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July 2017 / Food & Drink / by Liz Skone James

Feast Your Eyes

We’ve long known that just looking at food can make our mouths water, but now research has proven that “eating with the eyes” is hard-wired in the brain. The study demonstrates the presence of circuitry that conveys visual information to the part of the brain that regulates the motivation to feed in zebrafish. While zebrafish we are not, our neuron network is similar, and first impressions count – aside from taste, we are influenced by aesthetics

So how to do it? If you’ve ever tried, you’ll know that plating up is a job for an abstract artist. Just because you’re a good chef, it doesn’t follow that you have the presentation skills to match. Here are a few of the basics: 

Pick your plate For a real contrast, you can’t beat plain white and the larger the plate, the more the food will stand out. Think about what you are serving, too: wood or ceramic work well for more rustic meals

Take cues from nature Choose colours that reflect the season and aim to contrast light with dark for a balanced dish

Build flavour-filled bites Layer your components one on top of another to ensure that every mouthful over delivers on flavour. Adding height also gives depth

Be playful Try shifting the centre – this can have the effect of anchoring the food and adding drama

Clean up your act Always use a light hand and clear up any drips or stray smears before serving

Finishing touches Pick garnishes carefully: they should work in harmony with your dish, adding a layer of texture and visual excitement

All set to style now? To inspire your craft, we’ve trawled the restaurants of London to discover this summer’s most foodstagrammable dishes (it was a hard job, but somebody had to do it), and asked the chefs to talk us through the dishes and their inspiration

 

“Solero”
Ben Murphy, Launceston Place “Where I can, I like to use influences from my childhood. I wanted to create something fun and eye-catching that was also full of flavour. And I really like having an element of surprise: people naturally expect this dish to be an ice cream, but it is, in fact, a coconut mousse. I developed this dish to be vegan friendly, which means it can go on all our menus and every guest has the opportunity to taste it. Presentation is everything, but flavour always comes first, without that the dish is worthless.”
1a Launceston Place, W8 (020 7937 6912; launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk)

Mango pavlova
Gary Foulkes, Angler “Everyone likes a pavlova – there’s something so delicious about perfectly ripe fruit, meringue and cream. In this particular dish the freshness of lime, the luxurious natural sweetness of coconut and the wonderfully perfumed mango work harmoniously together. I try to ensure that my desserts are as visually appealing as they are tasty. Pavlova is a naturally relaxed-looking dish, I try to refine it without losing its charm.”
South Place Hotel, 3 Sou
th Place, EC2M (020 3215 1260;anglerrestaurant.com)

Seared yellowfin tuna with native lobster tortellini Michael Nadra, Michael Nadra
“As I get older, I’m leaning towards healthier dishes, using less fat and dairy to produce zingy flavours that leave you feeling content rather than bloated. Here, clean-tasting seared sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna is served with a crunchy Asian salad, carrot purée with a ginger kick and sweet homemade saffron lobster tortellini. Presentation is very important, but if the taste doesn’t match or surpass the initial promise, the customer will be disappointed.”
42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 (020 7722 2800; restaurant-michaelnadra.co.uk)

Pekinese Dumplings David Muñoz, StreetXO
“We want to create unique dishes that have no limits – to go beyond expectations. All of our food is different and a bit crazy.Think of it as fine dining, but eaten with your hands and with juices dripping down your chin. The Pekinese dumplings are presented on a blank canvas of white paper, splattered with strawberry hoisin – like a piece of modern art – and served up to be eaten in one bite. I want my dishes to shock and surprise, both when they arrive at the table and when they are eaten.”
15 Old Burlington Street, W1S (020 3096 7555; streetxo.com)

Cancha Seviche, Cláudio Cardoso, Sushisamba
“This dish was inspired by a recent trip to the Amazon rainforest and my experiences in Peru, in support of SUSHISAMBA’s partnership with the charity Cool Earth. While we strive to deliver impeccable presentation, we always focus on the flavour first and foremost – getting the blend of ingredients perfect before turning to the presentation is our number one priority. After all, there is no point in creating a beautiful dish if the flavour doesn’t match.”
110 Bishopsgate, EC2N (020 3640 7330; sushisamba.com)

