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Do away with your preconceptions: today's pop-ups, supper clubs, and their newer siblings, chef residencies, are an altogether more spruced-up and luxurious experience than their anything-goes boho ancestors. From slick, one-table affairs to fine-dining tasting menus cooked by superstar chefs, there’s something for everyone in London’s underground dining scene. If you decide to turn your back on Michelin stars for one night, you’ll be riding sky-high with these pop-up restaurants, supper clubs and temporary chef residencies.
You can’t walk down the streets of New York without running into the city’s signature hot dog and pretzel carts – Big Apple Hot Dogs draws its inspiration from this city staple but adds a gourmet twist to this traditionally down-and-dirty street food. With quality ingredients including sausages made from more than 94% free-range beef and pork, fresh, locally baked buns and carefully crafted toppings, there’s no guilt attached to these hot dogs.
Chef Carl Clarke’s interesting way with ingredients has earned this restaurant above a pub its reputation for ‘British food with an edge’ – think wild sea trout cooked over wood with crispy onions, lime and lavender vinegar, or young red deer with spiced pumpkin, wild cabbage, pickled pear and popped barley. Guest chefs abound, too – previous guests have included Gizzi Erskine and the team behind Soho noodle house Tonkotsu. If you can’t get a table in the off-the-wall first-floor dining room, treat yourself to Clarke’s trash-food creations (lobster corn dogs with plum ketchup, say) in the pub downstairs.
Although it’s a permanent restaurant with two cool bars, House of Wolf combines the concept of the pop-up with that of chef residencies. The dining room features a different visiting chef every month, each with their own style and agenda. Previous hits have included a meal by a conceptual artist that makes use of all five senses, as well as stints by chefs who have already made a name for themselves on the pop-up scene, such as Burger Breakout’s David Ahern. What’s more, House of Wolf’s ground-floor bar celebrates all things quirky, with regular offbeat entertainment, workshops and concerts.
Another former street-food veteran, Lucky Chip teamed up with Soho bar The Player for this permanent incarnation of its popular burger van in 2012. The menu features Lucky Chip classics like the Royale (aged beef paired with applewood-smoked bacon) and has also expanded to include more options such as popcorn chicken bites or cheese croquettes. This is an alliance that has punters queuing at the door.
Street Kitchen’s gourmet-food wagon catered to the busy urbanites craving proper meals yet lacking the time to dine in. It has now swapped its wheels for a permanent site in Shoreditch’s Hackney House, and continues to provide diners with a daily menu of healthy and tasty options – think poached eggs with tarragon mayo and crushed potatoes, or smoked salmon with celeriac yoghurt and mint salad. For added convenience, Street Kitchen offers an app that allows customers to view the most up-to-date menus.
The DDC offers something different depending on the day, including tasting menus, Sunday lunch, and the original supper club; all dishes are carefully thought out and lovingly presented. Other food-related events include pop-up dinner dances, weekend breaks and even weddings hosted at reclaimed or unusual private spaces around London. One such location, an 18th-century Spitalfields townhouse, plays host to a DDC supperclub several times a month, with four courses plus drinks for £60. The founders have also launched a permanent restaurant, called Back in 5 Minutes.
The attention to detail and aspirational aesthetic at this bijou supper club – one of the pioneers of the London supperclub movement – belies its creator’s profession: Arno Maasdorp is a food stylist and photographer by day, and head chef and host of Saltoun for two nights a week. Since The Observer’s Jay Rayner reviewed the outfit back in 2009, getting one of the 16 places available in Maasdorp’s top-floor flat has become almost as difficult as booking into any recently opened Michelin-starred joint. But the food is exceptional, and – at £35 minimum contribution – it’s a steal.
Due to the success of their north-London supperclub, food writer James Ramsden and his sister have moved the outfit to a Hackney wine shop and bar. The duo still serve four courses for £30 once a week, but in a more grown-up location and with an emphasis on wine pairings to accompany the meal.
This seasonal pop-up returns to a Peckham car park every summer and continues to draw crowds despite its out-there location. The lines are long but justifiably so: guests can enjoy Frank’s Café’s famed cocktails while enjoying a different, but equally lovely view of the London skyline.
A hipster favourite, Yum Bun graduated from its street-cart beginnings this year and has now paired up with fellow 10-month pop-up Rotary to open in a location just off Old Street. Specialising in, as the name suggests, steamed Chinese buns, Yum Bun’s fillings range from free-range Sussex pork, beef, chicken, ginger-and-chilli salmon, or vegetables, all paired with popular sauces such as hoisin or sriracha, and all priced at a modest £3.50. Rotary, located next door, is open to Yum Bun’s customers who want a seat while they eat.