Popping up at the club

By Victoria Prever, October 31, 2013
MedVeg guests

MedVeg guests

Jewish food is not cool. Kosher isn’t trendy.

And yet kosher pop-ups and supper clubs, two of the most on-trend formats, are starting to become a regular occurrence.

New York has led the way and is home to several, including long-standing kosher Brooklyn operation — The Hester — and the Pop Up Shabbat project.

And the trend is gaining momentum here.

The tiny and temporary dining opportunities have been in mainstream foodie fashion for some time. Supper clubs mostly take place in people’s homes; the host/chef serves up a set menu to a group of paying guests. Pop-ups tend to be off-shoots of restaurants and to surface in more unusual locations — which can include empty restaurant spaces, retail units or warehouses.

One of the early UK kosher versions of the genre was Kosher Roast, launched by friends Amy Beilin and Lindsey Bennett. Beilin is a kosher foodie who was frustrated at not being able to enjoy a proper English roast at her local pub.

“In 2011, I decided I should do it myself before someone else did. I knew I would kick myself if someone else got there first.”

Kosher Roast held its first sell-out “pop-up” in London’s Kensal Rise in November of that year. “It was so well received that we knew we had to do another,” she smiles.

The concept has been so successful that in January Beilin gave up her day job as a PA.

Full roast dinner

Full roast dinner

“Each event is not just about the food. If you want to compete with kosher restaurants you need to create a really lovely environment and make it special,” she explains.

Kosher Roast has just run “Get Your Flanken On” at the Bethnal Green Arch Gallery. Sixty guests were treated to dishes from America’s Deep South including sticky Alabama short ribs, hot Louisiana corn bread, Kentucky flanken and pecan-bourbon pie — all to the backdrop of live country music.

Kosher Roast was one of the first to the table, but far from feeling the heat of competition, Beilin is delighted to see others launching their own pop-ups.

Shana Boltin and Aron Cohen have started a vegetarian version.

Melbourne-born Boltin, who is, by day, a paediatric occupational therapist, and also observes kashrut, found it hard to eat out:

“As a vegetarian there are more options, but it is still restricted,” she says. “One reason I cook, is that if I want to try out new foodie trends, I have to cook them myself because of the restrictions.

“Pop-ups are exciting and a great opportunity for people to go beyond their comfort zone and expand their horizons. Food is a very communal activity and a chance for people to meet.”

She and American-born Cohen cooked up their supper-club plan in Boltin’s West Hampstead living room.

“The idea had been brewing a while. I enjoy cooking and experimenting and both Aron and I host meals regularly and get great feedback.”

The 29 guests at their first event, MedVeg, were mainly friends and work colleagues. There were also guests who neither had met before, who had heard about the event on Twitter and emailed for tickets. Boltin was not nervous about inviting strangers into her home.

“They weren’t told the address until they had paid for their tickets, and were mostly vegetarians or vegans who seemed genuinely excited about a pop-up that actually catered for them. I wasn’t worried at all — but perhaps I’m too trusting,” she laughs.

The menu included labneh with beet carpaccio, aubergine three ways, tabouleh and pea tapenade and Egyptian brussel sprouts as well as a thyme cordial to drink; and they raised over £300 for two charities chosen from a shortlist by their guests.

Their next event, on November 24, will be a Mexican brunch — MexVeg. They will be sourcing South American coffee from a local coffee shop and their flyer promises a menu infused with hibiscus, coriander, chipotle and cinnamon.

They are not the only pop-ups in town. One-offs have included Debbi Danon and Gal Farchi’s vegetarian feast, which also raised money for charity as well as Dan Jacobs’ and Eiran Da vies’ Ruchot Cafe — which was also vegetarian and founded to promote ethical food values.

Although not kosher, Shaun French and Helena Klein’s Secret Supper Club very much takes its influence from Middle Eastern Jewish food. Klein cites Tel Aviv street food, the Swedish home cooking of her childhood and time spent working at Baker and Spice as influences. Menus are always seasonally led as many of their ingredients come from their Highgate allotment.

Their regular events for 30 or so guests — paying what they think the evening is worth — take place in venues in and around Crouch End.

Fashionable it may not be, but no one can accuse kosher of not keeping up with the times.

For MedVeg: www.picklenation.co.uk; www.kosherroast.co.uk; www.facebook.com/pages/secret -supper-club/120658071420462

Last updated: 3:14pm, October 31 2013