27 June 2013

The pop-up post
Kathers Kitchen at 40 Alfred Place

40 Alfred Place Bristol
Twitter is a powerful thing. Twitter told me about last week’s Bristol Big Market, part of Bristol Green Week. Twitter told me Whitney Houston had died before it had even hit the press. Twitter will I’m sure, keep me updated with all the Glastonbury gossip (and further fuel my jealousy). And so it was through Twitter that I found out about 40 Alfred Place, “the world’s first permanent pop-up venue” nestled in Kingsdown.

What a seriously good idea. This place can be rented for parties and events, be an Italian one night, a Mexican the next and finish the week with a wine tasting. My route to work takes me past 40 Alfred Place every day, yet somehow I’d never spotted it. Now I’ve been however, it’s a different story as I’m constantly looking for any faint signs that there might be a new pop-up night being prepared (the biggest clue is often copious amounts of tealights).

The pop-up night that I attended was run by Kathers Kitchen as part of their ‘producers on a pedestal’ series of events. Kathers Kitchen is a company specialising in cookery lessons and pop-up events, based in Monmouthshire. They are all about local food and seasonal ingredients and to be fair, it was the menu that really did it for me. Showcasing Westcombe dairy, a family-run dairy in Somerset, there was a cheese and chocolate focus which was right up my street. Plus I was intrigued to know what this location had in store for me. So last Friday, unsure of what to expect, and armed with just a handful of retweets to guide me, I embarked on my first pop-up restaurant experience.

Kather's Kitchen Bristol
The first thing I realised was that this was going to be a communal experience. There were only a handful of tables and we were escorted to pretty much the only 2 remaining seats alongside 6 others. There’s something really different about eating with strangers. The rules are different to eating with friends, and the only thing you know you have in common is that you’re all there to eat. I guess we were foodie groupies. The venue is small and we were crammed together in a way that chucked any worries of formality out the window. I also think that BYOB signals a good evening, although we did have a sticky moment when someone accidentally drank a load of our wine – wine that we’d saved since Christmas for a special occasion. Awkward.

As the night went on, what quickly became apparent was that most people there were friends of Kather or knew Kathers Kitchen as a whole. People were gobsmacked that we’d come, purely off the back of Twitter. What followed was a barrage of questions involving hashtags and “twittering” to which I awkwardly mumbled, “I’ve started like a food blog type thing...I know everyone’s doing it. Yeah, I just like talking about food and taking pictures of it. You know?” It appeared that no, they didn’t know, and I spent the rest of the evening desperately tried to hide my attempts to take snaps with my iPhone. 

Lamb main course
Slightly embarrassing discussions over however, it was time for the food. What was clear was that this really was a produce-led dinner. The ricotta from the dairy was the star of the show on a really summery and elegant salad to start, which met with mumbled approvals from our table. The main course was as good as I thought it would be when I’d read that the lamb was accompanied by capers and anchovies. And the pud brought me further into my culinary expedition when I chose a chocolate dessert with fruit and booze. Yikes I guess I’m growing up. All in all, an
excellent menu which came across like it was served by someone who really wanted to make you smile.

Westcombe dairy
The ‘producers on a pedestal’ theme was a great idea (not least because we sat surrounded by massive lumps of cheese at all times) but mainly because Tom from Westcombe dairy was great. It would have been hard to go wrong after standing up and announcing that he was “just going to send round some blocks of cheese...just tear a hunk off”. Yeah, ok then. He was entertaining, interesting and the cheese was superb. The Caerphilly was unlike any I’ve had before, and one that definitely did its second round of the table tasting, just to be sure. 

Kather's Kitchen bristol pop-up restaurant dessert
As we had coffee we chatted to our fellow diners about the experience. For most it was their first pop-up restaurant experience and all had enjoyed it. For me, it was a real pleasure to be part of something that felt exciting, and to share it with strangers and bond over things like air-dried ham and soda bread. At one point, the table voted unanimously for me to have the remaining salted caramel truffle - so long standing friends there, obviously. And boy, were those truffles good.

We had a difficult decision at the end of the evening when we noticed that no-one at our table seemed to be tipping. We kept watch as people left to see if there was a note tucked under their coffee cup, but no, it was a wasteland. Unsure of what to do, but with a strict code of tipping (probably due to that North America thing) we skipped out after deciding that we definitely wanted to tip. Because it had been a great meal, with great service, and because well, I’d found out about from Twitter, the very finest example of a tip-off.

So anyway, my tip to you is this: if you’re a pop-up restaurant virgin, or even an old pro, Kathers Kitchen and 40 Alfred Place really put on a stonkingly good show. Unfortunately they’re sold out for July’s ‘producer on a pedestal’ but watch this space. I’ve heard it’s a good way to get a free glass of wine.

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