You guys, in case you have not already cottoned on to this: Story is my thing. Like, it’s the basis upon which I review movies; I care much more about what a movie says, what it is about, than the cinematography or the performances or any other craft aspect (although obviously they are enormous contributors to story.) I am convinced that the fact that we tell one another stories is what distinguishes us from other animals (and I also am totes willing to expand our notion of who gets to be in our little People Club if we learn that dolphins or — more likely, I suspect — whales are telling one another stories with their songs. I would not be surprised if they are.) Story is, I feel very strongly, the most fundamental foundation of our culture. Story is everything. Religion is story. Politics is story. Everything that matters, everything that shapes everything we think about everything, is, on some level, story.
So when I heard that someone was combining dining with story… well, I was beyond intrigued. Immersive, interactive dining experience The Grand Expedition — by Gingerline, the company pioneering this sort of thing in London — sounded like Secret Cinema, except about food rather than about movies. (Food and booze are my second great loves, after movies.) I was in.
This is what happens. You don’t know exactly where you’re going until a few hours before, when you get a text and it tells you to get on the Victoria line tube in London and get off at a certain stop and then you follow the clandestine instructions to walk to a place… where you step inside and into a pseudo Victorian aeronautical wonderland. You are greeted by, basically, Jules Verne’s Minions — they speak their own language, like Gru’s Minions do — and they are about to whisk you off on a round-the-world culinary adventure.
You don’t actually move around during The Grand Expedition: you stay at your table, but there is a wonderful illusion of movement that took my breath away; I gasped the first time it happened, and it did not get old the entire evening. (Gingerline asks everyone the keep the secrets of the experience, and I shall.) You’re not confined to your seat, of course — there’s plenty of time to get up and move around, and plenty of reason to do so, like to check out the cool bar. And at every “stop” on your journey, there is another course of delicious, plentiful, and thematically appropriate yummies. The food here is very much a vital part of the experience, capturing the romance of travel as an intimate opportunity to connect with other peoples and other heritages. (This is unlike, say, the immersive Fawlty Towers dinner thing I did a few years ago, in which the food was almost beside the point, just gave us something to do around the amusing abuse.)
More enrapturing, the trappings of The Grand Expedition aren’t retro for their own cool sake: there is a nostalgia inherent here for a time when the world was bigger than it is now. It’s great that we don’t have to fly to Japan when we have a hankering for sushi (there was no sushi on the menu here), but it’s nowhere near as much fun simply calling for takeout. The Grand Expedition left me with the delightfully unearthly feeling that I’d been swept away to exotic places that no longer exist, and been heartily welcomed there.
photos: official publicity, by Rob Greig