Eating Exeter was lucky to be invited to a Pop-up Dining experience hosted by The Pickle Shack; an exciting new company hosting a number of Pop-up events across East and South Devon. At the helm of The Pickle Shack is Josh McDonald-Johnson, a talented Michelin star trained chef who has previously worked for three two Michelin starred chefs, Michael Caines (our local food hero), Daniel Clifford (of Midsummer House in Cambridge) and John Campbell (previously of The Vineyard at Stockross, Berkshire). He has recently returned from travelling the world in search of curious cuisines and cookery methods after spending a year and a half in New Zealand working in some of the countries most highly acclaimed restaurants.
The Pop-up Dining experience is definitely a bit of a rarity in Exeter, and it will be interesting to see if we start getting more events ‘Popping up’. Excuse the pun. This was my first Pop-up Restaurant experience and I would definitely recommend it.
Taking place at The Real McCoy’s Arcade in Fore St, Exeter the scene was set for a night of tapas and cocktails from the Pop-up bar (operated out of The Real McCoy’s Cafe) with a selection of drinks including Avocet Ale from the very local Exeter Brewery which was less than a mile away as the crow flies. The dining area in the courtyard normally serves cafe customers, but tonight Exeter’s foodies clustered together to eat and drink cocktails in this little landmark, with music provided by an Exeter band called Hazaar which really gave the evening quite an Iberian feel. Cocktail’s included a Strawberry and Rosemary Mojito, White Sangria (White Wine, Somerset Apple Brandy, Local Apple Juice) and one that went down well with diners, Lemonbalm and Pink Peppercorn Gin & Tonic.
Some things in life are definitely best shared, and food is often one of the first things you want to share. The ethos of the night was very much ‘make new friends’. The communal seating might not be to everyone’s taste (we are British of course?), but this is part of the Pop-up restaurant philosophy. We found ourselves squeezing in to the last few spaces and getting comfy with our surrounding diners; we met some lovely people as a result and happened to exchange phone numbers with one lady who we spent most of the evening chatting to. The non-watermarked photos are courtesy of Josh’s photographer on the night as we had a few camera issues!
Once we were happily seated, the food was the next thing on my agenda. Our little menu which came packed in a nice envelope gave us the six dishes that were going to be served, each one seemed to have a different culinary personality, some were a little experimental and others were more familiar.
The first course was Seared Chorizo with Zarzuela, a punchy garlicky/herby sauce with a chunk of fine Chorizo. So why Tapas? I chatted to Josh after the meal; Tapas was logistically easier to create given the fact the kitchen was on the third floor of the building, food being delivered on a lift down to the cafe on the ground floor.
Tapas also gave the diners a greater variety of tastes and styles to sample as well. Even though the portions came out at 10 minute intervals, it was quite amazing how filling they seemed by the end. Never underestimate the deceptive power of Tapas dishes!
Second up was a Seedy slice with beetroot houmous, fresh goats curd and crispy onions, the earthiness of the beetroot and the goats curd worked really well together and was held together with a nutty slice which was far from dry and gave the whole thing a moistness which was really nice.
Our third course was for me, the most unusual of the night. Smoked mackerel doughnut with chilli and apple jam. For me the Smoked Mackerel worked well with the chilli and apple jam, but the doughnut didn’t have a place with such a strong tastes. This was very much a personal thing, as some diners liked it and some agreed with me. I have a feeling that I was meant to coat the doughnut in the jam first, but as it was it was certainly one of the more experimental dishes of the evening.
The fourth course saw Pulled salt beef brisket, sour flatbread, pickled carrot and mint yoghurt appear to us on slate serving platters. I have to apologise to Josh for calling this the nicest Tzatziki I’d ever tasted when I chatted to him afterwards! But it worked wonderfully with the saltiness of the brisket and the flatbread. The Salted beef wasn’t too salty (as this sometimes can be a little overwhelming if you don’t like overly salty foods) but the combination worked well and balanced itself nicely.
So now we are on to the desserts. Our first was Plum & pear with honey, spice and tarragon meringue. My portion had a whole plum and some pear too, the plum melted off the stone and the meringue gave it a sweet side to the bitter-sour of the plum which really worked.
Our final mini dish of the evening was Blackberry and apple, Almond milk infused with foraged chamomile and salted oats. Again a well balanced dish and one of my favourite of the night. The chamomile was foraged from Josh’s own back garden, which really says a lot about the event as a whole. Have a look at Pickle Shack’s Produce Promise just to get an idea of how important this ‘local’ is to this company.
The Real McCoy’s event isn’t the only one that The Pickle Shack will be doing, in fact it sounds like the events themselves take a heck of a lot of planning in advance. The next one is also in Exeter and it taking place at The Real Food Cafe in Paris Street on the 13th September at 7:30pm. Head over to the events page for some more dates for your diary. One event coming up is the Chagford Grub Club where the ingredients are coming from two suppliers based in Chagford themselves, this is certainly one for the diary if you don’t mind a little trip to Chagford.
For contact details and information on further events head over to http://www.pickleshack.co.uk/