Tuesday, 9 April 2013
Sabel popup, Broadway Market
Many years ago I made it an unwritten policy never to write up one-off events, or supperclubs (and therefore also, by extension, one-off supperclubs). One-off special events are very rarely of interest to anyone outside the most geeky set of food obsessives, and though I certainly count myself amongst that group, I'm not sure how many of the people who read this blog do. It also seemed a bit like bragging - "look at this great meal I went to! What's that, you want to go as well? Well you can't! Haha!" - and I'd rather the blog was mainly a useful database of places you might want to go for your dinner, rather than an exhaustive record of everything I personally ate over the course of a year. Which would be pretty bloody terrifying, for one thing.
Supperclubs are a tricky one, too. I've been to lots of very good ones and a few pretty terrible ones, and if I only wrote up the good it would very soon become clear the glaring omissions were the bad. And although there's no good reason why I couldn't explain in exhaustive detail on these pages everything that was wrong with a meal served by a young couple in their own home in good faith, at cost price and with no other desire than for a random group of strangers to enjoy themselves, you can hopefully understand why I'm not. I may be a bastard, but I'm not evil.
There has been the odd exception, though. Ben Greeno's multi-course spectacular at his old flat in Hackney was worth shouting about for a number of reasons - it was one of the best meals I've ever been served in someone's house, for starters - but now also stands in historical interest as one of the jumping-off points for the Young Turks. Along with James Lowe and Isaac McHale, Greeno had a huge impact on the way restaurant food was heading in London, and now is doing the same for Sydney under the supervision of David Chang.
And now I'm going to break my own rule again because Sabel are also worth shouting about. They are one chef (him), one front of house (her) who most of the time are involved with outside catering and events management, but who every other weekend host a popup in the unlikely location of F Cooke pie'n'mash shop on Broadway Market in Hackney. And yes on the one hand they are just another trendy popup in East London serving Modern British food, but there is something more to these guys.
"Oxtail and smoked bone marrow pie, pickled red cabbage". I challenge you to see that on a menu and not want to order it immediately. It's a wee little thing, but thanks to a delicate golden pastry and a gentle smokey filling, easily satisfied. The sweet clovey pickled red cabbage was top-notch too.
Lamb scrumpets (what a brilliant word) were breaded, deep-fried fingers of lamb, accompanied with a tart redcurrant jelly. Commendably greaseless and using powerfully flavoured meat, they would give pork scratchings a run for their money in a top bar snack competition.
A grilled lettuce and anchovy salad was pretty as a picture. It also sparked off a conversation about how rarely you see grilled lettuce on a menu these days, and how nice it is when done properly. The eggs had precisely soft yolks, the lettuce full of flavour and not too mushy, and some croutons added a good crunch. One of those dishes that is deceptively simple and could easily have been a disaster had not each element been handled perfectly.
Cured sea trout was just as impressive. As with the salad, it superficially seems straightforward - just trout, on a plate, covered in dill-mustard dressing. But the trout was packed with flavour and wonderfully moist, the dressing balancing out the cured fish, and the side of pickled cucumbers was faultless. It also came with a slab of E5 bakehouse sourdough, a product that has never been known to lessen the qualities of a dish.
Then, beef cheek and mash. If you're already fan of beef cheek and mash, then you won't need me to go into too much detail - you'll just need me to tell you that it was a very, very good beef cheek and mash. And if you've not yet had the chance to try beef cheek and mash, then you should book yourself in at Sabel and order theirs immediately. Finally, if you're not the kind of person who can enjoy a chunk of rich, salty slow-cooked beef oozing its dark juices into a dollop of silky, cheese-spiked mashed potato then there is no hope for you, and you may as well just go and live on a commune somewhere and eat lentils.
With everything up to this point being so good, we weren't in the mood to stop there. So Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese provided a neat conjoint between the savoury and sweet courses, room-temperature cheese matched with a golden pastry case so full of gooey sultana mixture it practically exploded when I prodded it with a fork.
But the best, incredibly, was yet to come. An egg custard tart, with an impossibly light-yet-firm pastry base and a filling so expertly judged so as to somehow hold its shape on the plate yet melt away to a liquid in the mouth, was worth the 1 1/2 hour journey to Hackney and then some. It came with a rhubarb and ginger compote thing which, to be honest, it didn't need at all but was nonetheless also a very impressive bit of work.
So there we have it, and hopefully you can see why I think it's been worth a few words. Toby and Lianna are doing their thing on Broadway Market for a couple more weekends (dates here), and then - ah well after that, then things are likely to get quite interesting. They are looking for a permanent site, and anyone with the ability to provide one should be tripping over themselves to help out, because cooking and service of this standard deserves better than a draughty pie shop on Broadway Market. This may be the first, but all being well it almost certainly won't be the last you've heard of Sabel.
I was invited to review Sabel