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  1. Wealth
August 3, 2010

Pop up/roll over

By Spear's

Two unusual events last week made me realise that Londoners are very lucky.

Two unusual events last week made me realise that Londoners are very lucky.

The first was on Monday night, when I was invited to the final installment of the pop-up restaurant at the soon-to-be Corinthia Hotel on Whitehall Place. Hopes were not exactly high when I had to enter the building site under a plastic canopy, walking past workmen with their final billable cigarette. Everything was either covered by sheeting, scaffolding or men in hard hats.

But once you walked through the skeletal lobby and turned left, you were in their restaurant. A long corridor was illustrated with a history of the building – a nineteenth-century hotel, then the Ministry of Defence’s UFO unit, and once again a hotel (opening February 2011). David Collins, who is designing the restaurant proper in his signature Deco-esque style, came along, suggesting Colin Firth as George from A Single Man. (Not in melancholy – in style.) (Read Penelope Bennett’s interview with David Collins here.)

The chef, who had come over from Rome for the evening, was Massimo Ricciolo, of the garlanded Rosetta. His fresh-fish signatures translated well: red mullet tempura over deconstructed salad; gorgeous, oily mackerel with fusilloni and chilli; sea bass over a light buttery sauce; and a baba filled with cream and berries, with (oddly but deliciously) freeze-dried spinach powder scattered around. Finally, home-made biscotti, soft but crunchy.

As the table were a bunch of journalists, so conversation was free and easy and unrepeatable.

The idea of pop-up restaurants, or supper clubs (as William Sitwell writes in the current issue), is not specifically London-based, but we have the people and the talent and the style to have a variety.

As I was leaving, I asked for a napkin to take some of the biscotti home to my boyfriend; David Collins strode up and told me not to be so mean – “Take the whole plate!” No, no, modesty, dignity. “Take it! I’ve given the table away already!” And so he had: since the pop-up was popping down, everything had to go. Quite a sight taking the new Overground underground line up to Dalston with a dish full of biscotti and a bemused but happy look.

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On Friday night, another pop-up, tho’ one slightly sturdier. First, there were the Bombay Sapphire cocktails at the V&A Summer Camp, a late opening with folk music in the Stained Glass Gallery (left) and story-telling in the John Madjeski Garden. There were children called Kitty and Max about, so it didn’t lack for the middle classes.

Given the twilight theme, it was only appropriate that the V&A revisited its (for me) revelatory exhibition, The Magic Hour, of a few years ago. This introduced me to Gregory Crewdson and Bill Henson, whom I profiled for Spear’s.

The utilisation of London’s semi-public spaces outside of office hours is one of the great legacies of the late Noughties. Organisations realised that their buildings made a chic, even unsettling, background for hipsters. A museum at night? Unusual.

Giles Miller (left) had designed a cardboard Martini glass for the occasion, which is to be rolled out at Shoreditch restaurant Saf (only vegan and raw food – imaging my cheese tart with neither cheese nor tart nor heat), and he stressed the wide utility of cardboard. Indeed, even the bar was supported by crossed cardboard grids.

The only downside is that you can use your glass once, but it will – eventually, not immediately – go soggy. The small brass tag, engraved with Queen Victoria (patron saint of gin?), was a nod to luxury.

The pop-up came next, as a crocodile headed up Exhibition Road to the Serpentine’s Jean Nouvel pavilion, a glowing red thirty-foot slab leaning against an otherwise-standard permanent red marquee. All was red.

This was for the Serpentine Sleepover, and rations were suitable: Easy Camp’s sleeping bags and mats; Whole Foods provided yummy snack packs (fresh orange juice is welcome any time of day or night); and Harvey Nichols gave sex-specific beauty packs. (My Elemis moisturiser is nestling happily in its complimentary Harvey Nicks make-up bag.)

This hit exactly the right tone of luxury for what otherwise might have felt like Duke of Edinburgh Award redux: overnighting in a field is not my thing, whether at Glastonbury or Garsington. The evening was themed, ironically, around sleep, so neo-Freudian Darian Leader gave a talk on dreams; Bompass and Parr (jelly-mould makers extraordinaire) provided trifles, some stuffed with uppers, some with downers; there were insomnia workshops in the middle of the night, mixing lullabies and intellectual lures.

Now, I confess, I didn’t stay over. I can only imagine what it must be like to talk about insomnia at 3am, or – worse – try to sleep as others talk about insomnia. But I liked the idea, and the execution – down to the overnight book produced with images and words from the guests, their initials sown into its pillow-like cover (left) – was careful and clever.

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