Going Down? | POPdown At The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo, London SE1 7NN
I’m not very good at being concise, I tend to ramble… So my snappy news pieces need to be just that – snappy. So here goes, deep breath, here we go…
After the massive success of POPdown at Borough Barista (voted one of the best pop-ups in London) bespoke dining company Cuisson have decided to give it another go. This time they’ve popped down at The Vaults in the arches under Waterloo (for directions click here). Their website promised an ‘innovative and highly creative 4-5 course pop-up’ running from 20th October until the 16th January 2016.
The actual venue, tucked away along ‘graffiti alley‘ wasn’t what we expected. You enter down a long, dark passageway which opens up into some sort of art installation (either that or it was an explosion in a charity shop.) This then opens up to a bar area, a small kitchen and some stairs leading up to the 75 seat dining area.
Decor, as you would expect, is slightly grungy. Mix and match seating, sweetie jar lamps and a few oddities thrown in for good measure. Top tip, don’t lean against the walls, unless you want the chalked school blazer look!
Drinks seemed to be limited to four cocktails (£7.50) designed by their chefs using modernist approaches, plus beer and one red and white wine. We just about had time to drink a Tarte Tatin each – calvados, sour green apple, caramel, red apple purée and fresh lemon, served with a spoonful of crumble on the side, before we were ushered upstairs.
Here it was much brighter and open with four big white (freshly painted) tables with a food prep area at one end. Seating is communal so it’s pot luck who you sit opposite/next to, we got lucky and got chatting to a lovely couple of girls from Tabl – a supper club booking website.
A majority of the menu is made in-house, either back at Cuisson HQ or in the small prep kitchen at The Vaults. First up was some sourdough bread (when isn’t it?) with what was described as ‘super butter’ which was blended with truffle oil. As with PopDown at Borough Barista, we were promised ‘interactive elements along with sharing platters and plates’.
What this basically meant was a couple of diners helped plate up while the rest stood around taking pictures. But what was really interesting were the between-course chats from the chefs (especially from Per-Johan Eriksson), we loved their passion and knowledge and gleaned a few insider secrets to boot.
First up was the ‘surprise’, not sure if this means that this course is changeable. We really hope not as the charred cabbage was the star of the show. This wedge of smokey blackened cabbage was served with small cubes of chorizo, red pepper foam, a smear of lemon purée (made with just-in-season Californian lemons that are much sweeter than the regular variety) and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts and dehydrated cabbage leaf dust.
The mackerel course was our least favourite, then again we’re not massive fans of this kind of fish. The mackerel was soft and lightly smoked (slow cooked in brine for an hour) served with a smooth lovage emulsion, compressed cucumber cubes, pickled daikon radish and a soil like dust that turned out to be dehydrated olives.
The main course of beef brisket was much more my thing, although the fermented vegetables were a very acquired taste. The beef is soaked in a salt and sugar solution for two days before being cooked at a low temperature overnight. The meat was fall-apart perfect and we loved the punch from the sweet mustard herb crust.
The fermented veg had the crunch of pickle but that slightly sour/fizzy taste of something that’s just ‘on the turn’, real love them/hate them ingredients. The roast potatoes added a bit of padding to the dish whilst the tea (aka gravy) gave an extra meaty punch – but why it was served in a cafetière and not a teapot is anyone’s guess.
Dessert was a winner too – a dense yet moist pumpkin cake with a sweet pumpkin purée, set coconut custard (more like blamange) made without eggs and dairy free, crunchy candied walnut brittle and a very subtle lavender gel – all so inventive (and seasonal).
So three bottles of an extremely drinkable red later, we said our goodbyes to the lovely ladies from Tabl and wandered down to see if the bar was in full swing. It has a late night bar license until 2am but it looked as if not many were taking advantage of this. Cuisson promised that each course would be ‘exploring an array of astonishing flavours and textures to stimulate the senses’ and they sure were true to their word. So all in all a great meal for a reasonable price (£39pp) in an unusual venue. And the best bit? It’s right next to Waterloo East for a quick trip back home to Kent.
The Vaults, Leake Street, Waterloo, London SE1 7NN
Buy tickets online here
Opening hours: Every Tuesday to Saturday from 7pm
Nearest station: Waterloo station (4 mins walk)
We ate as guests of Cuisson, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.