“Let’s do something different this year”, she said. So we did.
This was my first experience of a pop up restaurant and I liked it.
Rent the blank canvas of an old leather tannery warehouse, fill it with rustic table tops on wooden crates, add some tartan throws, create a funky bar, a wee cosy chill out space, the theatre of an open kitchen, adorn the lot with the shabby chic side of Christmas and bathe everything in candles and fairy lights. Job’s a good ‘un.
This is the festive London return of the Scottish food events company Dram & Smoke. They’re a dab hand at pop ups, most notably at the Edinburgh Festival.
For some reason, the Scottish take on Christmas and New Year is world-renowned and sought after.
So not surprisingly, the Dram & Smoke short 2 week run in the shadows of the Shard is deservedly popular again. Probably not the first choice for a romantic tète-a-tète, but to get into the Xmas spirit with a group of friends or colleagues, this lively communal table concept comes highly recommended.
The 5 course tasting menu suffered a little from the usual challenges of serving a great many people quickly. So OK, the game chip was a little soggy and the partridge (in a pear tree) was perhaps a tad drier than I would have liked. But on the whole, I was genuinely amazed what came out of that makeshift kitchen in terms of looks and well-judged deliciousness.
Each course oozed Christmas cheer while letting Scottish heritage and seasonality shine through. Battered sprout with a haggis crumb anyone?
Adored the rustic serving style with wood, Kilner jars and traditional blue-rimmed metal bowls and platters. Who cares pouring spiced butternut squash soup through a tea-spout is impossible without causing major spillage. It was fun!
No fancy silver service here. Generous golden venison and bone marrow pies were placed atop bricks in the middle of each table, dished out by “mother” to the rest of the table onto grandma’s frilly dishes, the cranberry sauce boat being passed round family-style.
Same bold interactive serving style with the marshmallow brownie, tubs of whisky ice cream and big bowls of pickled cherries. And as this is communal table seating, a great talking point to get to know your neighbours (optional as thankfully the “talk-To-Thy-Stranger-Neighbour-Or-Else” police had the night off).
A solo live music act added ambiance, though I have no idea why the songs could not have been a little more Christmassy. White Christmas and jingle bells would have been out of place, granted. But I was crying out for The Proclaimers or The Pogues. I know at least one of my colleagues would have loved a bit of a singalong.
Staff was relaxed and in high spirits. Though not quite as much as those of us that enjoyed the delicious whisky cocktails and craft beers on top of our complimentary hot toddy.
Turns out our American head of department gets quite competitive when it comes to after dinner beer pong (understatement). Apparently she has annual contests with her boss “back home”. Who knew. She still lost though. Shame.
In honour of a night well spent, I recreated the Dram & Smoke salmon rillette Dutch Foodie style. The original included beautiful sloe-gin cured salmon and home-baked oat cakes. I admit I reached for quality shop bought on this occasion.
It’s a great prepare-ahead starter to serve on Christmas day, or to spread thickly onto little toasties or tucked into pastry cups as canapes throughout the festive season.
Mind you, this is lovely any time for lunch with some soda bread and a wee salad, or as a sandwich topper.
Salmon Rillette with Kinglas Salmon (Serves 4 – GF RSF)
Many salmon patés and rillettes use smoked salmon or a mixture of smoked and fresh salmon. Here a lightly smoked salmon is served alongside and the rillette itself is made with fresh salmon only. It is bound together with creme fraiche rather than mayonnaise or butter, which adds freshness and keeps things light.
Use leftover cooked salmon or steam or poach fresh salmon fillet. A poaching liquid with aromatics such as white wine, lemon juice, bay leaves, peppercorns, shallot and parsley works well.
Kinglas salmon is the “prime cut” from the crown of a gently cured and smoked salmon. It is particularly moist and almost meaty. Loch Fyne has an award winning version which is dry cured with sea salt and brown sugar for 18 hours before being washed down with spring water and smoked for 12 – 15 hours at ambient temperature over oak shavings from aged malt whisky casks. It’s best served in thickly sliced medallions. Pricey but worth it.
If you can’t find it, substitute with another good quality lightly smoked salmon or gravadlax (salt, sugar and dill cured salmon). A beetroot and gin cured version would compliment this rillette particularly well.
300 gr cooked salmon fillet, skin, bones and brown meat discarded, rest roughly flaked
2-3 tbsp creme fraiche
1-2 tbsp small capers, rinsed, drained and patted dry with kitchen paper
2-3 spears of dill pickled cucumber (I used Mrs Elswood) or a 10 cm piece of fresh cucumber, finely diced
1-2 tbsp finely chopped chives
1-2 tbsp finely chopped dill
juice of half a lemon
Gently mix all the ingredients together, being careful not to break up the salmon too much and keeping some texture. This is not intended to be a smooth paté. Only add a little creme fraiche at the time, as you only need enough to bind everything gently together. Same with the lemon juice: you only need enough to add fresh acidity, but it should not overpower the salmon.
Check the seasoning. Divide over 4 jars or ramekins and chill until needed.
Serve with the pickled raw beetroot below, thin oatcakes, thickly sliced Kinglas salmon, baby watercress and a wedge of lemon.
The rillette, beetroot pickle and Kinglas salmon can be used as part of a festive shrimp and salmon starter, or a canapé selection.
Pickled Raw Beetroot (makes approx. 500 ml – GF DF V Vg RSF)
This is a great little condiment to perk up salads or sandwiches too.
2 small raw beetroot, preferably candy or golden, but standard ruby red will do, peeled
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp peppercorns
a small thumb of fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 small red onion
3-4 tbsp coconut palm sugar such as Tiana or Biona, or another sugar alternative
60 ml apple cider vinegar
60 ml sherry, cider or white wine vinegar
enough water to top up the jar
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2-3 small bay leaves
salt to taste
Toast the coriander seeds in a dry non-stick frying pan for a minute or so on medium heat. Add the vinegars, sugar, chilli flakes, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat. Check the flavour and adjust with more sugar or more vinegar to taste.
Thinly slice the beetroot, onion and ginger on a mandolin. Toss together in a bowl and then add into a 500 ml jar. Pour over the picking liquid, tucking the bay leaves in between the beetroot. Top with enough boiling water to fully immerse the beetroot.
Seal and store in the fridge once cooled. Best left for 24 hours to let the flavours develop. This will keep in the fridge for at least a month or so.