Pop goes the marmot | LQ @ Chateau Marmot, London 2013
It’s tricky enough trying to keep up with all the restaurant launches, let alone the myriad of pop-ups too. At least with the permanent restaurant sites you have time to visit at your leisure, once the hype has settled and the staff have found their feet. But with pop-ups, one blink and they’re gone!
But when the pop-up king of LA decides to join forces with Chateau Marmot, even Dan Calladine of LondonPopups.com couldn’t hide his excitement. “I’ve been following LQ for a while, I’m really pleased he’s found a home at Chateau Marmot, another pop-up we’ve supported since the start. Absolutely can’t wait for these events” he gushed. To be honest when we first read about this collaboration we wrongly assumed that it was Chateau Marmont, hangout of Hollywood’s A list, ‘popping up’ over this side of the pond.
But in fact the reality was far more compelling… For Laurent Quenioux is one of the world’s most exciting pop-up chefs and was over in London for his debut performance. A couple of years back Laurent left a permanent chef’s role to become LA’s favourite roaming pop-up pioneer. Mixing unusual venues (the rooftop at Barney’s) and imaginative food (nine course cannabis-tasting menu anyone?) he perfectly captured that Californian spirit of adventure. All this off-the-wall inventiveness and experimentation from a French classically trained Michelin starred chef, who’d have thought it?
Chateau Marmot are quickly becoming the masters of temporary dining. And not just in London, but in cities such as York, Leeds, Harrogate and even Melbourne (yes, Australia). They launched in 2012 and are, in their own words, ‘all about bringing the creativity and excitement of fine dining to an unexpected location near you, minus the stuffy atmosphere. Just a passion for delivering modern British food of the very highest quality in unusual settings at a fair price. Starch should be on potatoes, not table cloths.’
And fine dining it was, at just under £50 for an extraordinary six-course meal, it wasn’t too expensive either. The venue was kept ‘secret’ and the address was only revealed a few days before the first sitting. This ‘secret’ location turned out to be one of those trendy white exhibition/gallery/studio spaces in a warehouse in Wapping. And this simple space made the perfect blank canvas for the arty projections on the walls and LQ’s stunning cuisine.
The table was simply set too, I heard a rumour that they were hand-made by the Chateau Marmot team. IKEA supplied the chairs and crockery by the looks of it, Theo from CM was right, no stuffiness here. Music was ambient, just loud enough to be heard over the excited chatter of the diners. A couple of courses in we were treated to the sounds of the deep South performed by a musician from Tennessee. Well he may have been born there, I doubt very much he came all the way over from the US of A just for us! He was brilliant and so he should be, apparently he plays keyboard for Van Morrison.
Drinks were good value too, cocktails ranged from £8-10. My authentic Marmot Negroni was just right, whilst Saff’s Butlers ’75 small batch gin, champagne and fresh lemon, kick started her evening. Wine was available by the glass from £4 and by the bottle from £24. But I’d definitely recommend one of the wine flights. I opted for the Haute Marmot £36 – five quality wines paired with LQ’s dishes – including an excellent Rioja, Laurent-Perrier champagne and a mighty fine three-year old H&H Rich Madeira.
I’ll keep the description fairly brief of the meal. A) because the event is now over so you won’t be able to order it anyway, and B) the cooking was so technical and the flavours so intense and complicated, we wouldn’t be able to pinpoint every element. So here goes…
1st course: Razor clams, a spicy guacamole, carrot pico de gallo, chipotle and three little drops of tar black huitlacoche (sometimes called corn mushroom or Mexican truffle, a fungus of the mushroom family that grows on corn) all topped with strips of crispy tortilla.
2nd course: South Downs venison tartare topped with a quails egg, yuzo kosho shiso gel, basil seeds, chocolate soil, a velvety smooth chicken liver and cardamom. A real overload of textures and tastes, amazing! We were advised to eat across the plate from right to left, I’m not really sure if this enhanced the dish in any way, but it sure added to the drama of the meal.
3rd course: Small delicate curls of flaked halibut crudo, aji chile amarillo, a smooth parsnip purée with a cubed swede and turnip salad, watercress, taragon varnish and a flamboyant swoosh of cod roe. This was our least favourite dish but neither of us are huge fans of fish (ooh, that rhymes).
4th course: Now this was our favourite course, a big bowl of chestnut chowder, bacon, corn, poached hen’s egg sprinkled with pumpkin pie spices, a huckleberry hushpuppie (a crisp small, fried cornmeal fritter) topped with foie gras. It was a genius mix of smokey chestnut and bacon with the sweet crunch from the corn. Along with the clever combination of luxury foie gras and the southern staple of corn fritter.
5th course: Melt in the mouth slow cooked pork cheek ‘parmentier style’ with a subtle banana mash potato (maybe too subtle), contreau and confit shallots. As the dish was served we were hit by the rich smell of the shallots, it needed this strong sensation to balance the rich, intense, meaty taste of the pork.
6th course: A traditional American persimmon pudding with a crumbly malty corn streusel, corn panna cotta, barley ice cream and a sharp cranberry gel. Another riot of flavour and texture and the perfect end to our meal. One of the drawbacks of living in deepest darkest Kent is having to leave prematurely to catch a train. For had we been able to stay I could have tried the optional cheese course from the famed cheese cart, from £9.
All we can add is, the next time you see that Chateau Marmot are organising a pop pop-up event get in early and book your tickets (Click here for future events). The food is excellent, the atmosphere relaxed, its great value for money and the service runs like clockwork. The waiting staff all knew their huitlacoche from their hushpuppie and delivered each course with a smile. It goes without saying that Laurent Quenioux did a fantastic job, especially when you consider that all his cooking was done in a corridor partly obscured by a heavy black curtain! Imagine what he can achieve in a professional/permanent kitchen.
As the weather was mild and it wasn’t raining (yes I know, hard to believe) we decided to walk back to London Bridge Station using The Shard as our SatNav. This journey took us over the stunning Tower Bridge with its beautiful views along the river. It’s true what they say you know, ‘when you are tired of London, you are tired of life’. And this is defiantly the case if Chateau Marmot continues to pop-up in this great capital city of ours.