The Perfectionists’ Café takes inspiration from Heston’s In Search of Perfection television programmes and the In Search of Perfection book series in which he explored and reinvented Britain's favourite dishes through his unique, creative approach and his endless journey to question everything.
"You cannot achieve perfection as it’s entirely subjective,” Heston explains. "As a perfectionist, you can continually try to improve things, even if that means just turning everything upside down and starting again. We have had some incredible fun trying to make the best ever versions of these dishes, including using kit from cement mixers to paint sprayers and even a few explosions along the way! But that organised chaos produced some incredible techniques – and subsequently some fantastic results. The point is, you will never be quite satisfied. It's an endless pursuit, but when you add to the mix a bit of our quintessentially British eccentricity, that’s when the fun really begins. For me, The Perfectionists’ Café is about the realisation of that journey in an actual café; it's about everything we questioned and about harnessing the very excitement of that journey for the diner."
Surprisingly, the name Heston already has a historic connection to aeronautics in the Heathrow area. In 1929, Heston Aerodrome was built there as one of the first airports to service London, and five years later, Heston Aircraft Company – which would eventually help build the Spitfire – was founded. Now, in 2014, the journey comes full circle, but this time to offer a unique and exciting Heston airport dining experience.
The Perfectionists’ Café will present a selection of not only the UK’s most popular dishes, but favourites of the busy traveller, dishes that by their very nature are best cooked at speed. From breakfast to cocktails and beyond, The Perfectionists’ Café aims to offer fantastic food…fast.
Working with Heston to evolve the menu inspired by individual dishes from the TV programme into a busy restaurant environment have been Fat Duck Group Executive Head Chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts, and the restaurant’s Head Chef, Julian O’Neill. Along the way the team has discovered some exceptional British artisanal producers; honed cooking techniques; had products such as breads and pastries made from their own unique recipes and created bespoke kitchen equipment in a truly exceptional space. The result is the chefs’ best versions of the original 'perfection' dishes.
For example, the venue will house Heathrow’s very first wood-burning oven where pizzas will be cooked at the optimal high temperatures, ensuring authentically sloppy yet delicate Neapolitan style pizzas. Regulations governing the true Neapolitan pizza are specific to oven temperature – high enough to allow the base to cook at speed whilst ensuring that the toppings don't get hotter than 60°C. This way, ingredients like fresh basil won’t discolour with overexposure to heat. The Fish & Chips will showcase the next generation of the crunchy beer batter Heston had created for the programme, originally inspired by a scientist at Leeds University whose research measured the science of crunch. The mixture has been specially siphoned to create the lightest, crunchiest possible batter. Analysing that uniquely British smell of the 'chippie', Heston identified the back note of malt vinegar and pickled onion juice, so to complete the dish a small atomiser is served which can be sprayed directly on the food or in the air to recreate that traditional British chip shop taste and feel. The burger has been inspired by the work of an oral physiologist who discovered the "three-finger rule" – the fact that our own first three fingers put together is the widest we can comfortably open our mouths to eat. When eating a burger, it is important to get all the layers in one bite so the burger must be able to be squashed to this thickness. This determines not only the height of the different ingredient layers, but also the texture, density and aeration of the bun. The three cuts of beef used are chosen to maximise flavour and consistency and are ground so the strands are in line, creating an incredibly delicate yet meaty texture. Brioche was the final choice for the bun as it is soft enough to absorb the juices and be pressed down to the three-finger rule, yet substantial enough to hold the burger together without falling apart.
Renowned for pioneering the use of liquid nitrogen in restaurants in the late nineties, Heston Blumenthal's The Perfectionists’ Café will also celebrate the chef’s love of ice cream with a very modern ice cream parlour at the entrance to the restaurant. His futuristic style ice cream bar will have two steel cylinders that hold liquid nitrogen, pumping it to the ice cream maker. With a subzero temperature of -196°C, the nitrogen freezes the custard so quickly that the ice crystals that form are minuscule, producing not only the fastest, but the smoothest of ice creams.
The perfectionist element running through the restaurant menu continues well into the bar. Cocktails are classics – fizzes, brambles and martinis to name just a few – but done Heston-style with premium spirits, hand-pressed juices and handcrafted infusions. The multi-sensory element continues, too, with the introduction of the Cloud Pour, which uses dry ice to suffuse drinks with essences from mandarin to thyme, vanilla to cinnamon even tobacco and merlot are used adding depth and complexity of flavour, as guests drink their cocktails through an aroma scented cloud.
Working with Richard Seymour of Seymourpowell on the name and logo for the new restaurant, Heston drew on his memories of his favourite “Professor Branestawm” childhood books, written by the English author Norman Hunter. The books relay the adventures of their eponymous title character: a peculiar, absent-minded inventor who personifies British eccentricity. Seymour captured that same busy mind and amusing sense of whimsy – so evident in Blumenthal’s own work – and brilliantly created the Clockwork Knife, a metaphor for all the activity that occurs behind the scenes of The Perfectionists’ Café. Such was the resonance of the design, that it became not only the logo, but has been brought to life as a kinetic sculpture that serves as the restaurant’s signage.
From inception, Heston and his team also worked alongside restaurant and hospitality design specialist, Afroditi Krassa. Krassa crafted the interior of The Perfectionists’ Café, creating a space that is rooted in nostalgia and harks back to the heyday and glamour of 1960’s passenger flights, using unexpected details such as a propeller-shaped benches and Formica-lined joinery. The result is an interior that not only challenges the boundaries of restaurant design, but also adroitly manages to mirror the multi-sensorial aspects of Blumenthal’s menus. By integrating the sounds and aromas of the kitchen into the restaurant’s environment and using clever lighting on the dishes to accentuate the creativity of the cooking, the design creates a space that will become in itself a destination.
From the 4th June 2014, passengers travelling through Heathrow’s Terminal 2 will be able to experience the craft, science and techniques that have gone into creating this truly unique venue by simply enjoying the nostalgia, fun, whimsy and glamour of Heston Blumenthal's The Perfectionists’ Café.