Pop-up restaurants are the foodie equivalent to a limited edition designer dress – very fashionable and only available for a limited time.
In London, pop-up restaurants are still going strong, as food lovers look for new flavours and exciting dining experiences.
The Groundnut is a project set up by three friends, Jacob Fodio Todd, Folayemi Brown and Duval Timothy, who grew up in Lewisham and Brixton. The project began as a family and friends event last January and since then they’ve set up five more events that have been open to the public.
The food reflects the heritage of the three founders, all of which are of west and east African descent, and dishes on the menu are recipes that have been passed down by family or that have been discovered by their own individual culinary journeys.
In their current residence at the Lewisham Arthouse, they have an open-plan kitchen and bar so the diners can chat with the Groundnut guys as they prepare the night’s menu. Todd, Brown and Timothy all work together to prepare the dishes and yet still have time to mingle with their guests.
The Groundnut has the feeling of a friendly come-dine-with-me dinner party, we were greeted with warm friendly smiles from Todd as we entered the dining room and invited to nibble on fried plantain chips and cocktails.
The dining area is sparsely decorated; the room has plain white walls with a few brightly coloured triangular canvasses on the wall. The seating is laid out with two long trestle tables seating up to 16 people on each table, set with red tablecloths and white napkins. As we sit down, there’s one noticeable omission from the table setting – cutlery.
As the food begins to be come out Brown explains that there hasn’t been massive oversight, it is part of many traditional African cultures to eat with your fingers. Finger bowls are set down to keep digits clean, and we dig in to our first starter of calamari and kumquat. The communal dining gives the evening a very casual relaxed atmosphere and diners chat easily with other about the food as the pass the platters around each other. It really does feel like we’ve all been invited to sit at their table and share a meal. The second starter was a cold yellow tomato soup served in shot glasses with fine strands on ginger, which was followed by a palate cleanser of frozen kiwi ice pops.
The main course of pan-fried sea bream was placed in front of us in a sharing dish. The fish was well seasoned and not at all oily, a plate of thin Ethiopian style pancakes called Injera Pikelet made from rice flour accompanied the fried fish, and this is a traditional staple in Ethiopia and Somalia. On top of the injera sit a trio of ‘Wot’ stews that are eaten with the bread – a warm sweet potato stew with lentils that is hearty and wholesome, caramelised onion which is dark a dark sweet stew and a light zingy radish salad provides a fresh flavour and texture to the meal.
All the servers know what they’re putting in front of you – which is handy because when dessert was served, small green rectangles reminiscent of Maynard wine gums were presented, and a number of eyebrows were raised. Brown explained it was a pandan pastille with mint. Pandan is a leaf often used in Asian cuisine. I was initially hesitant due to the vivid green colour and the jellied texture, but I tried it and the pastille had a mildly coconut flavour, it’s very small but it was the only thing that I didn’t totally devour.
The food at Groundnut is tasty and satisfying and introduces news flavours to a diverse crowd of food lovers, but even the pickiest eater would find enjoyment in these delicious, flavoursome yet not overpowering African dishes.
Todd, Brown and Timothy are not professionally trained chefs, but this is good home cooked fare, excellently presented in an enjoyable relaxed dining environment that will have you licking your fingers as you leave.
For more information visit www.thegroundnut.co.uk