Stripped Back: a Tasting Menu in a playground
So there we were, tucking into a 6-course Tasting menu… the food being plated up, some of the most inventive and intriguing we’ve had all year. Only, we weren’t in some chic restaurant or stiff hotel dining room. We were in the middle of a playgound in London Fields Primary School, sat alfresco on communal makeshift tables that had been lined with disposable tablecloths… masking taped down to stop them from flapping.
A team of 3 ran the entire show, cooking out of 2 large suitcases with only a teeny camping gas cooker to call upon and doing everything else in between from plating to waitering to dish-washing. Yet somehow against all the odds, what we got was dish after dish of contemporary, haute cuisine. It’s a pop-up with a difference and it’s the brainchild of Ben Spalding who was formerly head chef at Roganic.
It’s £17.50 for 4 courses or £27.50 for 6-courses here at Stripped Back with bread and fizz included. The menu is ever-changing and in addition to their usual Saturday afternoon gig at the school playground at Broadway Market, there’s the occasional pop-up location elsewhere so be sure to plug into their Twitter feed (@_StrippedBack ) for updates.
Starter #2: Mackerel – Ripe Figs – Fig Leaf Oil – Dashi broth
Of the 6 courses we had, 3 stood out amongst the crowd. Rabbit and root vegetable stew, inspired by the Maltese national dish (Fenkata) was comforting and melt-in-the-mouth tender from hours of slow-braising… the kick of the smoky paprika based spices balanced by the cooling effect of the yoghurt was amazing.
Another dish worth a mention were the Pig’s Cheeks. Served with Pancetta, picked fennel, lemon puree, raisins, and toasted quinoa, it was a delectable combination – the sweetness from the raisins and the tartness of the fennel and lemon puree cut through the rich, carnivorous flavours of the pork beautifully.
And don’t even get me started on the last dessert course as I could go on and on and on… Pineapple drizzled with Golden Syrup, caramelised with a blow-torch and served on a layer of Oreo crumbs and black pepper-spiked creme fraiche with lashings of salted caramel. It’s pure pleasure.
The meal was not without the odd hiccup along the way. Despite the numerous courses, I thought some were on the small side in the portion department. I was really longing for at least one dish I could seriously sink my teeth into. Also, it ain’t easy being chef, waiter, bartender and cleaner all at the same time, hence we found ourselves needing to remind them which course we were on as they were having trouble keeping track, serving us some duplicate dishes along the way which they thought we hadn’t had yet.
But when they are as personable and friendly as the team are here, all is forgiven and the minor hiccups very quickly become water under the bridge as you await for the next course to be conjured straight out of their suitcases. It’s a brilliant, game-changing concept on the whole that deserves plenty of kudos.
If you haven’t already, get out to Broadway Market in London Fields while the weather continues to hold up!
Stripped Back @ London Field’s Primary School Playground, E8 3RL | Every Saturday only, 11am – 5pm
p.s. Word has it that Ben Spalding will soon be starting up a new venture at the John Salt in Islington. Expect something special.