully cooked piece of venison, on a cabbage and celeriac puree base and garnished with a sweet plum sauce. It was another experiment in texture, as the crisp, smoky bark crackled alongside the lightly-seared venison.
But the idea of ‘Playground’ really came to the forefront on Iannicella’s final course, ‘Morning Mist’. This dessert was a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-meets-Brothers Grimm stroll through our very own edible wood. Meticulous in its detail, even down to its hand-painted meringue mushrooms and dry-ice mist, this course demonstrated the sense of fun and adventure that Iannicella wants to bring to his dining experiences.
Jaclyn Zimmerman was our wine guide for the evening, and the four wines she had selected for us followed Iannicella’s interest in flavour extremes. The two whites and two reds available on the night each came from opposite ends of the flavour spectrum, and helped finish this dinner of big flavour experiences.
Playground Progressive Food has since done another sold-out pop-up, SØNNER, and we will no doubt be hearing about many more in the new year. To find out when their next dinner is, visit this webpage.