Pop-up restaurants, underground supper clubs, shy chefs. Many different names for what is, basically, a meal in an unusual venue, taking place there for one night only – or over a limited time span. But the bald facts don’t often tally with the experience. A gimmick? Yes, sometimes. But inspired cooking is memorable wherever it is found.
Young chef Giles Clark, currently working with the Young Turks in London, has completed stages at culinary touchstones like Chez Panisse, River Cottage, Alinea and the legendary Noma. He was in Dublin last Saturday night with colleague James Lowe to cook dinner at The Cake Café.
Vegetables – many from Denis Healy -were given star treatment: there was a sharing plate of teeny, tiny sweetie-like beetroot with elderflowers and another with the most perfect wee carrots on a lovage-flecked bread sauce with delectable crisp chicken skin. Lamb suet dumplings came in an intense broth, with leaves of lemony sorrel to refresh the palate. Perfect little discs of smoky, chargrilled cucumber sat underneath a delicately cooked piece of hake, given a saline hit with sea purslane.
A crunchy radish was the foil for a perfectly shelled soft-boiled egg and raw cauliflower that accompanied slow cooked, reassembled and seared oxtail was in mandolin-thin slices. The meat, scattered with sweet dice of lightly pickled red onions, sat in rich, unctuous jus that was worth licking off the plate. In fact, I did catch the gent opposite me considering such a thing and not looking entirely discouraged by being caught.
This roller coaster of flavour and texture ended with a refreshing verjus sorbet, followed by perfectly ripe cheese, at the perfect temperature – and how often can you say that? – from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, with homebaked oatcakes and jugs of buttermilk. We had eaten the butter earlier, both made by Jenny McNally on her organic farm in North Dublin.
That meal was a showcase: here is a chef, cooking his heart out and working with local producers – many of whom were present – to present seasonal Irish ingredients in a fresh and exciting way. But it’s not a once-off.
Giles returns on 1 June to cook for a banquet hosted by The Cake Café in an old Primary School Building on Pleasant’s Place, Dublin 8. The meal, which includes a cocktail – ours was made from gorse and gin and tasted like a distillation of long spring evenings – will only cost €30, with wines from The Corkscrew available to buy on the night. But hurry. There’s only room for 50 people. To book, call The Cake Café on 01 4789394.
Do you call it a pop-up restaurant or a supper club? An underground dining experience? Whatever name you decide on, just know that you will be eating some very fine food indeed.
Many thanks to Michelle at The Cake Café, whose guest I was on Saturday.
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Lyric fm: Going underground for dinner – underground dining in Ireland
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Berlin: Bashful dining with the Shy Chef