Fielding a few menu questions might seem like a perfunctory step for waiters at some restaurants. Not so at Feast, where the same exercise can prompt a string of inquires from wide-eyed customers. What's Bubble and Squeak? How about Bath chaps? And is Cock-A-Leekie an appetizer, an entree or a diagnosis?
Fans of BBC television exports may have an advantage at Feast. But for most, the menu of traditional English cooking at this new Warehouse District restaurant will seem exotic. With its nose-to-tail aesthetic and its unvarnished use of offal and lard, eating at Feast always feels like an adventure, even if the bedrock flavors are often familiar, and sometimes downright homey.
Bubble and squeak, the kitchen's favorite side dish, is a griddled hash of potatoes mixed with Brussels sprouts and cabbage that tastes like comfort food incarnate. A bit more challenging, Bath chaps are essentially slices from a loaf of pork cheek and pork tongue, insulated with plenty of fat, wrapped in pig skin and brined forever. Crisp at the edges, salty, fatty, sinfully rich and just as gratifying, they're a delicious enigma wrapped in a delicious mystery. Cock-a-leekie, the traditional Scottish chicken and leek soup, is served with plums and bacon and tastes like winter's remedy in a bowl.
Feast is the second incarnation of a restaurant with the same name opened in Houston two years ago by English-born chefs Richard Knight and James Silk along with Silk's wife Meagan. The Silks moved to New Orleans this year, and together with Knight continue to run both restaurants by shuttling between the two cities.
Silk describes his menu as the sort of food he and Knight grew up eating in England, plus some rustic favorites from France and Spain and a few recipes pulled from archival English cookbooks. The result is a long and ever-changing list that always includes a few savory pies with excellent crusts and stew-like fillings and some enormous joints of pork or lamb, which seethe with juicy flavor and are portioned as though for a Tudor banquet.
Meat comes from small producers, and the chefs butcher the animals in house to make prolific use of their various parts. One extreme example is a fried rabbit skeleton, which offers crisp ridges of succulent meat along the bones and is equal parts appetizer and anatomy lesson.
Most dishes are composed with care and balance, with vividly fresh greens or root vegetables to soften the flesh-and-bones centerpieces. Presentation is generally Spartan, and seasoning is sometimes lacking compared to the lavish local standard, especially when it comes to the few seafood dishes. Another issue is simply the heft of this especially hearty food, which makes me wonder how Feast will fare through our hot seasons. Feast in Houston serves this same style year-round. Silk says that's the plan here too, but acknowledges that he and his partners are open to changing things as they learn more about their new city.
That's an attitude I advise for approaching Feast, too. Come with an open mind — and a ravenous appetite — and you can have a restaurant experience unlike any other in New Orleans.