If the London food scene is driven by relentless novelty, the pop-up restaurant is its perfect venue, its carnival. Chefs have a chance to broaden their repertoire with a new menu or business concept; diners get to feel at the cutting edge of fashion. It’s also a treat for architects, who can experiment with no serious consequences: a good pop-in lives on in the memory, others don’t – and they’re gone.
Summer is pop-up season, and this year brings everything from a restaurant in a shipping container in Montreal, to a Campari bar in a car park in Peckham, south London. But perhaps best capturing the sense of experiment and excitement is Studio East, perched in a most unlikely way atop an unfinished parking garage on the massive Westfield Stratford City shopping centre site in east London. What adds to the thrill is the lofty location – the restaurant overlooks the city’s 2012 Olympic site, a muddy morass of cement mixers and massive engineering infrastructure, teeming with diggers and workers.
This is a building designed to be as short-lived and explosive as the Olympics, or the English summer. Studio East opened on June 16 and will host its final diners on July 4. It is operated by pop-up specialists Bistrotheque, who have made a name for themselves in a city in which the “experience” can often trump the food. For Christmas 2008, they opened the wildly successful Flash at London’s empty Museum of Mankind, and their permanent rooms in Bethnal Green, a cocktail of industrial chic and glam fashion, remain as popular as when they opened in 2004.
This venture, though, is their first new building. Its architects, Carmody Groarke, were responsible for the impressive Hyde Park memorial to the victims of the July 7 2005 bombings, as well as last year’s Double Club, a Congo-themed pop-up bar that was the result of a collaboration between Miuccia Prada and artist Carsten Höller, situated at the end of an unpromising alley behind Angel Underground station. Rather than just erect a tent, they have designed a complex, exploded starfish of a building, its tentacles reaching out to grab tantalising views of Zaha Hadid’s soaring aquatics centre, the Olympic stadium and the city itself, looming out of the dusty mist. You are struck by the sympathy between the stripped-down aesthetic of the naked stadium and the scaffolding of the restaurant.
The food created by chef Tom Collins was as fresh and simple as the architecture. Summery dishes were served on big platters for sharing: pickled herrings, crab, grapefruit and endive salad and ham with a rich, tart piccalilli. The steamed chicken and steamed sea bass were zingy, while bloody slices of beef seemed to have dropped straight from the butchers to the plate. The asparagus that came with it was nutty and perfect. I skipped the ice-cream in favour of more warming alcohol but, served at long tables of scaffolding boards, this communal experience made for a buzzy and memorable, if draughty, evening.
The whole thing gets returned to the building site at the end. The walls are clad in the same rough timber boards that spend most of their time as scaffolding platforms – they are still spattered with paint and concrete and are destined for more. The structure is a complex nest of scaffolding, the windows are industrial plastic curtains, the lights bundles of construction lamps in bright yellow cages. There may be looming questions about the sustainability of the £10bn Olympics site but there are none over this structure.
Wrap up warm and, while you still can, enjoy one of the most striking and original dining rooms London has to offer.
Studio East is open until July 4 for dinner on Wednesday to Saturday and lunch on Friday and Sunday. Meals costs £75 per head, including drinks and service (www.studioeastdining.com)
Six more summer pop-ups
Resto Müvbox, Montreal
Housed in a former shipping container, Müvbox boasts smart white awnings and topiary, writes Victoria Maw. Specialising in lobster rolls and pizzas, it is open all summer, although it may close if it rains. www.muvboxconcept.com
Frank’s Campari Bar and Café, London
Designed by Lettice Drake and Paloma Gormley (daughter of sculptor Antony), Frank’s is on the 10th floor of a disused multi-storey car park in Peckham, with fantastic views over London. Head chef Michael Davies, from gastro pub The Anchor and Hope, will be cooking locally sourced produce July 2-September 30. www.frankscafe.org.uk
The Hunger, the Hamptons
The Hunger hosted its first pop-up last month, a SoHo basement restaurant that lived for just four nights. The group’s next project will be in “mid-summer” at the Hamptons, but the location remains a secret, as does the exact date. The chef will be Camille Becerra. Check www.thehungernyc.com for updates.
A modern glass cube the size of a shipping container balances on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo arts centre in Paris. It houses an exclusive restaurant, seating just 12 people. Get there quick – it closes on July 1. www.palaisdetokyo.com
La Trattoria, Monte Carlo
Chef Alan Ducasse has a temporary restaurant on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Highlights include a buffet of around 30 different antipasti, and a retro ice-cream trolley. Open until September 11. en.sportingmontecarlo.com/La-Trattoria
Brunch Bazar, Paris
Experience Parisian family life with the “bobo” (bohemian bourgeois) crowd. Organic food comes with entertainment from kids’ art workshops to DJs. The next is in early September, at a new, as yet undisclosed location. www.brunchbazar.com