Food Ink: An intimate meal at the world’s first 3D-printing restaurant

As a food blogger, I definitely feel like I have to be at the beginning of food trends. Chicken is the new burger; Poké is the new sushi; Freakshakes are the new cupcake. When 3D printed food popped up under my radar, I really felt the need to get in on it early to see how it works. I mean it’s basically a mix of two of my favorite things: Science/Technology and food. Even if it was really horrible and terrible, I wanted to try it to see if this really is the food of the future. So when I saw Food Ink‘s 3D printed meal, I quickly sent them an email to see if there was ticket availability. Little did I know that the three night pop-up was only going to be for ten people a night. So needless to say, I never heard back from them.

Well that is until one fateful Monday afternoon when I got a surprise email. Apparently there was a last minute cancellation due to a family emergency (and I do feel really bad to whomever this happened to), and there was availability but I had to respond immediately. Well I did, with the stipulation that it would need to be two tickets, because if I went to something like this without my husband, the best outcome to that would be divorce and the worst outcome may possibly be murder. Plus I wouldn’t want to experience something like this without him, so there was no way I could get away with just a single ticket. No response. Tuesday afternoon rolls around. It’s about 4:00 pm, and yet another surprise email: Yes I can buy two tickets for the meal. For that evening at 7:30. Well, sometimes it pays to be spontaneous (and you only live once and can’t take it with you so they say), so I snatched up those tickets, put on some nice clothes, met my husband at the train station and we headed to Shoreditch to experience the evening for ourselves!

We did arrive a bit early, so we had to wait outside until they were ready for us, and they were even a bit late as we had to wait until about 7:45 to enter. As we were waiting, lots of people kept wandering by and looking into the window to see what was happening. It’s definitely encouraging a lot of hype. We were itching to get in though. Finally they opened the doors and welcomed us and we got to chat with people about the 3D printing technology and drink a bit of bubbly (out of graduated cylinders to fit the science theme although no one there actually knew the name of the glassware…I think I impressed them a bit). Apparently printing glass is still very difficult, but they’ve managed to print in clay to make tea cups out of (which we got to drink out of later at dinner), but the crockery still needs to be glazed and fired in a kiln before it’s usable.

While we were looking around and sipping bubbly, the chefs started arriving with a few snacks for us to eat. Even though we didn’t actually see the menu until later, I feel like it might be a good time to show what they were serving over the course of the evening.

They first brought around the Rose Sensation which was a 3D printed spherified lychee and rose snack that was served on an actual rose. You get to inhale the rose scent while eating the food, and it was definitely a great way to start the night. They also served the roses in 3D printed vases. The next starter was fizzy fruits which were apples soaked in vodka and beetroot and they all had the chef’s name 3D printed in them. They were then frozen in liquid nitrogen. And they were really delicious. This was followed by tetris tapas which was a frozen gin and tonic served in 3D printed tetris pieces. Also incredibly tasty, but the tetris pieces must have been printed quickly as they didn’t hold the liquid well and leaked a bit which is probably the only issue we had with it.

This lead to what I can only imagine was a substitute for the air caviar: a spherified olive served on 3D printed spoons. I am very familiar with the spherification process as we had once made lime balls to serve in the bottom of tequila shots at home. I did make a joke about them being 3D printed, and this is where I learned that they can actually 3D print the spheres directly into the water bath! I was a bit shocked in honesty, but it was a pleasant surprise to learn about the nuances of the technology. Finally we were giving mimetic peanuts. They were crushed peanuts and honey that were made out of moulds that were 3D printed to look like peanuts. So they were imitation peanuts and also very tasty. I feel like this may be a great time to point out that the chefs work at very top quality restaurants in Spain, and one of them even trained at El Bulli (which was ranked as the best restaurant in the world for five years in a row) so I was actually expecting high quality, interesting food at the event. So far my expectations were definitely being met. It also felt incredibly exclusive! There were only ten of us standing around chatting while people were walking by and taking pictures. It’s almost as if I were famous and not just incredibly lucky.

Finally we went to the table. They had made individual name place holders for us with the 3D pens, so that was a nice surprise. The table and chairs had also been 3D printed (well I assume the legs and the base of the chairs, the top of the chairs and the table were probably just large sheets of plexiglass). I did enjoy how they continued the 3D printing theme around the entire venue as there was even a soap container in the bathroom that they had printed. They also continued the science theme by serving the white wine in an Erlenmeyer flask and the water in a beaker. While I liked the concept, sadly a flask like that doesn’t really lend itself to being able to smell the wine in the correct manner before drinking it. So that I guess was slightly frustrating, but we still enjoyed ourselves anyway. There was also one of the courses already being printed at the table, so it was kind of cool to see that in progress. Also, the whole event was being streamed live on Facebook, but you can watch the video of the night here if you are interested in seeing things in action (and I’m in it, but be warned it’s quite long…)

While one of the courses was being printed, we had our first sit down course of the night: Cosmic delight. For this, we got to wear virtual reality headsets and watch as we traveled through a space environment. During this time, we were told to eat our first course, which were dehydrated strawberries with an edible film. The film shrank down in my mouth to just surround the strawberry, then when you bit into the strawberry you got a burst of amazing flavor. It was almost like being at The Fat Duck and having the dish where you listen to the seaside, but in this case, all your senses were being deluged at once. It was very wonderful, but the virtual reality headset did start making me slightly nauseated after a while.

