elBulli was a Michelin 3-starred restaurant in Spain run by the acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià. It closed in 2011 and is planning to re-open as essentially a museum of food. This exhibition explores the history of this famous gastronomical brand, its evolution and its constant aim to surpass merely a dining experience and be seen as fine art.
There's no doubting the care and effort that went into creating unique dining experiences and there are several videos recreating the sights and sounds of the restaurant's kitchen. There is also a rather elaborate chocolate box that was presented to diners at the end of their meal and an ostentatious oversized French bulldog made from meringue with a candied necklace which is impressive. There are even ambitious plans to form bullipedia, a wiki all about cooking and the various techniques that may be used in the kitchen.
The difficulty with this exhibition lies in playing it safe and merely promoting the achievements of the restaurant and what its next steps are. The more interesting angle to this exhibition would have been in exploring the point at which food becomes art, if it ever does, and whether this is a brave attempt to surpass a dining experience or pretentiousness taken to extremes. These critical questions would have made for a more thought provoking display but as it is, it feels more like an advertisement than an exhibition.
The other challenge this show faces is that the key senses for food are smell and taste, yet we experience neither in this exhibition and we have only sights and sounds to guide us. Thus we left feeling a little unfulfilled by the fact that we'll never taste the food as the restaurant is now closed.
On the question of what is art, there is definitely food for thought here but this exhibition has missed the opportunity to tackle such a divisive topic head on.
elBulli: Ferran Adrià and The Art of Food is on at Somerset House, Embankment Galleries, WC2R 1LA until 29 September. Tickets for adults are £10, £5 on Mondays.
A combined ticket with the Miles Aldridge exhibition is £12.50, £6.25 on Mondays.