BWW Review: THE GRAND EXPEDITION, Secret Location
I've never been to an immersive dining experience before, but was aware of Gingerline's previous productions such as the Chambers of Flavour, and so was intrigued to go along.
Gingerline was founded by food and drink enthusiasts who aim to create the ultimate dining experience. To be honest, to say too much more about any of the experience they've created would be to spoil it, so this review won't give too much specific detail, more a general feel of what to expect.
On the day of your Grand Expedition, you receive a text message with directions - this event is such a well-guarded secret that all you know at the time of booking is that it's somewhere along the Victoria Line. Although it's shrouded in mystery, however, you don't need to be worried. There's nothing untoward going on!
It's an evening of two main elements. The first, and for me the more successful, is the food. As the name of the experience suggests, it's a real culinary journey taking you through several different styles of cuisine.
The five courses (broadly: starter, fish, small 'main', larger 'main' and dessert) are all delicious. They're served with just the right amount of ceremony, and also encourage interaction among the guests around each table, meaning that if you don't go in a group large enough to fill a table, you'll definitely get to know the diners you're seated with by the end of the evening.
You'll probably get to sample a few things you haven't tried before. One small accompaniment to one of the dishes was genuinely one of the most spectacular-tasting things I've ever eaten, and based around an ingredient that was new to me. I could've happily eaten platefuls of just that for the rest of the evening!
It's worth mentioning that the kitchen was extremely good at dealing with specific food allergies or dislikes. Any diner with special requirements was issued with a wrist-band at the start of the evening and these were taken into account for the serving of every course. For example I don't eat cheese (which I admit is pretty weird) and this was dealt with with zero fuss.
The second element is the story and performance. The first issue with this is that it relies a lot on projections with recorded audio. The soundtrack, due to the somewhat cavernous nature of the venue, was extremely difficult to hear, so much of the story was lost - the other diners at my table commented the same. I wonder if this is something that could be rectified?
The animated projections themselves, however, are beautifully put together, and very visually arresting. In fact if you're at all prone to motion sickness, you might need to look away once or twice!
The servers, who change costumes throughout the evening to suit the various parts of the Grand Expedition, also perform some short choreographed set pieces, as well as encouraging audience members to take part in a few activities between courses. However participation-phobes need not stay away - there's nothing difficult or embarrassing to do, and anyway there's always plenty going on at once so you won't ever be the full focus of attention.
At times the costumes and activities felt slightly clichéd. Although they were certainly a useful shorthand to put across the different locations, a little more subtlety could perhaps have been employed at times.
Another slightly problematic element for me was the lack of spoken interaction with the servers. They had seemingly been briefed not to speak at any length - if at all - with the diners most of the time. Although this is clearly a stylistic choice, to me it just felt like a bit of a barrier to the evening being truly 'immersive'.
All of that said, this is an evening that is truly unique, and I'd still recommend it. Focus as much as possible on enjoying the food, don't worry too much about what's going on around it, and you'll have a Grand (culinary) Expedition to remember.
Photo credit: Rob Greig