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Pop-up in the Park

TASTE’S TIDBITS The best of the line-up from the culinary fest

They’re all the rage in the restaurant world, and the capital’s about to get a dozen of them over a single weekend at Taste of Edinburgh. Donald Reid tries to pin down the pop-up restaurant

The line-up of restaurants participating in Taste of Edinburgh 2010 includes Centotre, Malmaison, Vincaffé, Tony’s Table, Yo!Sushi and Hanam’s. Also appearing is a guest restaurant from London, proceeds from which will go to charity Action Against Hunger.

New elements in the Taste mix this year include a Chef’s Table allowing groups of up to 20 people to gather around a table and interrogate well- known local chefs, and a focus on kids and families on the Friday of the event. All weekend AEG Cookery Classes run in partnership with Nick Nairn Cook School will offer the chance to pick up a few new culinary skills, while various demonstration areas allow you to watch experts and well- known names in action. Alongside are stalls from over 70 drinks companies, producers, delis and cookware suppliers. The Scottish representation is strong, with oysters, raspberries, farmhouse icecream, organic meat, and artisan cheese all feature, alongside local microbreweries, tea blenders, chocolate makers and smokehouses.

T o most chefs, it’s a blinking crazy idea. Leave the familiar stainless steel acreage of their own kitchen, where well-honed systems produce fine food time after time, and de-camp to a collection of tents in a field in north Edinburgh with a set of temporary stoves, staff manfully trying to keep chaos at bay and the reputation of your restaurant on the line.

To most punters, it’s a bit of a thrill. Leave the slightly staid restaurant world behind for a summer weekend of cocktails and chatter, a festival of food in the great outdoors with a dozen of the city’s chefs on hand to feed you. Pop-up restaurants are one of the hospitality trade’s current fads. The first Taste festival took place in London six years ago with the concept of a restaurant rather than just a food festival, with 26 of the city’s eateries setting up temporary premises in the grounds of Somerset House. The idea spread to the Meadows in Edinburgh in 2007, and has since gone global, with events taking places in cities such as Sydney, Dubai and Johannesburg.

2007 was the same year the concept of pop-up restaurants as events in themselves first started to take hold in Britain. In fact the first few examples a Christmas season affair in London in 2006 called Reindeer and Eat!ng at Newcastle-Gateshead’s EAT! festival the next summer were called guerilla restaurants. Since then pop-ups have taken two distinctive forms: underground-style restaurants held in private homes and high-profile marketing exercises such as Pierre Koffman’s celebrated residency on

12 THE LIST 13–27 May 2010

Selfridges’ rooftop in London last autumn.

As one of Koffman’s best-known protégés at the much-missed La Tante Claire, Edinburgh chef Tom Kitchin was invited down to cook at the pop-up for one night in its opening week. ‘I was there on the third day and my goodness it was brutal,’ he recalls. ‘The whole thing offered such a fond memory for so many people and the location had a real wow factor, but it was basically a tent on a roof. The gas kept going out, the rain came in. Like any new opening, there are always problems.’

The truth about pop-ups is that the anticipation they generate probably outweighs the experience they actually deliver. At Taste, each participating restaurant restricts their menu to a short menu (choice is provided by the fact that there are twelve different restaurants on site, each doing their own dishes) and experience shows that it’s the kitchens able to make simple dishes sing that create the best impression. Perhaps the best approach to any kind of temporary restaurant is not to judge it as a restaurant, but as a one-off cultural event. As Edinburgh-based Simon Preston, director of EAT! NewcastleGateshead and a pioneer of pop-ups in the UK suggests, ‘A field doesn’t lend itself to a gourmet restaurant experience. A pop-up has to be a blend of food and theatre. But when it’s done well it makes going out to eat adventurous again. It can remind you that that eating well can elevate your quality of life in a simple way.’

Taste of Edinburgh, Inverleith Park, 28–30 May.