Regular readers will know that Susie is currently off on maternity leave – she had a baby girl in the end and both are doing very well! To keep me busy in the meantime I experimented with some pop up events in a secret venue in North Leeds, as a high proportion of our customer base comes from North Leeds. I did these ‘feast’ style, to save me from having to plate up over 100 plates of food all on my own!
First up in February was a Sri Lankan feast, inspired by my travels in Sri Lanka last summer. If I’m completely honest it was a baptism of fire! The logistics of getting all our stuff over to a different venue and then cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen were much more challenging than I had originally anticipated. But we have high standards at the Manor and I was keen to uphold these. Whilst serving the dinner ‘buffet style’ saved me from plating up lots of dishes, the knock on effect was the requirement for all the food to be hot and ready all at the same time – in a narrow galley kitchen where you can see your breath, it was that cold!
Our venue for the pop ups was Shadwell Independent Library and Arts Centre. Shadwell is a little village, just beyond Roundhay Park, and the library is a beautiful little Georgian property that the community has recently claimed back and is running through volunteers. It’s an incredibly atmospheric and cosy environment and more than enough space to host the 14 guests I had coming, even if the cooking was a bit tricky! Plus guests could read the latest Mills and Boon, or a local history book whilst they waited for the next course to come!
I cooked as much as I could in advance so that I could be in control on the night. But reheating a number of curries and sides took a bit longer than anticipated! Snacks on the night included little pots of daal, and a little bread roll stuffed with a spicy tuna mix. My favourite snack was a Sri Lankan version of a masala dosa. I really enjoyed making this as I got to ferment and then grind rice, fenugreek and lentils into a paste to turn into thick, tasty pancakes.
Sri Lankan curries, on the whole, are a bit lighter than Indian curries. Sri Lanka is still quite a poor country and so a big focus is on vegetables, with meat and fish used sparingly. The curries pack a punch in terms of spice and come with sweetness from coconut and sourness from tamarind. I think the standout curies for me were the cashew nut curry – where the nuts are cooked until soft; the prawn and tamarind curry, which had a really moreish, deep and tangy tamarind sauce; and spicy baked chicken, which had the most incredibly intense marinade that leaves the chicken melt in the mouth and super tasty.
By the time of our March event, which was just this weekend, you could say I had learnt my lesson in terms of what it was feasible to produce in such a small, strange kitchen. Luckily the theme was Persian – inspired by Sabrina Ghayour’s latest book ‘Feasts’ – and so a lot of the accompanying salads were able to be served at room temperature.
For snacks I prepared little sausage rolls filled with lamb kofta, pasties filled with curried mushy peas and a flavourful frittata stuffed with peppers, herbs, cheese and lots of pul biber chilli flakes.
The feast itself was centred around a huge lamb leg that was marinated overnight in yoghurt, rose harissa, fenugreek and lime. This was slow roasted for 4 hours and then served shredded and bound in all the lovely marinade juices. The stand out sides included a filthy grilled corn salad that was pimped with lashings of brown butter and feta cheese. A charred cauliflower salad also seemed to go down well. This was roasted in harissa and honey and then was served with preserved lemon, almonds and a tahini sauce. What I like about Sabrina’s food is that she’s not afraid to pair what seem like bonkers ingredients, and it always works! She adds layers of flavour through the additional accompaniments and the resulting colours are always very inviting!
Dessert was a pretty little sweet vanilla parfait, filled with sour cherries, punchy mint, bitter chocolate chips and a naughty dark chocolate sauce. The combination of sweet and sour was superb.
So, it nearly pushed me over the edge, but I succeeded in my pop up experiment! It was loads of work to get all the appropriate food, crockery and equipment to the venue, so I think in future a temporary residency at a venue would be a much better use of time, rather than having to unpack and pack up completely at the start and end of each event.
With that in mind, my next events in April will be… back at the Manor! It will be lovely to be back in my comfort zone and to be able to go into a cupboard to get what I need! These will be based around Chetna Makan’s latest book on Indian Streetfood and I’ll be attempting to create a fine dining tasting menu out of it! These are likely to be our last events until Susie thinks about returning in the Autumn.