Food & Drink

Pop-up Eating: Restaurants, reinvented

Kate Feld
Posted
Photograph of fresh vegetables - aubergines, purple cabbage, sliced courgettes and herbs

Pop-ups and supper clubs refresh the model for progressive new ways to eat.

I’m bored of restaurants – aren’t you? Like other jaded foodies of my ilk, simply going out to eat isn’t enough to get my pulse racing anymore, and those clever catering industry people know this. So in an effort to attract our custom, the stage set gets ever more spectacular, the food genre mashups ever more outré (Japanese-Italian, anyone?), the sourcing of artisan ingredients ever more name-droppingly particular. It’s enough to make you stay in and cook every night.

So it’s easy to understand the current mania for transient eating ventures – from pop-ups to supper clubs to one-night-only feasts – that is currently sweeping the nation. They put the focus back on the quality of the food, run by people whose passion is for feeding people. The chefs can focus all their energies on that, without having to pay for premises or endure the gruelling slog of actually running a restaurant, day in and day out. The customers get the thrill of belonging to a select club and, ideally, enjoying top quality food without funding all that usually comes with it. On the downside, you’re taking your chances with things like food safety, and the quality varies. Enthusiastic amateurs can be amazing cooks, but sometimes the transgressive buzz of eating a “secret” meal in a stranger’s front room can’t compensate for lacklustre food.

2014 has already been a banner year for supper clubs in the North

So far, 2014 has already been a banner year for supper clubs in the North, with pop-ups popping up by the score. In Manchester, in-home supper clubs like Seasons Eatings, The Spice Club and Arepa Arepa Arepa have established customer bases, and new ones are constantly appearing; including a super-secret collective of student squatters serving meals in abandoned buildings, which we’re not cool enough to know any more about than that.

In Leeds, there’s Dinner at The Manor and Afsaneh’s Persian Kitchen, while the delightful Chez Shamwari serves tea in a period house in Saltaire. In Sheffield, Komal Khan is introducing people to a whole new world of Pakistani cooking at the highly regarded Sheffield Supper Club. Suddenly, it seems like every foodie or food blogger out there wants us to come round for dinner at theirs. See this helpful directory website for evidence – in some parts of the UK you could eat at a supper club every night of the week if you wanted to.

“The Y generation – you, me, our peers – are searching for unique experiences,” says foodie Bonnie Yeung. “Our parents had the 60’s, with sex, drugs rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve had recession and unemployment. For us, supper clubs and pop-ups are signifiers for ‘the alternative’ and the fringe. We’re chasing authenticity, doing something that no one else has done- we don’t want shared experience but something we can squirrel away just for us – which is why the temporary or private, anti-restaurant experience is so popular.”

Yeung should know. She recently teamed up with Manchester’s Finest to hold a secret supper club in Chinatown, the first in a series featuring the kind of uber-authentic food you can’t get at your local Chinese takeaway. Yeung, whose family owns the Yang Sing group and who has become a champion of the neighbourhood, says the idea was cooked up by a community group to combat perceptions that the area is unfashionable or inaccessible. More troublingly, she says, Chinatown is under threat, and is trying to see off a betting shop invasion. “We want people to understand the way that time slows in Chinatown, to meet its people and hear their stories,” she says.

Yeung says savvy restauranteurs are capitalising on pop-up mania by trying to offer an anti-restaurant restaurant experience. At Friday Food Fight, a series of ‘food raves’ held at Manchester’s Campfield Arcade this month, street vendors compete for customers with mobile contingents from city restaurants including Solita, Ning, Lucha Libre and Umezushi. In Liverpool, the wonderful Camp & Furnace event space hosts regular food slams, banquets and one-off meals featuring a mix of itinerant food vendors and city restaurants. Whether food raves are your thing or not, it’s never been a more interesting time to be eating in the North.

Culture Guides

Cinema

This month, we round up some of the disreputable treasures and genuinely ambitious pieces of film art that are screening around Manchester and the North.

Exhibitions

They say a picture is worth a thousand words – so, perhaps, can an object be, as our current selection of the very best exhibitions in Manchester and the North proves.

Families

It’s all about how to make the world a better place at People’s History Museum and SICK! Festival, a ridiculous art race through the forest, swashbuckling historical heroism and imaginative theatrical adventures. Phew.

Benjamin Myers by Julian Germain Dunelm.

Literature

March sees talks and tours, birthdays and anniversaries, writers’ conferences and development days, and some rather big names on the literature scene.

Music

Why not try some new music for the new year? How about a residency (or two) in a former mill, an original take on a film soundtrack, or the cream of Manchester’s current music scene coming together for an action-packed all-dayer?

The Suppliant Women

Theatre

This month we’ve got something very old, a couple of things rather new, something borrowed from the Americans and something dressed in Oldham Athletic blue.

Destination Guides

Things to do right now

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Exhibitions 4 February–29 March 2017, FREE

John Hyatt: Rock Art at HOME

Cinema 10 February–29 March 2017, from £5.00

New Release: Moonlight at HOME

Cinema 16 February–30 March 2017, from £7.00

Film Season: David Cronenberg

Cinema 24–30 March 2017, from £5.00

New Release: Aquarius at HOME

Music 24 March–1 April 2017, from £21.00

RNCM Opera: Theodora

The Suppliant Women
Theatre 10 March–1 April 2017, from £16.50

The Suppliant Women at Royal Exchange Theatre

Exhibitions 25 February–1 April 2017, FREE

Graft at PS Mirabel

Theatre 9 March–8 April 2017, from £15.00

Yank! at Hope Mill Theatre

Social 10 March–9 April 2017, FREE

Living Sculpture (Virtual) at Crewe Station

Cinema 5 March–9 April 2017, from £8.00

Vintage Sundays: Scorsese and De Niro at FACT

Exhibitions 19 November 2016–16 April 2017, FREE

Artist Rooms: Andy Warhol at the Whitworth