All you need to know about the pop-up restaurant scene in Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 July 2018
Eating out should never be boring, yet it is all too easy to fall into the trap of dining where you know. Claire Bore goes in search of gourmet excitement and fresher than fresh food…
Who doesn’t love a good meal out? Here in Derbyshire we are truly spoilt with a plethora of top chefs and award-winning restaurants, often with the added bonus of stunning scenery. However, we frequently visit the tried and tested places – ones that hold great memories – and this can often get a little, if we dare say it when food is involved, predictable. Yet there is an exciting food revolution literally popping up around Derbyshire and its neighbouring counties… pop-up restaurants.
If you are someone in the know then you may have already visited one of them. There have been whispers on Facebook, mouth-watering pics on Instagram and tasty teasers on Twitter. So popular have they become that one local restaurant, Sloans, has had to move into bigger premises to keep up with demand. So, what are these pop-up eateries and how do they differ from the usual restaurant experience?
Pop-Ups in a Nutshell
Back in 2000 the whole concept of eating out started to change in the UK. Globally, it was not unusual for communities to set up dining venues in homes, but it has taken us a little longer to catch on, starting out with supper clubs in secret locations, front rooms and disused industrial units. There is even the globally acclaimed ‘Restaurant Day’, celebrated across 43 different countries where new chefs get to practice and celebrate their local food culture in local restaurants. Now the pop-up phenomenon has reached more rural locations and Derbyshire has embraced it head on.
According to highly acclaimed chef Danny Edwards it was a natural progression. ‘The industry has moved in this direction because people are naturally becoming more adventurous,’ reflects Danny. ‘The British food scene has improved, through so much TV and media exposure. Food is fashion now.’
The downside of this is that while everyone is clambering to be their own ‘Masterchef’, food establishments can be forgotten. ‘Restaurateurs need to evolve constantly, to get a platform,’ says Danny who has a long history of cooking up a storm in high profile eateries from The Dragon to 7. He decided to set up a pop-up to give himself the chance to experiment and take full advantage of his Derbyshire heritage. Danny’s latest adventure is based in the grounds of Suzie’s Farm in Hilton, in a characterful wooden building adorned with candy cane stripes and affectionately called ‘The Shed’. Attracting discerning diners from far and wide, Danny reasons that the pop-up restaurant is almost like a secret club. ‘Word of mouth and social media have contributed to its success, and now customers keep returning to try the various nights on offer, from pie and burger to six course taster menus.’
Fresh is Best
Across the Staffordshire border in Rolleston-on-Dove another culinary hideaway can be found. Down a lane in a building framed with farmyard charm and a natural, cosy feel, Sloans kitchen duo Tony Sloan and partner Hayley Toone are reaping the success of their Supper Club nights. Defining themselves as, ‘temporary – meaning not every night, in an unusual location and providing an evolving, ever-changing menu,’ their evenings have been so popular they are booked up to six months in advance. For high calibre chef Tony, renowned for his catering for private dinner parties, it was a natural progression to ‘pop-up’. ‘Every time we were on the road, people were asking us when we could come back. We looked into having our own private premises and initially started off in a temporary location but as we grew in popularity we wanted a more permanent home. We have finally found our unique selling point in our pop-up supper club here at the Old Stables at Craythorne Farm.’ Such is the success of the restaurant that they are constantly fully booked and have regular repeat customers.
‘It’s a bit like getting a ticket to a gig, they buy the ticket, but won’t know exactly what they will be getting until the event,’ ponders Hayley. The menus, which are usually sent a week in advance, can offer anything from 8-hour beef ox cheek to roast hake. It seems to be a winning formula because the customers soon turn into regulars. ‘We have a lot more scope to change and adapt based on feedback, it’s that freedom every month to provide that extra-special something personal that’s exciting and new. If a regular says they’d love to try some local lamb on the next menu then we go with that,’ says Hayley.
Locally sourced ingredients are one of the things all the pop-up’s have in common. ‘We are based on a farm, so we are as local as you can get and what we can’t source here, we look to find locally. We are constantly identifying new suppliers, it keeps things fresh both in our approach and in the food we serve,’ says Sloans’ manager Hayley.
The Shed’s owner and head chef Danny agrees, ‘I’m incredibly proud of the Derbyshire links here. Suzie’s Farm forms part of our identity. It can dictate menus, help us select from the seasons and embrace what is on our doorstep. We can pick produce and cook with it that day. We even source our honey from the village here in Hilton.’
The Shed is undeniably self-reliant on its surroundings with rhubarb growing literally metres from the kitchen and wild garlic nearby – the potential is massive. ‘I only have to step out of the kitchen back door and think “What can I do with that?” It’s all about our footprint,’ boasts Danny. ‘Customers know what they are getting – quality and transparency. It makes for a nice dining environment because there is no upselling. It is as it is. Customers have seen the menu a week in advance and they know it’s going to be fresh and different. The menu is not in a box, we can produce a tasting menu and really go to town experimenting,’ he adds.
So, who frequents these new ventures looking for something really special that adds an element of dining surprise? Is there a typical Derbyshire pop-up diner? ‘We have a very wide demographic from teenage couples to those who have retired,’ comments Danny at The Shed. ‘There is no typical customer and that is the joy of it. It makes for a great atmosphere. There is, however, one trait they all share – a sense of adventure and quirkiness.’
Hayley Toone from The Supper Club at Sloans agrees, ‘Often by the end of the night, all the tables will have started talking to each other. People often say coming here is like finding a little gem of a restaurant on holiday. The ones you stumble on, down a backstreet, where there is a vibrant atmosphere and stunning food.’ It’s exactly that kind of dining experience that makes it so special. The venues may stay the same but what happens on the night is different every single time.
There is, however, an even more unique experience available for Derbyshire diners. While a pop-up often occurs at the same venue on predictable dates, for some restaurateurs, pop-up really does mean they can appear at any time and in any place. For Director Andrew Coghlan and his team led by the world renowned chef – one of only 120 Master Chefs of Great Britain – Simon Lilley MCGB, it’s all about providing a bespoke service. Firstly, their pop-ups can be anywhere – from village halls to disused warehouses. ‘We can convert any space into a restaurant experience. It’s all about the décor and style.’ They have catered for everything from fundraising groups and family get-togethers through to special birthdays and VIPs. ‘The key is that we can make the restaurant special to whichever group is dining – from finishing personal touches to the actual menu and the food itself,’ says Andrew.
While pop-up restaurants may appear a bit of a novelty concept, (the gourmet equivalent of the fashion business’ flash sales, if you like), delve under the layers and you can see it’s all about quality. A food revolution where the age-old consumer approach of packing in as many covers as possible is replaced with bespoke food, quality over quantity.
For Coghlans the food is key. ‘It’s about being ultra-seasonal. We start pulling together an idea for a menu about 48 to 24 hours before an event. With seafood, it rides on what has landed that morning. Desserts can be predicted a little more in advance but the other two courses are very much based on what is available that day. We even incorporate foraged food into our menu.’ This fresher than fresh experience has taken the en-vogue nature of grow-your-own to a new level. Diners can revel in the experience of knowing that they are eating the best quality food possible, which is not easy when we are so far from the sea. The team has to be well-organised and rely on good contacts to ensure they have good supplies but it is a formula that works thanks to the experience and knowledge of those involved. No corners are cut and that is perhaps what makes it all so special.
Waste Not Want Not
Another advantage occurs where food wastage and the epidemic plastic problem are concerned. As Danny Edwards explains ‘We keep a tight menu and don’t hold stock. There is no need. We change our ingredients according to what is available and cook to the exact number of covers which we know in advance.’ Not only does the diner get the best possible fresh ingredients but because products are locally sourced or home grown, they can eat ethically knowing there will be little waste both in terms of food and packaging. Hayley Toone, from Sloans, agrees: ‘Everything is pre-ordered so there is no waste. We cook what is eaten. Not only does this benefit the business but the environment as well.’
‘Our waste food goes into the compost and we recycle pretty much everything else. We use vegetable off-cuts to feed the animals so everything runs a full cycle,’ says Danny Edwards.
Perhaps then the best things do come in small packages, especially when it comes to dining out. ‘The pop-up model just wouldn’t be sustainable in large restaurants. This is a different set up. We live and breathe the job, it’s a passion. We want to keep investing back into the local community, the farm and ultimately keeping everything fresh.’ As Hayley Toone reasons: ‘Pop-ups are really special. Our ultimate aim is to make the customer happy and give them that unique experience.’
Who can argue with that? With the freshest ingredients, exciting off-the-cuff menus and interesting locations, it seems you’re never going to be bored if you choose ‘à la pop-up Derbyshire’.