Our next course of fish and chips arrived, and it was a 3D printed sauce in the shape of a microchip with some fish paste and skin around the side. It definitely wasn’t real fish and chips, but the flavor was magnificent. There was a bit of a texture issue, which I suppose is an issue when things need to be in a paste in order to print them, but who knows where the technology will take things in the future!

Next they showed us how the machine worked in preparation for people if they wanted to do the printing themselves later. It was nice to have this sort of hands on interaction with the machine, and given the engineer in my husband, I could tell he was really eager to learn about it and try his hands at it as well. While the avocado for the Flower of Life was being printed, they brought our next course to us: Flower Power Minestrone. It was a deconstructed minestrone soup served in a hollowed out beetroot. It was very pretty, and I’m fairly sure all of the spheres and caviar in it were done with the 3D printer and then it was assembled afterwards. Oh and did I mention it was delicious? Pretty much just like everything else we had eaten here? No? Well it was.

The Flower of Life came out, and it basically turned out to be a glorified chips and guacamole. It was an extremely tasty guacamole, but that’s still what it was. The tortilla chips definitely added a bit of much needed texture though. The next course of octo-ink was absolutely brilliant. They had 3D printed the mash potato around the outside and filled it with squid ink and sauce, then did a very tender sliced octopus in the center. It was probably the best dish of the evening for me, but in reality, everything I ate was incredibly tasty and really was better than I could have possibly imagined it to be. Finally we had tetris tartare which was a very good steak tartare served in the tetris shapes again. I’m fairly certain the meat isn’t printed in reality (and neither was the octopus), so there’s really only so far the technology can go at this point, and I’m actually really glad that they didn’t attempt to forgo the taste and texture for the sake of the 3D printing aspect of the meal. Also they served the tetris pieces a bit scattered on the plate, but I had to squish them together into some sort of formation (it’s probably the gamer in me). They also switched us to red wine during the tartare which was served in the Volumetric flask that was sitting next to us the whole evening.

Finally desserts, and we got to set up the 3D printing for the base of the first one: Love Bites. It’s based on the famous Banksy street art (or so they say, I haven’t been able to find the actual street art, but the image does look very familiar). It’s 3D printed with chocolate and has a lemon filling with spherified fruit juices as balloons. It was incredibly tasty and a great way to start dessert.

The next course was London After Eight. They 3D printed the word London is some sort of passionfruit puree. Next they added a chocolate dome over the second O with marshmallow and mint inside. Finally they served it by pouring hot chocolate sauce over the dome so you could watch it melt. Unfortunately, the dome on mine was a bit off-center, so it was hard to pour the chocolate over it. Perhaps they just need to make sure they center the plates better when doing the 3D printing next time, but it’s really just a small complaint about things. I also think mine had perhaps run out of the printing base as the letters were a bit wobbly, but it was definitely a delicious dessert.

Next was Cacao Labyrinth followed by Tea-D-Printing. The labyrinth was even more chocolate (which was probably obvious from the name) served with some cake, a chocolate shard and ice cream. It was decadent but not overly sweet and incredibly tasty. The last was just a nice cup of tea served in the 3D printed clay mugs that they had been talking about earlier. We were told we could take our names from the table before we left (and we did).

As we were leaving, the organizer of the dinner handed us a goodie bag with a T-Shirt inside as well as his information so we could get in touch with things that could be done better as it was a new concept and event. Overall, I think it was executed very well with a small amount of things that could be improved (less waiting at the beginning, better wine glasses, larger T-shirts as they were both medium sized), but those are just small complaints for what was otherwise a unique and epic meal that I may never experience again. Unless 3D printing because pretty standard for food, then maybe not. It’s hard to say though as it does take awhile, and you are currently limited to very soft foods to make it work. It probably wasn’t really worth the money we spent for the food, but I think the overall experience was well worth it as we had a great time learning about a new food concept and eating some pretty spectacular tasting food. Plus being two of thirty people to experience this for the first time means that it will be a great memory for a long time.

TL;DR – The 3D printed food absolutely tasted fantastic and the technology is really cool and interesting. It’s hard to say whether it will take off as something that happens a lot in restaurants, but I’m glad we had the experience while it’s still a new technology.

Food: ★★★★★
Service: ★★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★☆☆
Overall: ★★★★★

Food Ink
(Could be popping up in a town near you!)

Food Ink Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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