Regular blogger Zeren Wilson pays a visit to Borough’s shiny new pop-up, Popdown: an interactive, Asian-inspired dining experience at 1 Cathedral Street, brought to us by gastro-extraordinaire Cuisson
Words: Zeren Wilson
Londoners have become accustomed to the ‘pop-up’ phenomenon over the last few years, and as much as it has played an important part in the re-energising of the London food landscape, we could be forgiven for feeling a little ‘pop-up’ ennui. But there’s something a little more interesting happening here at Borough Market at Popdown by Cuisson.
Located over two floors in the beautiful period building at 1 Cathedral Street, hugging the edge of Borough Market, a five-course, Asian-accented tasting menu is offered, drawing its inspiration from ingredients from the Market. The head chef is Per Eriksson, but the collective in the kitchen pulls together chefs that have worked in some of the best restaurants around the world.
Have a drink at Ikigai (Japanese for ‘a reason for being’), where bar snacks and small dishes are also served (including yakitori skewers; tempura oysters; beef sashimi; grilled paneer; teriyaki chicken wings; gyozas), before heading up to the main event in the gorgeous bright and airy room above.
Hunker down on the communal table among soon-to-be friends, and prepare for the kind of interactive meal that allows you to step up alongside the chefs as they plate up, ask them questions and see your dinner constructed before you. One of the few dinners where whipping out your phone to take pictures is gleefully encouraged, so fill your boots—bring your big lens if you have one.
Founded by Paul Hannagen, former chef at acclaimed Bermondsey restaurant Zucca (now sadly closed), Cuisson has forged a reputation for taking high-end style dining into unexpected settings such as the Vaults beneath Waterloo and a coffee shop in St James’s, via an innovative combination of supper clubs, event catering and private dining.
The set-up here reminds me very much of the early days of the supper club scene which welcomed those with high ambitions—a time when Nuno Mendes was inviting guest chefs to cook in a kitchen beside a communal table, many of whom have gone on to forge names for themselves like Ollie Dabbous, of the acclaimed eponymous restaurant. Many of these chefs had serious experience at Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, and the dinners became an incubator for the hottest cheffing talent.
Palate-wakening first morsel
The first course kicks things off in sprightly fashion: a plump oyster from Richard Haward’s Oysters, topped with a flurry of wasabi roe and soy gel—a briny, umami laden, palate-wakening first morsel.
A refreshing (ascetic, starkly pleasing) plate of salmon sashimi dressed with a perky ponzu dressing, and a couple of slivers of delicately smoked eel, is finely balanced and each mouthful feels like it’s doing us a lot of good; eat nothing but this for a week, and the 5:2 seems infinitely less appealing. There’s some dehydrated scallop roe shaved across the dish too, adding some dazzle and ocean funk. Salmon and eel comes from Furness Fish.
The beef sashimi, a take on beef tataki, is thinly sliced bavette from Northfield Farm. The dressing carries more than an echo of a Thai style nam jim dipping sauce, the honk of fish sauce, plenty of lime juice, and on this occasion, as Per tells us, a squeeze of sriracha chilli sauce. Great stuff.
Our party starts a trend on the long table by raising the bowl to our lips and polishing off the lime-charged dressing on the beef, the unspoken signal that it’s okay to slurp your dish to the dregs. Too right. What better compliment offered to a chef?
BBQ cucumber salad accompanies the beef, as we lean towards China for influences, dressed with light soy and dried shrimp, and then swing back to Japan with kombu seaweed, buta shoga yaki, ginger and soy marinated pork loin, then pass through Korea with kimchi fermented spicy cabbage. Again, the juices are gleefully slurped from the bowl.
Dessert is a delicate and photogenic assembly including strawberries, yuzu, basil and elderflower: this dessert dodger tapped out after the pork.
Wines are all from merchant Red Squirrel, and the short list of eight shows a total grasp of the kitchen vibe, with good foils for the delicate flavours on show: Austrian grüner veltliner; German riesling; cooler climate Adelaide Hills pinot noir from Australia. Erudite, well considered, no flab.
Paul is excited about the evolution of Cuisson, and has a clear philosophy to guide the way he wants the collective to grow: “The vision is to create experiences that are fun, collaborative, engaging and exciting. Quite simple, really.”
Per Eriksson will soon be handing over the head chef role to Matt Laville, who will be coming to Cuisson after stints at Maze, Pollen Street Social, and one of San Sebastian’s restaurant meccas, Arzak. No danger of the quality levels dipping here then. Not a jot.