TĀTĀ Eatery, the culinary duo of Ana Gonçalves and Zijun Meng, found acclaim in embracing challenges and emerging victorious – whether through a perpetually sold-out chef’s table at Tayēr + Elementary, or via their fiendishly creative menu at East Asian-inspired Mr Ji in Soho. Their latest challenge involved cooking for guests at the 2022 edition of The World’s 50 Best in London, the globetrotting restaurant list that compiles its annual rankings via the opinions of leading chefs, restaurateurs, and industry figures.
“We’ve never done such a big event,” Gonçalves says. “It was really, really big.”
In London, the pair are often described as trailblazers and, having met and worked at Nuno Mendes’ groundbreaking Viajante and worked alongside luminaries like Leandro Carreira, their creativity and talent is without question. So, how did they approach cooking at such a large event, and one packed with their peers and luminaries? And what do you serve to a room full of the best chefs in the world?
Zijun and Gonçalves were invited to prepare dishes at the event’s reception on 18th July. Located on the banks of the Thames at the Old Billingsgate Market, the event was attended by a who’s who of global restaurant talent, including those who had travelled from Asia (DEN, Sorn), Latin America (Central, Pujol) and North America (Atomix, Le Bernardin) to attend the ceremony.
“In the beginning, we thought, ‘we’re going to do the most magical dishes, the most challenging’,” says Gonçalves. But the practicalities of the evening itself – a cocktail reception and award ceremony, plus an afterparty – meant that there were creative restrictions. “Everything had to be cold. So, we thought, let’s embrace this whole thing. Let’s go full summer vibes and do raw fish, raw beef, and salad,” she says. “So, I guess we did what we do well, which is to adapt to the circumstances.”
“We were in the main hall,” she explains. “So, we couldn’t really cook at all – we had really limited fridge space as well. It was really incredible how we were 9 people overall and we managed to pull it off very smoothly, I have to say.”
“It was fun. We were constantly talking to the guests,” Meng adds. “A lot of people who came tried the food, they were surprised, and they came back later.”
Despite the pressure of cooking in such cramped conditions for such a massive event, Gonçalves says that it felt like they were back in Druid Street at their original street food pop-up: “You really have to talk – it’s completely open,” she says. “But the feeling is really good. You feel happy that people who know about food are eating your food, and everyone is raving about it. It’s always amazing and uplifting. “
It’s also worth noting that many of the dishes Zijun and Gonçalves served at the event will be available to order at Mr. Ji in Soho, and potentially at their forthcoming new restaurant, Mr Ji Camden.
Here’s a closer look at the menu they created for The World’s 50 Best reception, in their own words.
1. Red Prawn with Tobiko, Fermented Cabbage and Shiso
“To begin with, we had red prawns,” says Meng. “We get the whole prawns, shell them, and clean them, and then we cure them. And we serve them with fermented cabbage and flying fish roe. It’s one of the classics we were doing, and we were serving them in shiso leaves as a little wrap.”
Gonçalves adds: “This is a dish we’ve been doing for years [as TĀTĀ Eatery], but in different variations. We don’t have this on Mr Ji’s but we’re definitely considering it.”
2. Beef Tartare with Apple, Fish Roe, Fermented Black Bean and Sorrel
For the second raw dish, they served a raw beef tartare that’s currently on the menu at Mr Ji. “Again, it’s wrapped in a leaf – sorrel this time,” Meng says. “It’s a very – let’s say East Asian – vibe, inspired by the Korean tartare, which in our case has apple in it. And instead of gochujang, we use the Chinese bean paste, Lao Gan Ma, and then the sorrel leaves bring freshness and acidity.”
‘I think that’s a dish that captures the vibes that we want the restaurant to have, which is Asian crossed with Western.” Gonçalves says, “There’s mayo in the seasoning and puffed buckwheat; it’s sort of the Asian ways of eating but there’s western elements as well.”
“It’s what we’re trying to achieve with Mr Ji going forward.”
3. Marinated Tofu with Daikon, Carrot, Citrus Dressing and Chilli
The third dish was a tofu salad that’s also currently on the menu at Mr. Ji. “. It’s a little bit inspired by a Vietnamese salad, with a lot of flavour from Chinese cooking as well,” Gonçalves says. “It’s daikon and carrots, salted to keep the crunch, and cured tofu – five spice tofu – which we marinade again before serving. And then the dressing has Vietnamese-style citrusy flavours, but then loads of chilli sauce and coriander.”
The dish was a hit, given the record-breaking temperatures London experienced that day. “That’s why people were so happy with our food,” she laughs. “It wasn’t too hot before people started to come, but in the end, everyone was sweating.”
4. Caramelised Mushroom with Garlic Mayo, Parmesan and Pane Carasau
The last dish is one that the duo has served on and off at TĀTĀ Eatery over the years, because it’s easy to serve. But this is the first time that they’ve served it on pane carasau, the crisp Sardinian flatbread. “We actually had pane carasau when we recently went to Sessions [Arts Club],” Gonçalves says.
“We used to do this mushroom paste either served as a replacement for butter with bread, or we did it at Tayer on top of a brioche soldier with toppings,” she elaborates. “And this time, we remembered the bread and it’s fun because it looks like a little pizza.”
“The mushrooms are super caramelised and mixed with a sake reduction. It’s sweet and sour but also deep – it’s almost black. We served it with an aioli and parmesan cheese on top.”