The Food Lab: Pop-up Diner
I’ve been to a few pop-up diners and one of the things I like about them is that it feels like you’re at a mate’s fancy dinner party in their front room – a few have actually been in a front room – but with great food and new people, who you might not have slept with, fell out with or had to avoid on the school playground.
The Food Lab has a familiar warmth, with the waft from a sprig of rosemary placed in a glass on each table, lots of soft lighting, candles and the chuckles of the other diners. My plus one and I surveyed the other guests, setting our prey for chats, like that of an inexperienced serial killer.
Unlike restaurants, pop-up diners like The Food Lab, combine that feeling of luxury and being treated, without the awkwardness of a restaurant and the vaguely bemused waiter, who might need your table to be cleared soon. We knew we were in for the night, it was just us. Let’s get emotional.
When it came to our first starter, (yes, it’s a thing), my friend said: “You choose one”. I laughed haughtily, like I was in the Ivy with Danny Dyer. “No, no, no darling, at The Fat Duck, you have 450 courses and most of them come as foam or confetti or even a subconscious thought that you could smell and perchance taste.” So two starters, two mains, two puds, although it wasn’t put in that crass a fashion by the hosts.
I know it’s boring that people talk about the nuttiness of mushrooms, like people refer to Nora with Batty, but the foraged mushrooms were delicious, fresh and nutty. I took ages trying to internally name each mushroom without my plus one being able to comment on my smug pretensions. I’m not the biggest fan of pastry, but they were in a pastry crust that I enjoyed. It fell apart, the celeriac sauce softened the blow and the mushrooms really won the day.
“That was good” said my plus one. “Yes” I said, “that was good”. We then looked sneakily at the neighbouring table and we both knew it was time to begin the socialising.
Before I go on, I have to point out the duo who were taking care of us and where we were. Fig Cafe, which the Food Lab had taken over for the night, has a counter, with a floor of tables snugly close together. All the food was cooked right under our noses and the merry dance performed between chef and hostess were within earshot. They both moved around like they were going to win Strictly and weren’t expecting a 10.
Next was charred mackerel, cucumber and dill oil, a much more subtle dish but welcomingly refreshing after a tart. And ‘oh’ the mini cucumbers, ‘oh’. I could only just eat them; they were too adorable. I felt the same way about my baby sister’s little fingers and I would have eaten them. The mackerel was hardly cooked, as I prefer, and could have only been like that having been hoiked out of the nearby sea. It had that Carpaccio edge, which reminds me of an embarrassing incident in Prague.
Rainbow trout, with smoked roe sauce, baked kale and samphire, was a stonker. There was a bitterness to it that made you want more, like a cheeky stolen kiss, and then I got my spoon out for the roe sauce, always a good sign. I’d lick the plate for a good sauce or gravy. Feed me now!
I’d say we were well oiled and chugging along now. I was talking about the socialist nature of a bee colony to my neighbouring diner and congratulating people on different parts of their going out clothes, whilst eating lamb.
I’m going to have neatly wrap and pack now as I head towards a rapidly diminishing word count.
We were supposed to have two puds, instead we had three. I have to say number three was my favourite. Lemon parfait with fennel cream and fresh fennel. It had that natural zing of sherbet with a little crunch of some thinly rolled fennel. I’m not a pudding person, but this was a zippy little corker that really floated my boat.
We were very full, we ate, we drank and we laughed and the police weren’t called. Give Food Lab a go, they’re a great new thing and they’re on every two weeks.
The Food Lab Suppliers: Rx fisheries, Gunns Buthers, local grocers such as Hill & Coulter, foraged goods such as mushrooms and sea herbs from their forager Nick Hales.
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