House of Wolf is housed in a former Victorian music hall in Islington and is happily influenced by the surroundings. It brings together experimental dining and drinking, with art and live entertainment. The dining will not stay the same for long as the menu is changing regularly with monthly pop-up residencies of culinary artists sharing something unique. I visited in October 2012 during the opening month to try Caroline Hobkinson's "Look, Listen, Smell, Touch...Eat!" menu.
I have to say the staff at House of Wolf is great. They have to explain what to do to every table as no-one knows what to expect. And they discreetly look away so you don't feel self-conscious. Caroline Hobkinson was also on hand to talk to diners which is a rare treat in these days of busy kitchens and chef's egos.
Our meal started with an 'Amuse Bouche' of a bread roll hanging on string at head height that we were to eat without using our hands. Caroline explained how she wanted to - quite literally - elevate the humble bread roll as it is something every meal starts with around the world. Oh, and we also had to insert ear plugs while undertaking this task. With the room's sounds of gulls and waves my dining companion and I both thought the crunching sounds in our head, as we ate the bread, reminded us of footsteps on the beach.
The next course focused on sight, or the lack of it, as we were blindfolded to see (or not) if smells can be transferred to taste. Roasted peppers and rosemary were brought to the table and as we smelled them we ate a cracker with warm goat's cheese. Strangely, I could taste the rosemary and my dining companion could taste the peppers even though it was only wafted near us and never in our mouths. This reminded me of the apples I had at the London Orchard Festival that tasted like bananas but only after you'd stopped eating them so your brain didn't try to convince you any longer you were eating an apple.
The sense of smell was dealt with next as we injected our food (salmon as standard or water chestnuts for vegetarians) with a smoky, 10-year single malt and then ate from a petri dish. Not a flavor either of us enjoyed but I was pleased we dined early as it was fun watching other diners arrive and try to nonchalantly ignore a syringe on the table. It's a real syringe so is really sharp. The Healthy & Safety bods would find this all shocking I'm sure but that's art for you.
Still, the alcohol got us giggling and the palate cleanser that followed of gin-infused cucumber kept us smiling. We were provided with two spoons - cutlery at last! - one coated with rosewater crystals and one with sea salt which we had to alternate using. This was quite delicious considering it wasn't technically a course of the meal.
Onto the main course which was venison as standard and I had the vegetarian sweet potatoes, but we both had to eat with a two foot long apple tree branch to spear our food. Caroline explained this was to give us a 'back to nature' feeling and we played along and tried not to poke the people on the table next to us with our 'spears'.
The dessert was a 'sonic cake pop' to deal with hearing. After avoiding using mobile phones at the dinner table all evening, the last course asked us to call a premium rate number from our mobiles to hear a low note to bring out the bitter taste and high pitched sound to bring out the sweet flavor. At Oxford University they had made this work in a sound booth but in a busy restaurant we found it didn't and I simply became aware of my phone again and started checking messages. Once I'd hung up and stopped wasting money on a phone call I found the cake pop tasted sweeter but that was probably because I could concentrate on it with fewer distractions. I think headphones would have been better if this sound experiment was to really work.
Before leaving we went for experimental cocktails in the Apothecary on the first floor and were seated in the 'Fainting Room' - a hidden room entered through a bookcase where the lady of the house could be attended to. The pornographic images on the wall explained the attention she may have desired!
The overall experience at House of Wolf felt like passing a series of tests and you do sit there wondering if a 'candid camera' type of moment is going to happen as surely it's not meant to be this silly. But it is. And it's worth it. And I'd definitely go back.
House of Wolf, 181 Upper Street, Islington N1 www.houseofwolf.co.uk