“Xtcokpot,” by Dan Purdue

Aug 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

“Xtcokpøt” – No. 19 Flagellation Street, Manchester, UK

Amidst the glut of über-chic boutique eateries crowding the labyrinthine streets of Manchester’s resurgent North-West district nestles the new venture of renowned gastronaut Harley Figgs-Baumgartner. In keeping with its so-trendy-it-hurts postcode, the restaurant plies its trade under the near-unpronounceable moniker of Xtcokpøt, and spreads it tables over seventeen floors in a tall cylindrical building, converted from an industrial chimney.

Figgs-Baumgartner, rocketing out of obscurity after losing a leg in a freak table-tennis accident, is experiencing the kind of career boost that must leave other celebrity chefs studying the small print of their healthcare insurance. F-B believes taste buds are primitive and unreliable and, consequently, food can only be truly tasted with the mind. He advocates a philosophy that requires meals to be viewed as immersive, multisensory experiences – experiences that are irreparably sullied by the crude, mechanical processes of mastication and digestion. His creations are absorbed and reflected upon, rather than eaten. His uncompromising rejection of the plate-to-fork-to-mouth mentality has elevated his recipes to a giddy blend of culinary élan and conceptual art, and his quixotic (and determinedly inedible) concoctions have attracted a devoted cult following – the waiting list for a table here is already rumoured to be approaching the three-month mark.

I had the pleasure of dining with Chastity Hardrider, lifestyle columnist for OMG WTF LOL! Magazine, and she and I were shown to a table on the ninth floor. Where a lesser, more conventional restaurant would provide cutlery, our waiter furnished us with a selection of carefully selected ‘found items’. I received a pair of pliers and a laser pointer, while Chastity got to grips with a string of gold-plated paperclips and a funnel. The interior layout of the building is such that on each circular floor, the tables surround a vast hole that passes from the kitchens in the basement straight up through all seventeen floors to the roof terrace. The waiting staff all wear special harnesses, and glide up and down between floors via an elaborate system of wires, pulleys, and counterweights. These theatrics are very much part of the dining experience Figgs-Baumgartner painstakingly engineers for his guests, and although it takes a while to get used to the staff whizzing vertically past every few seconds, it does reward the inquisitive diner with the opportunity to check out the dishes ordered by those guests seated at the loftier tables.

For my entrée, I opted for the Primordial Soup, a delicate broth of marrowfat peas, chives, algae, and soured cream, garnished with herb croutons and small plastic dinosaurs. Chastity plumped for the Tarte au Désespoir, a single lottery ticket gently shredded and served in an imaginary pastry case. Both were excellent.

Our waiter recommended the Chicken Battalion, and I chose this for my main course. The chicken (which is locally sourced) is stuffed with maple-smoked bacon, broccoli and mozzarella, and roasted to perfection before being galvanized in molten zinc and mounted on castors. As an accompaniment, I ordered a side dish of baby carrots, which on closer inspection turned out to be carved from much larger carrots – just one of many delicious touches of irony sprinkled liberally throughout the Xtcokpøt menu. Chastity did not fare quite so well; she had trouble deciding between Beef Overdrive, Figgs-Baumgartner’s signature dish, and the intriguingly named Benefit of Hindsight, eventually opting for the latter upon discovering it was seafood. When the dish arrived it was indeed lobster, served whole, with its carapace painted white and studded with rhinestones. Clever electromagnetics concealed within the crustacean keep it hovering and slowly rotating a few inches above its toroidal plate, while concealed speakers play a looped tape of a dog barking in an abandoned warehouse. Despite an initial gasp of delight when the dish was served, Chastity quickly lost interest, declaring she had hoped it would be “more metaphorical” and pushing it aside after a few minutes. Her side order was more successful, a simple portion of jasmine rice presented in a child’s shoe.

By the time the dessert trolley was winched up to us, I was feeling somewhat replete and picked the lightest dish on offer – an exquisite steamed strawberry cheesecake wrapped in a map of the Paris Metro and served with a mixed berry coulis. Chastity chose the Broken-Heart Sundae, a dramatic confection of a sugared bull’s heart frozen in liquid nitrogen, brought to the table and smashed into fragments with a solid silver claw hammer, before being partnered with a hearty (no pun intended) dollop of whipped cream. These, and the complimentary coffees (sealed in foil sachets and posted on our behalf to randomly generated addresses in Amsterdam), rounded off the meal perfectly.

Harley Figgs-Baumgartner is a lone pioneer at the very forefront of the epicurean avant-garde. His brave new vision of the limitless potential of the humble dinner plate may not be to all tastes, but his enthusiasm for re-establishing the fundamental parameters of what mealtimes are for, and dissolving the barriers between food and art, permeates everything he does, and may well prove impossible to resist. Xtcokpøt, one cannot help but feel, is the launch pad. The stars await.

P.S. Upon leaving the restaurant, Chastity and I discovered our conceptual feast had worked up quite an appetite. We went for kebabs at Abdul’s Spice Shack, which is conveniently located just around the corner. The kebabs were tasty, although somewhat disappointing from an aesthetic standpoint.


Dan Purdue is a British writer. His work has been published in various places, including Every Day Fiction and Fiction At Work, and has been shortlisted for both the Guardian Summer Short Story Competition and the James White Award. He won the 2009 Chapter One International Short Story Competition. An unrepentant fabulist, Dan lives in Guatemala with his mail-order wife and a million cats.   Further shameless fabrication can be witnessed at http://lies-ink.blogspot.com.

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