Multi-sensory Fine Dining in a Unique Factory Setting
A hub of creativity amongst a community of artists provides a magical backdrop to an evening of surprising, adventurous and damn tasty food, by Pedro Passinhas
Review by Sam Sinha
Denim and Dine is hidden away in a denim factory on Blackhorse Lane, but the unassuming industrial setting belies the magic that unfolds when you step through the heavy steel door.
The denim workers have packed up for the day but sowing machines and bundles of half-finished jeans remain. The low evening light streams through the factory windows and candles lead you through to a long table at the far end where vintage denim and glossy design manuals decorate the wall. As you pass the open kitchen the team of chefs are happy to greet you with a complimentary cocktail to sip while you have a look around.
Sitting down to eat, the attention to detail is impressive, the coasters and napkin rings were hand crafted by the resident leather maker and the beautiful tables were made down the road by the local carpenter. Glasses are polished and the service is friendly and professional.
The table is decorated with glistening pebbles lying on beds of moss arranged which later turn out to be part of a dish. They are potatoes baked in edible clay and add a delicious earthy note to a soba noodle bird’s nest topped with a prawn-cracker encrusted egg yolk.
As the evening progresses, different groups on the table start to talk about the food and the setting, creating a truly communal experience. The chefs are on hand to explain the complex preparation of the dishes and demystify some of the more intriguing elements.
The brain behind Denim and Dine is Pedro Passinhas, a self-confessed science geek turned Cordon-Bleu graduate drawing on his experience at some of the world’s best restaurants, including The Fat Duck and Le Gavroche.
Pedro’s starting point is seasonal ingredients and in respect for nature’s generosity, he gets the most out of them, using every part. A scientific approach and bags of creative flair mean that parts of an animal or plant that might normally be discarded are turned into something new and brilliant. Squid salt made from the skin, chlorophyll powder made from plant stems, smoked buttermilk pannacotta, created from the by-product of making butter.
Novel flavour and texture combinations are a feature of Pedro’s cooking that lift his dishes above the level of simply well cooked and presented plates. The aim is to create a multi-sensory experience that encourages discussion between diners, and with friends afterwards too. A variety of contrasting textures, flavours and temperatures are some of the tools used to, by turn, fool and excite guests.
Curing carrots in lye, for example, allows diners to experience the caramelised flavour and crunch of “carrot bark” alongside the soft and sweet inner part. The combination is fantastic and much more than the sum of its parts, but most importantly brings the best out of the ingredient while enabling its flavour to be appreciated in a new way.
As for the setting, to call it a denim factory is perhaps to undersell Blackhorse Lane Atelier which is the first premium brand to be making denim in London for the last 50 years. They only use top quality selvedge and organic denim carefully sourced from Europe and Japan. The business model is all about sustainability and community, from giving every worker shares in the business, and growing their own Japanese indigo locally to die the product, to giving E17 locals a generous 17 per cent discount on the jeans.
During the day, this is a genuine workspace, machinists alongside designers alongside leather workers alongside weavers alongside chefs. The intention was to bring artists and craftspeople together to create a community whose members support each other and this sense of community seems to infuse into the dining experience too.
Pedro tells me that he has met local suppliers and private clients through the interest in the denim factory and the other artisans in the building, and the same is true the other way round, with diners admiring the jeans and placing orders after enjoying their experience.
Local producers include foragers who pick wild herbs and flowers from nearby Walthamstow marshes, which is also home to the bees which produce the Local Honey Man’s local honey. This produce then becomes the inspiration on which to build a menu, which changes monthly, to keep the food exciting and seasonal.
Pedro’s food is inspired by local, seasonal ingredients and informed by science, imagination and technical ability. The evening is made extra special by the setting and the interaction with the team of dynamic young chefs. A memorable East London eating experience; always exciting and at times challenging food, in a communal, factory setting.
Denim and Dine runs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Tickets at £50 are released on a monthly basis and sell out quickly. The communal table can host up to 24 diners, who can expect to enjoy a seven course tasting menu and may bring their own wine.