Renowned ceramic artist Edmund de Waal chooses an Italian restaurant in London’s Soho neighbourhood for his ‘last meal’. He’s fascinated by the visual experience of eating and at his alloted restaurant the food comes tapas-style – so he gets to use his hands as well.
“In my studio there are always people coming through – writers, critics and friends, and we all sit down and eat together. There is always bread, cheese and soup. The idea is that anyone who comes gets fed. It’s quite comically Jewish, but if someone goes away without eating you feel like you’ve somehow failed.
I grew up in a deanery in Canterbury and so many people from all around the world used to pop in for meals – everyone from Desmond Tutu and the Pope to writers, musicians and novelists. My mother always made sure there was bread and she baked each morning. It was sink-or-swim and, as kids, we sat at a table that could seat 30 people and were expected to be part of the conversation; and we loved it.
For my last meal I would choose Bocca di Lupo and look back to the childhood memory of the Saturday lunches at the deanery where all kinds of people would gather together. I would like the meal to be a span of generations including my wife, children and my three brothers. Two of my brothers live at different ends of the world, so it would be amazing to have them there. They are human rights experts and travel the world – one in the Caucasus and one in Africa – and would bring great conversation to the table. I want to drink Chablis, lots of it, and have the meal as a party with people from diverse worlds sitting at the table like in my childhood. In honour of my children, who are currently strict little eco-warriors, I would also have to have tap water at the table.
I like the way Bocca di Lupo is about sharing dishes and that a lot of the food involves eating with your hands – such as the bread, olives and soft-shell crab. The food here is visually electric and I love that the dishes are seasonal and regional. The menu is about places, not homogen- ised Italian food, and you can’t make it up. Simple food off beautiful objects is important and, as a potter, I would want to eat off beautiful porcelain. I would eat off a set of 18 beautiful but chipped Meissen plates with birds and flowers on them that I bought at an auction. I had them mended and I like them because they’ve had a history and a life. They’ve been used, broken and also survived.
I went to Japan when I was 17 years old and it was where I discovered the relationship between food, plates and pots. Food there is presented with such extraordinary sensibility. I got introductions to the great Japanese pottery masters from Bizen, Tamba and Mashiko through the grand tea master at Urasenke, one of the great tea schools. He was one of the many people who had come for lunch at our home in Canterbury.
I remember a kaiseki meal with an elderly Buddhist abbess outside Kyoto. We couldn’t eat in the same room, so after we said hello to each other we ate our meal from other sides of the shoji. I remember a Kyoto river fish of unbelievable beauty on a black plate with a single ginkgo leaf – it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. Another extraordinary meal was with Issey Miyake at a vegetarian restaurant that only had one table. We ate off a beautiful Bizen plate fired in a kiln that had great scorch marks across it and out of a broken bowl that had been mended with gold lacquer. Each vessel was beautiful.
Family meals are important to me and my wife – and a last meal has to be about family. It’s about sharing food and eating from the same dish that I think is the most basic thing.”
Edmund de Waal is a celebrated ceramic artist known for his series of minimalist porcelain vessels. His works form part of collections in 30 museums around the world, including the V&A in London. His bestselling family memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes influences his next show – his new works will be showcased in vitrines like those that feature heavily in the book. The show opens in 2012 in the UK at the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor.
Lamb prosciutto, raw broad beans and pecorino rosso (Sardinia); fried soft-shell crab, blood orange and lamb’s lettuce (Veneto); radish, celeriac and pecorino salad with pomegranates and truffle oil; cassata siciliana (Sicily).
Dishes at Italian restaurant Bocca di Lupo have regional appellations and can be eaten tapas-style from sharing plates.
Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, London
+ 44 20 7734 2223, boccadilupo.com