More hostile than the Iranian embassy siege. Colder than the war in the mid-eighties. More sterile than a toddler’s dummy. It’s a food lab in the underpants of Frank Gehry where staff mix still and sparkling water like an episode of Off Menu intended to make James Acaster cry. It’s a place where marriages go to end, memories go to die. The last bastion of molecular gastronomy in the form of the ashes of El Bulli served up as an aerated canape of desperation. In years they’ll come to visit Nerua in hall 205 of the Guggenheim and press ‘grief’ as the emotion they felt the most. I could leave this review here but I won’t.
The room is beige, as if a metaphor for the food. White clothed tables spread far and wide. Chairs, wooden and hard, as much a pain in the arse as losing an afternoon for this. No music. No atmosphere. And then the food; each course a test of patience and will. First a broth of beans, the colour of dish water and with a similar taste profile, followed by a tempura of something that is either a hardboiled egg or a stress ball. A bonbon of spiced pigs blood with grains; loose and the best thing by far all afternoon. Then ‘cricket’, allegedly because of the crunching sound it makes but maybe due to the sense that something interesting could happen if you wait long enough. It is a skewer of boiled spud with some lettuce. I’d cry if the wine list wasn’t so good.
A set custard tasting notionally of hard cheese that under delivers the promised truffle flavour like a Tory manifesto. It is murdered by the addition of shiso leaf which is about as welcome as a rain cloud on holiday. There are crackers. Sorry, they are crackers. Shrimps with mushrooms, borage, and roast chicken jus; nice enough, apparently, but this has a star and the prices to match. A twenty-nine-euro piece of hake in batter arrives with two solitary triangles of roasted red pepper for company. It’s cooked a fraction longer than it needs and makes me hanker for The Oyster Club. There is beef tenderloin with celeriac puree and pak choi. It is joyless. Been done a million times over with better results. It is also massively over seasoned.
By now I am laughing at the preposterous nature of it all. It is the only sight of teeth in the room. The other tables are fawning over the lack of food, nodding silent at each other and presumably seeing something in this that I am missing. The smile is gone when the desserts arrive, soft splodgy things to be fed to those too young or too old to have molars. An avocado cream looking like the contents of a gunge tank from Dick and Doms Bungalow, with fenugreek ice cream and black olive crumb. It is a rancid combination that leans so heavily into the fenugreek it turns into those little sweets you get in curry houses which might give you cancer. Worse, and possibly the worst dessert I can recall eating is the whisky cake. Looking like a child’s attempt at scrambled egg, the expanding foam milk bits are almost as bad as the expanding foam corn bits and both have better purpose plugging draught gaps than they do on my plate. It’s finished with a whisky ice cream so acrid Rab C Nesbitt would reject it. The table behind me orders a glass of milk as if they too were hoping to sleep this away.
We give the signs. Leave plates unfinished, tell them we don’t feel it works. It’s always the same answer of “maybe not to your taste”. They clearly know better. We pay the bill and head to the solitary table outside to finish our wine within sight of Louise Bourgeois’ giant sculpture of a spider, Mamam. It is here that it dawns on me; Nerua is the Guggenheims Shelob’s Lair.