This model has worked for a long time, and continues to do so. But just as the online booking system has changed how we search for and find restaurants with proximity, availability and recommendations from strangers, rather than traditional press reviews and/or word of mouth, so too has the pop-up scene and its sibling, the supper club, changed the game again. Using social networking and a flash-mob mentality, pop-ups bring the dining experience to a venue near you, often in an unconventional setting – people’s living rooms, shop fronts and even car-parks – and for a limited time only.
You don’t get much more unconventional than a nightclub with a burlesque show thrown in, but that’s where the Wandering Chef have set up stall, at La Maison des Artistes in South Kensington. Jamie Hazeel and Lalie Jacout are the Wandering Chefs, and for them, eating out is as much about the overall experience – location, entertainment, drinks – then the food itself. So what does that mean? In the case of Opium Nights, it’s a seven-course extravaganza with a cocktail and the aforementioned burlesque thrown in. Does it stand alone as a dining experience? Actually it does. The absinthe marinated sashimi with pickled fennel and sesame was a glorious mix of contrasting flavours and textures. The salt and pepper soft shell crab with green mango and tamarind combined the crunch and meatiness of the perfectly cooked crab with the sharpness of the fruits. The Northerner and I disagreed over the Woking duck, which was crispy duck with pancakes, pickled walnut hoi sin sauce, roast pear and dandelion. She is a fan of the original Peking duck dish and felt this was a case of style over substance. I thought it was an interesting take on a traditional dish. We didn’t get to try the profiteroles, a dessert, which I happen to love, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat from a naked woman’s body. Call me a prude, call me a feminist, or call me both. I’m sure they were delicious, but I’m happy to be served at my table. The profiteroles, not the woman.
The Wandering Chef’s have set out to create a dining experience, and I think they have succeeded. As someone who dines out four to five times a week, it was refreshing to have interesting, and mostly very good food, served in a different environment. With eating out like this on offer, why would anyone want to return to the pre-pop-up days?