It is thirsty, hungry work, flitting from stall to stall, talking, standing, perhaps pondering an extravagant purchase – and all the while thinking of lunch. But where art fair fatigue was once met by tea in polystyrene at worst and posh sandwiches and plonk at best, there are now gourmet pop-ups, hand-roasted coffee, wine tastings – and very few opportunities not to part with good money.
At the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris last month a starry Relais & Chateaux restaurant pop-up was billed as “the heart of the event”. Each day a different “grand chef” took turns to feed the masses against the backdrop of a Karl Lagerfeld stage set. Guy Martin, chef at Le Grand Vefour at the Palais Royale in Paris, offered a sumptuous four courses, including lobster, white artichokes and “Meringue Ylang-Ylang”.
Christian Deydier, the president of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, said it was “toute naturelle” to find the artistry of “la haute gastronomie française” amid works of art and jewellery.
In London, too, art and food are becoming increasingly intertwined. The Designjunction fair at the London Design Festival last month laid on designer beer and a Nordic-themed restaurant, which quickly became a talking shop.
The Whitechapel Gallery has Angela Hartnett as consultant to its catering and restaurant operations, while Mark Hix’s recent hit restaurant Tramshed, in London’s Hoxton, places a pickled cow colossus by Damien Hirst in the centre of the room.
At Frieze London, past provender has been of a very good standard, but the demand, especially in the VIP areas, has sometimes outstripped supply.
Matthew Slotover, co-founder of Frieze, says: “From the beginning [food] was important. The first restaurant at the fair was Le Caprice when Mark Hix was chef-director. He still hosts the fair restaurant today but under his own guise: Hix Restaurant and Champagne Bar.”
The quality of food at art fairs has improved, Slotover says, “but the starting point wasn’t so high.” It continues to be a priority at Frieze, since food and drink can affect people’s enjoyment “a huge amount”. He says: “So many people who came to Frieze New York remarked upon the food. It’s important that people can feel confident to come to the fair for the whole day and every part of that experience to be pleasurable – food is a big factor in that.”
A pizza oven at the New York event in May was so successful that a similar offering is being introduced to London, with Home Slice Pizza. And this year Margot Henderson, wife of St John chef Fergus Henderson and chef at Rochelle Canteen, will be catering at the VIP lounge, with Caravan providing the coffee from two LaMarzocco machines.
Laura Harper-Hinton, co-founder of Caravan restaurants, says: “People expect these days there might be some good establishments, even at a [pop] festival they’ve raised the bar.” She will be serving espresso-based drinks made with a blend of beans from Brazil, Guatemala and El Salvador and delicious, creamy milk.
In the new Frieze Masters tent Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli is staging a mini-manifestation of his Michelin starred Locanda Locatelli restaurant, with a fully fledged menu all the way from antipasti to dessert. The quality will doubtless be superb but it is not cheap. A pasta dish of sedanini, nduia, tomato and salted ricotta is £18 for a large portion, or a char grilled rib eye steak with smoked aubergine and rocket pesto is £32.50.
The Marlon Abela outfit Umu will also be dispensing high-class Kyoto-influenced Japanese food, with £26 bento boxes, 12 different sakes and a wine list that peaks at £360 for a 2007 Ermitage Le Meal Michel Chapoutier. Serious art buyers are clearly expected to take their refreshments seriously too.
But before anyone gets carried away, Slotover has a word of caution: “The art always comes first. [Food and art] are difficult to compare – I wouldn’t use the same standards to judge a painting as a pudding.”