Green tea waffles with Japanese black sugar syrup, blueberry and bacon Bjoern Weissgerber, Sexy Fish
“This is one of my favourite Sexy Fish desserts. It is fun, impressive to behold, and our customers love it. The sweetness of the black sugar syrup, the savouriness of the bacon and the freshness of the blueberries are all perfect companionsfor the sweet green tea waffles. First and foremost, we aim to make delicious food, but for a dish like this, presentation is also very important. We often notice our diners taking a photo before enjoying their food.”
Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, W1J (020 3764 2000; sexyfish.com)

Grilled mackerel fillet with radish, cucumber and dill dressing Igor Tymchyshyn, Orrery
“I took inspiration from the season to create this clean, light dish, which is brimming with flavours and contrasting textures. Mackerel is a fish that I love to cook with, and accompanied by the crunch of radish, cooling cucumber and a sprinkling of dill, the flavour of the grilled flesh is elevated brilliantly. For me, taste is essential in every dish, but of course the fact that these vibrantly coloured ingredients go so beautifully together is a bonus.”
55 Marylebone High Street, W1U (020 7616 8000; orrery-restaurant.co.uk)

The White Millefeuille Anne-Sophie Pic, La Dame de Pic
“I was interested in revisiting this symbolic French pastry dish and placing greater emphasis on its appearance. I wanted a dessert that was white and pure and revealed nothing about itself. Appearance plays such a crucial role in anticipating how a dish will taste and I wanted to give free rein to the diners’ imaginations. The use of a single colour, evoking nothing more than its immaculate whiteness, invites guests to bite into it and enjoy the crisp, fluffy textures and subtle, delicate flavours.”
Four Seasons Hotel London, 10 Trinity Square, EC3N (020 3297 3799; ladamedepiclondon.co.uk)

Stuffed courgette flowers Francesco Mazzei, Sartoria
“If you walk into any garden in southern Italy at this time of year it will be filled with the most beautiful courgette flowers, Tropea onions and tomatoes – and that is my inspiration for this dish. It really showcases the best that the season has to offer. In Italy it is traditional to stuff the courgette flowers with anchovies and mozzarella, but at Sartoria we use the Calabrian speciality of stoccafisso (air-dried cod). It is one of my favourite tastes of home and when paired with the vibrant colours and flavours of the fresh vegetables and flowers it makes for a stunning and delicious summer dish.”
20 Savile Row, W1S (020 7534 7000; sartoria-restaurant.co.uk)

Slow cooked Octopus taco Mitz Vora, Foley’s pop up at The Gardening Society
“This is one of the signature dishes from our John Lewis Oxford Street pop-up. We had a lot of fun creating this menu, which combines Middle-Eastern and Asian tastes with traditional Mexican street food, offering guests flavours and influences from all over the world. The presentation of this dish is incredibly important and we were looking to capture a sense of summer – perfect for enjoying on the roof! The bright colours of the octopus and bok choy against the black sesame mayo make this dish really stand out.”
The Gardening Society on the roof of John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street, W1C (020 7629 7711; johnlewis.com/thegardeningsociety; foleysrestaurant.co.uk)

Plateau De Fruits De Mer Masaki Sugisaki, Dinings
“Dinings’ philosophy has always been to create an eating experience for guests that pushes the boundaries of Japanese cuisine as they know it. This is achieved with our unique style of Izakaya dishes. The Plateau de Fruits de Mer is one of our signature dishes: it offers a blend of the finest Japanese cooking traditions with European seafood bar culture. We carefully craft the presentation of sushi, sashimi and raw seafood to encourage diners to share.”
22 Harcourt Street, W1H (020 7723 0666; dinings.co.uk)