“What about a shot of vodka to warm you up?” There is something unusual about the lady who has opened the door and it’s not just her straightforward welcome. She is wearing a burlesque dress and her manners are completely theatrical. I look around, unsure whether I am in the right place. I was supposed to visit a pop-up restaurant but this place looks more like a theatre’s backstage, crammed with clothes, accessories and actors rather than a place of gastronomic feasts.
Indeed most of the time, the Prangsta costume shop rests on New Cross Road in blissful tranquillity, its elaborate costumes patiently waiting for eclectic visitors. But tonight the costumes and accessories have taken over. They cover the walls and the people who are rushing up and down carrying food, talking with customers or dancing to cabaret music. “When we walked in we had an onslaught of the senses,” says 38-year-old Jeannine Mellowby, while waiting for the second course of Gingerline’s menu.
Gingerline is the latest in a series of pop-up restaurants that have been springing up across London over the past four years. These DIY dining events are organised by food enthusiasts or amateur chefs who turn their own living rooms or other unconventional spaces into restaurants. The location is often kept secret until the last minute, just like the menu. Through social media, mailing lists and word of mouth they’ re reaching a new audience that enjoys food and surprises.
As its name suggests, Gingerline takes place in various locations along the East London Line. “We are constantly on the lookout for disused spaces. Our aim is to bring food and culture all along the Line since it seems to be unevenly distributed in Hoxton and Shoreditch,” explains Kerry Adamson, the lady who welcomed me and is a performer as well as organising the events.
The team includes a chef, a graphic designer, a set designer and a photographer and web designer. “We are all creative in our own way so the pop-up restaurant provides us with an outlet for that creativity,” says Adamson. Apart from the food each event has an art element. “The menu is designed as a take-away art piece created each time by a different artist.”
The attention to detail is one of the elements that seem to win the guests over. “There is so much thought and attention that has gone into it. Even in London, where you are used to having amazing things on your doorstep, it’s such a cool thing to be involved in,” says 32-year-old Hayley McRae who showed up for her first pop-up dinner.
In the next room, journalist Rachel Halliburton praises tonight’s event. “It breaks down inhibitions fantastically and elevates the whole dining out experience. All across London what you’ re seeing is a blurring of theatre, modern art and dining.”
After a photographer’s gallery in Crystal Palace and Rotherhithe’s Brunel Museum, Gingerline chose New Cross’ Prangsta costumier for its third edition last weekend. “We haven’t had a problem with people giving us their spaces because they are so much into the idea and it works for both of us. In this case for example, we wore Prangsta’s costumes and we brought people to their space,” says Adamson.
Most events begin at 7pm and end at 10.30pm so guests can catch the last train home. Gingerline, like other pop-up restaurant events, sells out fast, so food aficionados should add their email to their mailing list to gain priority in their next gastronomic show.
Other pop-up restaurants in East London to check out: