A while back, I came up with this idea that it would be cool to do a pop up restaurant in honour of the 20 year anniversary of my parents opening their restaurant. Sure Oakhill House hadn’t stayed open more than a couple of years and I’m pretty sure the stress of the whole venture nearly destroyed their marriage. But enough time had passed for us all to remember the whole affair with rose tinted glasses. I planned the menu, with “witty” updates of the restaurant’s classic dishes, and laid grand plans to get all their friends and family to come along and join us. Then I started thinking about the realities of me actually cooking a 10 course meal for 50 people and quickly came to the conclusion it was a stupid idea that would probably make me cry, and so forgot all about it.
That’s because operating a restaurant, even a temporary one, is really tough. You might think running a pop up wouldbe easier, but just stop and think for a moment. You’re working in an unfamiliar kitchen. It’s probably under equipped. And everyone coming has extra high expectations, because we’ve all made the association with pop ups as being something special. That’s why most pop ups are actually crap.
When they do work, it’s usually because the people running it have a simple concept and a boat load of previous experience. Luckily the people behind mussel men have both, plying their trade most of the time at the seemingly endless round of London food markets in the winter and boutique festivals in the summer.
That their semi regular pop up at Fabrica works so well is a testament to their experience. It’s painfully simple. They offer mussels and chips, a choice of oysters to start or a pudding alongside some interesting bio diverse wines. And that’s it.
It means they can concentrate on getting everything just right, which they do the Sunday night we visit. The chips are crispy, thin and hot. Just as they should with mussels. And the mussels themselves are perfect; plump and juicy with that tang of they sea that makes all good sea food such a joy. The white wine sauce they come with is similarly faultless, calling to mind holidays to France (except better because you don’t have that sinking feeling knowing you’re enjoying a final holiday treat before a 10 hour car journey from hell home).
If the mussels succeeded because they did everything you’d expect from them, the wine we had did precisely because it was unlike anything I’d had before. It was called Zanotto col fondo, which is apparently “a sparkling wine characterized by the yeast which settles in the bottle during its natural fermentation”. So now you know. What it really is is proscecco made how they used to make it before they started messing around with machines and fancy techniques. Drinking it is a bit like drinking a cloudy apple juice, but one that’s boozy and made from grapes. It’s more fruity that proscecco usually is and more akin to a rough cider. But one that people outside the west country would actually want to consume. Sorry if that description’s not very good but I know naff all about wine. Basically it was really nice. Get some and try it.
There was also a pudding. A mint and chocolate panna cota which didn’t really go with the wine or the seafood but tasted amazingly like one of those mint fondant chocolates you used to get as a kid, except with added wobble.
I like mussel men a lot. I like its simplicity and how they got all the details right. Eating there almost made me rekindle my own pop up idea. And then I thought about the realities of doing it and decided again to leave it to the professionals.