Being Modern: Pop-up restaurants

Simmy Richman
Sunday 04 December 2011 01:00
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As anyone who's had a recent craving for a banana split will know (just me, then?), dining trends come and go – one minute it's nouveau this, the next it's foams that. Yes, dining trends come and go, but few come and go faster than the phenomenon known as the pop-up restaurant, whose raison d'être seems to be to disappear just as the likes of you and me get to hear about them.

It is this elusive exclusivity that is at the very heart of the experience. From "guerrilla dining" to urban "supper clubs", these culinary come-and-goers attract adventurous eaters almost entirely by word of mouth and the frantic use of social networking.

The idea is not new. In Cuba, paladares have long offered a home-cooked alternative to the over-priced and under-impressive fare in designated tourist traps. In the States, temporary restaurants offer young chefs the chance to make their names and established chefs the opportunity to show off skills outside their comfort zones.

But though pop-up dining has come to the UK late, it's come with a vengeance. In east London alone there is now a history of such ventures that can (unless you are so hip you know better) be traced back to the Reindeer, which briefly appeared above a car park in 2006 with plates designed by Giles Deacon.

Since then – from Ms Marmite Lover's conceptual nights in her Kilburn living-room to superchef Thomas Keller's £250 per head 10-day extravaganza at Harrods to the Merchant Hotel's recent first ever pop-up in Belfast – the pop-up concept has been there, done that and got its own website (guestaurant.com).

Which means some of that early magic is now under threat. The key to any good pop-up is a sense of unpredictability and theatre. It is not, as with a few recent examples that shall remain nameless, be an excuse for mediocre food and service in an unremarkable setting. Nor should it be a marketing opportunity à la Fairy Liquid's recent "hosted by Michael Caines" venture. Though it'll take more than Fairy Liquid to prove that the pop-up bubble has burst.

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