It’s one of those hypothetical questions – what would be your last supper?
It’s not a question I have ever considered (unlike death row inmates). Probably because I have a phobia of discussing death, preferring to blur this inevitability from my consciousness in a fog of mental and physical activity.
So given my fear of death it may seem strange that I would accept an invitation to dine at a pop up restaurant in London this week serving deliciously deadly delicacies. But my curiosity was significantly piqued by the opportunity to eat some of the world’s deadliest foods. Plus I would get to feel like a culinary version of Steve Backshall of Deadly 60 fame for an evening.
I decided to wear black. It seemed apt given that Café de Mort was being hosted in a crypt. So with an air of denial I set off for dinner repeating the mantra: “This is a tried and tested menu. All will be well”.
The mantra worked until I met my friend and dining companion Lauren, who works for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Working for one of the charities that make up Remember A Charity, the organisers of Café de Mort, she had already had a sneak preview of menu.
“I’m a bit worried about eating pufferfish,” she confided. “You know there’s no antidote to the poison if it’s not prepared correctly?” Even the Emperor of Japan isn’t allowed to eat Fugu (to give it its Japanese name) as the risk of paralysis and death are high if you eat the wrong bits.
My confidence was beginning to wane and was not helped when we were asked to sign a waiver form when we entered the crypt. It positively plummeted when Carlos, the sommelier for the evening, handed me a glass of champagne laced with some green fairy (not the detergent but absinthe). Grinning like the Cheshire cat he declared it a ‘drink to die for’. It had an interesting slightly bitter aftertaste. Not unpleasant but definitely peculiar. I latterly found out that in ancient times wormwood (which is used to make absinthe) was thought to counteract poison although Carlos assured us that if we drank too much our vital organs would pack up.
John, the Maitre D’, proceeded to regale us with stories from his early days in the hospitality industry of guests dropping dead in hotel foyers or committing suicide in their room.
“It just goes to show,” he said with a touch of Vincent Price drama, “that you never know when death will strike.”
Quite. Clearly the topic of death was going to hang around like the pong of an over ripe camembert. But this was the whole point of the event is to make you think about your demise or more precisely what happens to your money after you go.
“Some people may think Café de Mort is a bit extreme but it’s hard to get people thinking about Wills and considering a gift to charity,” explained Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity.
Although around 75 percent of the population are happy to put their hands in their pockets to make charitable donations during their lifetime only 7 percent include a charity in their Will, (and apparently nearly 30 million people in Britain don’t even have a Will). Times are tough for everyone but charities have been hit particularly hard during this recession with many charities seeing a drop in donations by as much as 20 percent.
“The whole idea is clearly meant to be a little tongue in cheek,” said Rob. “But there’s a serious message too. Gifts in Wills are hugely important to charities. We believe Café de Mort will raise a wry smile but will persuade many more people to think about leaving a gift to charity too.”
Eventually, the moment of truth arrived and were asked to take our seats. Pale slithers of Fugu Sashimi were ushered in with a sake and green tea martini adorned with a pansy. With a pretty scattering of coriander micro herbs and crumbled prawn cracker it looked harmless enough and not in the least bit deadly. The delicate flavour of the raw fish was enlivened by the grated radish and prawn with an underlying hint of garlic. We all agree it was good.
Four more toxic dishes and cocktails would follow like a culinary danse macabre. The crisp samosa style pastry filled with gently curried ackee fruit served with a tangy mango and black bean salsa with a smattering of ghost chilli (so strong it is used as a self defence weapon) was my favourite. It was paired with a very drinkable Bloody Hell Mary, a concoction of poitin, tomato juice, rhubarb and spices, whose fiery temperament was remarkably cooled by the salsa. The casava chips were crispy although perhaps not as soft and fluffy inside as the potato kind.
Two dishes in we had retained the use of our bodily functions and were raving about the food. Sadly the next course, Kluwak Nut Pasta with False Morels, received a mixed reception. The plain, dowdy sister to the previous dishes, the earthy broth, both in colour and flavour, was not to everyone’s taste on my table. What is lacked in visual and edible impact the snake wine more than compensated for. Served in a champagne flute it was cloudy and flat. I’ve never tasted formaldehyde (nor ever want to) but I imagine if I ever did it would remind me of snake wine. It had a flavour vaguely reminiscent of pickling fluid for vegetables which is precisely what it does to the deceased snake embalmed in its murky depths. If the Grim Reaper has a favourite tipple, this is it.
Snake wine dismissed, it was on with dessert. First up was a sweet and chewy macaroon combined with a bitter almond cream a subtle elderberry coulis. I would happily have had seconds of the very moreish amaretto sour served with it (sod the salmonella risk). Then came Peanut, Cacao and Nutmeg Sweetmeats. A rich, nutty mousse topped with a chocolate ganache and served with a crunchy peanut brittle with slightly bitter undertones. The meal was rounded off with what looked like a shot glass of milk sprinkled with nutmeg. One sip was enough to dispel the innocuous illusion of this particular nightcap which was in fact Sunset Very Strong Rum (84.5% ABV).
The deadly meal was over and there were no signs on our table of the hallucinations, vomiting, blindness or paralysis alluded to in the menu. Lauren confessed to having a headache and I did feel a little queasy on the journey home. I suspect this was more to do with the array of alcoholic beverages we had consumed (memories of experimenting with various spirits in my youth came flooding back along with dim echoes of my elders heeding me not to mix my drinks). I couldn’t help wondering whether the cumulative effect of Tetrodotoxin, moonshine, Hydrogen Cyanide, Aflatoxin, Theobromine and Myristicin would prove fatal but here I am writing this blog post so obviously not.
Most of us will never know when our last supper is going to be. Judging from the feedback on Twitter, Cafe de Mort appears to have served it’s purpose in generating awareness of the importance of leaving a gift to a charity in your Will. I’ll leave you with a quote from the alchemist Paracelsus which I feels sums up the evening:
‘All things are poisons; nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.’
Café de Mort, RIP.
See what the celebrity diners thought of Café de Mort.