24 October 2015

Cuisson's POPdown at the Vaults, Waterloo


If you've never been to the Vaults, before, make sure you take a friend. Not because you should worry for your safety, but because you need someone to reassure you that yes, you are going the right way, just a little bit further. When you do arrive, however, you'll know. The blimp and 3 signs give it away.

When an email arrived in my inbox asking me if I'd like to attend Cuisson's latest venture, POPdown at the Vaults (following their previous success in Borough), I had a hashtag *blessed* moment. You know what I'm talking about. It promised 4 courses of "gastronimcal delights" in an informal setting (and no one need ever know I've only just learned how to pronounce "quinoa"). I mean, wowza.


The Vaults, unknown to me before I visited, is a multi-purpose events space.


I knew I had to visit because I was so gutted to miss Alice's Adventures Underground here in the summer months. The Vaults offers exhibitions, a gallery space and it's even playing host to a Halloween magic show "Master of the Macabre" - just in case you haven't finalised your plans!

But let's get back to the main event, shall we?


A word of warning - it is hot in the Vaults. I mean, it didn't help that when I visited I was ill, so I probably had a mild fever, too, but my friend could vouch for me that it was pretty toasty. My advice would be to trade polo necks for light layers that you can quickly shrug off.

Upon our arrival we were guided left to the bar where we were provided with our complimentary cocktail, complete with a mini crumble on a spoon. Sounds bizarre, tasted INCREDIBLE. As in, there was a party in my mouth and everyone would have been invited but you would have caught my lurgie. So maybe not.


We also accidentally ordered 2 cocktails from the bar due to a lil miscommunication, a lovely concoction with elderflower, mint and gin, and these were £8 each. They came in a beaker because a standard tumbler is so boring nowadays... wink.

Then at around quarter to 8, our stomachs rumbling, we were told to head upstairs to the main dining area. As a blogger, myself and my friend were told to sit at one of the press tables (how important did we feel at that second? Erm, very), with 4 large tables in total in the area. I actually quite enjoyed having lots of people on the table - it felt like we were one big, happy family, without actually having to talk to each other because, y'know, we were in London.


So far, so informal. Also, this gal loves some fairy lights and table wine, so I was pleased as punch.

My cocktail in a beaker

Our menu for the evening

Once we were all settled, we were introduced to our chefs for the evening and told that we could be as laid back or as inquisitive with the food as we wished. If we wanted, we could sit and chat at the tables and wait for our food to be served, or we could choose to be more involved. I didn't really understand what was meant by "more involved" until the food preparation began.


Although the food is pre-prepared, the diners are allowed to assist in plating it all up, and this also allows you to ask the chefs more about the ingredients and how things are put together, if you're that way inclined. Cool, huh?

After a mini course of homemade bread and "cultured butter" - the latter amused me no end, my friend said that maybe the butter had hung out around the town and visited some galleries, making it "cultured" - we were treated to a starter of cabbage and chorizo with red pepper, lemon & pine nuts.


The flavours all worked really well together, but you did have to make sure you mixed it. For instance, the lemon purée was very potent, so it needed the cabbage and pepper foam (?) to compliment it... my friend had it by itself and it was horribly bitter. The green leaf at the top of the plate must have been for decoration... I assume this because I tried to eat it and 1) it was a nightmare, it just crumbled and 2) it didn't taste great. But who knows? I'm a novice at this fine dining malarkey. 

By the second course, people were far keener to interact with the chefs.

All the little components being plated with tweezers

Pea purée (chefs love purée, don't they?), cucumber jelly cube and black olive dust was arranged with care, topped with lovage (a fancy green plant) and daikon (little radish discs) alongside a blow-torched mackerel fillet. I know I know, it was all way above my head. By this point I was just concerned with how it all tasted.


My friend and I weren't huge fans of this dish because the mackerel was served quite raw. I did my best - I managed about half of the mackerel, mixing it with all the flavours - but the texture didn't set my world alight. It also happened to be the first time I'd tried mackerel, and it's quite a "fishy" fish, so it won't be for everyone. I looked around and saw similar reactions to mine (although admittedly some plates were bare), so I didn't feel like I was being hideously picky. I enjoyed other aspects of the dish, in particular the crunch of the daikon. Haha, how ridiculous do I sound? I sound like a crap Grace Dent.

Although I do feel like daikon is the underdog of the vegetable world. Let's bring back daikon, people.

For the main course, my friend got stuck into the prep...


With some fermented carrot, of all things. Here's some of the weird and wonderful ingredients involved, kept in containers to "harvest" the flavour (I definitely made that up).


Such fantastic colours!

I'd never tried a beef brisket before - for some reason I thought it would be like a pie (!) and I was wrong, of course.


The serving suggestion was to pour green tea, kind of like a healthy gravy. It sounded odd, but when in Rome... I poured away.


This was so-o-o-o good. The beef skin was crunchy, with a hefty layer of English mustard and herbs on top and beef that literally fell apart and melted in my mouth. Yum. My piece was a little fatty on the bottom, but my friend's piece wasn't. I think it was luck of the draw! The tea stopped things getting too dry on the potato front, but alas, the vegetables took al dente to a whole new level. They definitely could have done with a little more steaming, but I gobbled them up anyway #doitforthevitamins.

And then it was on to the final course of the night - and possibly the most exciting - dessert. This was a particular feast for the eyes. The menu description didn't really do it justice, "Coconut, pumpkin, walnut, lavender." That's the thing with dining experiences such as this one - you have to take everything lightly and trust in the chefs.

So pretty!

The coconut was made into a cute lil pannacotta, and the lavender was infused into a sponge. Meanwhile, the walnuts were glazed in something delicious, maybe honey? And the pumpkin paste was artfully smeared on the side. Finished with a coconut crisp. Ahhh.


This was unbelievably delicious. There was *just* the right amount, too - any more and it would have veered into sickly territory, but as it was, I was content. 

By the time we finished eating it was gone half past nine, so I didn't stay for too long as I was desperate to go home and sleep off my illness... but here's the debrief (if you've come this far, bravo!):

Pros: introduced to new foods, fine dining but chilled, main and the dessert were my faves, good portion sizes, worth the ticket price (£39), everyone was friendly and welcoming.

Cons: Some of the food not to my taste/cooking preference, only one lot of cutlery for the entire meal, setting was warm. Okay, now I'm just being picky...

This was by far the most fun I've had at an event, FYI.

Cuisson's pop-up - ahem, POPdown - should definitely be on your list of things to do - don't mistake it for another faddy, overpriced meal - because it's so, so much more. It's open until January 2016, but I'd book now, otherwise you're bound to forget in all the pre-Christmas madness and you'll kick yourself if you miss it!

*This meal was complimentary in exchange for review, but (as you can probably tell) my opinions are all honest.
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