Sometimes I think I love London just for the weirdness. As you grow up and some of the magic of childhood slips away (at 27 my belief in Santa is down to the dregs) carefully curated weirdness is worth its weight in cynical gold. I was first introduced to the Art of Dining pop-ups when my partner in crime and I went to the Colour Dinner, a complete mind-fuck of a night that was delicious and entertaining all in one. When that the Art of Dining girls had put together a Victorian themed industrial dinner where you might get cholera…HELLS YES.
The evening started with a attempt to find the London Museum of Water and Steam, a mission that involved bus, tube, bike and train. Rather fitting given that we were about to go to a temple of locomotion. Our first stop was the heart of the engine itself where potentially cholera laced cocktails were waiting for us. Given that cholera can take 2-3 days to show symptoms we figured that catching it at this point wouldn’t interrupt our dinner – so we dove face first into the warm spiced cider while contemplating the six story engine surrounding us.
Once nicely infected with a disease from Victorian London, we were greeted by a ghost from that time as well. The ghost was the only man to ever have died operating this behemoth of an engine, and he was to be our guide for the evening. Leading us down a candlelit path, through the darkened halls of the museum, we arrived at our tables. In a room filled with four very sexy Victorian engines (complete with a pensioner to make them puff for us over the evening) we were to begin our feast.
Because we are both London millennials, aka functioning alcoholics, we went for the wine matches for the five course dinner – each of which was delivered in a cute Alice and Wonderland type glass bottle. Side note: ultimate life hack, sit next to sober looking adults who can only finish half their wine matches, they will then be nice and give you ALL THEIR WINE.
The courses were each named after a component from the amazing engines surrounding us; Oil, Mineral, Steam, Smoke and Fire. The names for the courses were sometimes inspiration for the flavours or sometimes just for the plating, but all times delicious. The oil course for example was an ink and fennel braised cuttlefish on garlic toast, where the highlight was the accompanying sauce being served in a tiny oil drum. The Steam course however was a little more literal with the Asian style salmon being steamed.
In between each course our ghost would appear, telling the history of each of the engines in turn. It was just enough to be an entertaining diversion rather than cheesy dinner theatre. After our ghostly check-ins we had time to finish up our 24th glass of wine and wander around the Victorian Machines. I have to say drunk me fucking loves engines and can apparently talk about them with a pensioner until my next course is cold.
I think the Mineral course was my favourite by far. The dish placed in front of you was just the sauces, the main event was in a basket that was being passed down the communal table. A note written on the basket instructed us to take three and pass along, oh and whatever you do DON’T EAT THE DOUGH. The basket was revealed to contain carrots, beetroot and potatoes all baked in a salt dough. After digging through the dough (and eating a little because we were the rebels who ate playdough in kindergarten) the succulent vegetables were smooshed into the pickled za’atar, date puree and labneh on our plates; as one the 50 cholera riddled strangers orgasmed in delight.
I love the Art of Dining pop-ups. The food is always on point, and even after going to a couple I am in love each time. I mean it helps that I go with people who are certifiably insane and get into the wine stealing fun of it, but they just do it all so well.
Keep an eye out for their next pop-up and make sure you don’t miss out!