Article by James Coldrey-Mobbs – a Coverpoint Consultant
Restaurants are popping up, quite literally, all over London at the moment. Over the past six months we have seen a huge increase in the number of ‘pop-up’, or ‘part-time’ restaurants and market stalls. From the outset they are proving themselves very popular with the adventurous and ‘up for anything’ London crowd.
In recent months we have seen and heard of numerous versions of ‘pop-up’ restaurants, most famously, Simon Rogan’s two year ‘part-time’ restaurant, Roganic in Marylebone. Rogan, following L’Enclume’s success, (which has been voted the 2nd best restaurant in the UK in the Good Food Guide), offers a fixed three, six or ten-course menu. Thomas Keller, the three Michelin starred American Chef, has been serving a £250 per head taster menu at Harrods for ten days from 1st October, and N-ice was open for four days in August to reinvent the image of frozen food, only serving food that had been cooked from frozen.
‘Pop-up’ restaurants allow chefs to bring the ‘weird and wacky’ into reality, or simply to test a market for a small period of time, with little risk, as is the case with Roganic. Whatever, the reason behind them, they are certainly causing a stir and receiving greater coverage than their ‘full-time’ counterparts.
With this in mind, I headed off to The Bonnie & Wild, another ‘part time’ restaurant in Angel (how they prefer to describe it), which has been brought together by Bonnie Gull Ltd and Wild Game Co. These two Scottish suppliers of seafood and game have brought their fantastic regional ingredients to London to showcase, what they believe sets their produce apart from the rest. Bonnie Gull Ltd can also be found flogging seafood every Thursday and Friday at Leadenhall Market, whilst Wild Game Co. can be found from Monday to Friday at White Cross Market and every Saturday at Broadgate market.
After deciding last minute to go for dinner, I was pleasantly surprised by the speed of my e mail confirmation (no telephone number for this part-timer), and even more pleased by the availability. The next challenge is finding the restaurant. Housed within M. Manze, a traditional pie shop on Chapel Market, you could be forgiven for walking right past the front door none the wiser. Throughout the week this very old and rickety building, dating back to 1902, serves jellied eels, pies and vast quantities of mashed potatoes. Friday and Saturday nights see a transformation, as M. Manze puts on a bit of ‘slap’, ready to serve extremely high quality Scottish seafood and game to some of London’s trendiest residents.
After deciding on our table, we had to try more than one as the old wooden benches are slanted after decades of abuse from pie-fans, we were briefly told about the concept and asked if we had brought our alcohol. That’s right – as the ‘restaurant’ only sells pies and jellied eels throughout the week, there is no alcohol licence, so for a small corkage fee you get to bring your own. Complimentary bread and olive oil/balsamic reduction is brought to the table in old enamel lard dishes along with our opened bottle of wine.
There is not much choice on the menu, with only three starters, three mains (one of which is vegetarian) and two deserts. Ordering becomes surprisingly easily, yet with all the dishes sounding so tempting you don’t feel let down by the choice. If I’m honest, I’d rather not have seen the vegetarian option on the menu – these guys are famous for their game and seafood, not seasonal salads, but as the other two dishes sounded fantastic this didn’t cause an issue.
Our two hostesses for the evening, bounced around the restaurant with great enthusiasm and joy, as if they were hosting a party in their own house. They often sat down at customer’s tables to take orders, or just for a quick chat, before hopping along to the next table to check everyone was happy. After placing our order it dawned on me, that we had already met our waitress Annie, 11 months ago in Rio de Janeiro. It turned out, we were even able to up-load a photo of us all on Facebook. Small, small world!
My partner and I quickly decided that we would make the most of the menu and share our chosen dishes. After ploughing through another batch of bread and oil, our starters arrived at the table. The razor clams, served with bacon and a side salad, were deliciously sweet and the wood pigeon with tomato and chilli relish was fantastically gamey. Now, it must be said, service is not quick in this place, with only the two waitresses, you must be prepared to wait, but the character of the building with its tiled walls, rickety benches and original character provides more than enough to keep you entertained.
One of the things I liked most about The Bonnie & Wild, was trying to find the toilet. Having stood outside a ‘toilet-looking’ door for two minutes, I was informed that the toilet was actually through the kitchen. So off I went, wandering through the kitchen in the middle of service, trying to find the toilets located in the far corner. As one would expect the toilets are small and old and there are no Dyson, air-blade hand driers here, just a small sink and some blue paper towels.
Upon returning from the toilet, the main dishes had been served – don’t you just love that! The fillet of coley, served with clams and morels was perfectly cooked. The flesh was flaky and opaque, and you could taste the quality of the fish. For some, the fish may have even been slightly under cooked, but with quality this high I was more than happy with it. Fish and mushrooms isn’t a combination I would normally choose, but the earthiness of the mushrooms with a squeeze of lemon juice, accompanied the fish perfectly. The venison, served with red cabbage, (slightly odd for late summer but one of my favourites), was stunning. It had been hung for exactly the right amount of time, as the meat was tender and had the perfect gamey taste. It really did melt in your mouth. We also ordered, at an extra cost (£3.50 each) a side portion of chips and cauliflower cheese. The chips were, I can honestly say, the best chips I have ever had. Every single one was crispy and fluffy in the middle, which meant we avoided the usual argument about who gets the good crispy ones. The cauliflower cheese, with nutmeg and crème fraiche, was also a pleasant twist on the pub favourite.
The cheese board and blueberry & nectarine tart for desert finished off a fantastic meal. The patriotic cheese board had a choice of four Scottish cheeses with oatcakes and apple and walnut chutney. The bill came to £75 for two, (after we had informed them that they had missed our bottle of water off the tab), which is payable in cash only. This place is a real treat and it is clear why it is popular amongst the trendy London crowd.
Quirkiness and character around every corner, and a complete passion for the ingredients being served will, I’m sure, make The Bonnie & Wild a successful restaurant, even if it is only a ‘part-timer’.