The Tate’s latest exhibition, Forms of Life, is a little different. It features the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. At the gallery you will find all the usual things, including the gift shop. But you’ll also find a menu.
Tate Eats joins a steady trickle of institutions seeking to develop exhibition-specific menus. Recently, in Japan, I saw locals and tourists queuing to sample a Lychee Gelée studded with fruit and edible flowers – it was Monet’s Water Lilies in miniature. In Tokyo’s Yamatane Museum, there was Mount Fuji, reworked in wagashi (Japanese sweets).
But af Klint and Mondrian are a much more European affair. And their meals feature a starter of maatjesharing (pickled herring), paired with horseradish and gherkin, on a slither of rye bread. If you could have it for every course, do; it is the perfect balance of fermented and fresh flavours. From the Tate Kitchen over the River Thames, sitting eye-level with St Paul’s Cathedral, I am transported a thousand miles to the waterfront at Gdánsk.
Mondrian is easier to represent on the plate; his dishes are a succession of beets and radishes chopped at an angle, and vivid squirted jus. “Composition with Raspberry” is an alcoholic drink similarly inspired by his later, abstract works. The redness from the raspberry gin and Campari has been distilled from the alcohol and concentrated in a cube of jelly, which garnishes the colourless liquid left behind. “You should taste RED!” I was assured by the server.
“Taste of Adulthood”, another cocktail, co-opts af Klint’s pastel-pink hues, topped with whipped egg-white and her trademark snail’s shell. But one sip and we see purples – perhaps it’s the taste of parma violet sweets – that recall her lilac-coloured works. It’s almost childishly sweet; a wholly front-of-the-mouth representation of an artist whose works delve much deeper.
We opt instead for the Brännland Ice Wine, made with Swedish Mustu apples and sweet must, a better balance of sweetness and acidity. Thick like dessert wine, it clings to the edge of the glass. My plus-1 for the evening remarks how it tastes like Kopparberg.
Apple also graces the starters and mains, cutting through dill cream cheese and pickled beets, bavette steak and blood pudding. Meat and fish are sublime; the vegetarian options pale in comparison, unless you lean in to the Yayoi Kusama menu.
We finish with the Rhubarb Vlaflip, a Dutch custard layered with yoghurt, berries and biscuits. It’s another hybrid, levelled up from more humble origins into the realm of fine dining, and repurposed with “British” ingredients. And beyond the bespoke menu, it’s lifted with a sip of Liastos, a sweet wine from Crete blending bright peach, apricot, citrus, and marmalade.
It’s unlikely that af Klint or Mondrian ever sat down to a meal like this. All of which begs the question – who are these dishes really for? Perhaps museums and restaurants have more in common than we think. Both are in precarious financial positions, due to chronic underfunding in the arts and post-Covid shifts in consumption.
I tried to enter the restaurant with an open mind, and with a sense that food might help us to rethink the visual arts; that it might somehow make exhibitions more accessible. But then three courses will set you back over £50, and that’s without drinks.
Alternatively, you can pick up the exhibition catalogue, some doughnuts, and a few cans of IPA produced in collaboration with a local brewery. The choice is yours.
Hilma af Klint & Piet Mondrian: Forms of Life runs at Tate Modern in London until September 3 2023. The special menu is available at the Tate Kitchen, via Tate Eats, during the same period