Today’s special: cold comfort in a Zeitgeisty Box
Friday lunchtimes at
The Doodle Bar, 33 Parkgate Road, SW11 4NP: roseprince.co.uk/ the-pocket-bakery; thedoodlebar.com. Copious meal with wine or beer,
Although the rest of you are more than welcome to read on if the urge takes, this latest in an occasional series of reviews micro-targeted at precise portions of the readership is aimed at those who are planning to bury a time capsule.
Why anyone would wish to preserve a mishmash of items designed to capture the spirit of the age, in the belief that a future generation will dig them up and be illuminated about our times, is beyond me. Every facet of human existence is now recorded on the internet, so there must be myriad better uses for your energies.
Each to his own, however. So if time capsules are your bag, and what you’re looking to encapsulate is the most immaculately on-trend restaurant in Britain in 2013, buy a pneumatic drill and head to Battersea, there to begin the draining process of interring The Pocket Bakery.
I, on the other hand, come to praise this venture, not to bury it. There is so much to admire about this weekly pop-up, which materialises only on Friday lunchtimes, that it is hard to know where to start. Conventionally in such challenging circumstances, we follow Julie Andrews’s advice, as imparted in Do-Re-Mi, and start at the very beginning, on the compelling logic that it is a very good place to start.
The Pocket Bakery is the brainchild of my Telegraph colleague Rose Prince, with her son and fellow baking maestro Jack. The Captain Von Trapp of the oven, Rose has written in this newspaper of how three years ago she introduced Jack and his younger sister Lara, then 14 and 11 respectively, to baking as a device to make them earn their pocket money; and how this then became a vocation for Jack, rescuing him from a troubled and educationally demotivated youth.
Already, The Pocket Bakery ticks a trinity of significant zeitgeisty boxes: the intense pressure modern adolescence exerts on offspring and parents; the national love affair with baking; and the popup’s emergence as a defining feature of neo-austerity catering. Lob in the location, at the end of a neo-Dickensian covered market laden with street-food vans, and surrounded by architects’ offices (including Norman Foster’s), and you have the perfect time capsule package. The Pocket Bakery pops up in the Doodle Bar, a large, funky and superbly well ventilated (a phrase my Enigma machine translates as “take a roll of Bacofoil if you are prone to hypothermia”) space, heavy with post-industrial chic. Planks of wood lined with acousticsenhancing foam, perhaps liberated from a disused recording studio, hang from the ceiling along with hurricane lamps. The walls are of faded brickwork, some lined with black paper on which students from the nearby Royal College of Art have doodled, as they have on the concrete pillars – whence the bar’s name.
It feels like a cross between a glacially cool Manhattan warehouse loft and the set of an almostwatchable Guy Ritchie film; and its appealing loucheness was reinforced by a surprisingly mature clientèle. “It’s relentlessly trendy,” said my friend, “and yet some of these relentlessly trendy people are even older than me.” One hatted customer appeared to be a Quentin Crisp tribute act, until he was unmasked as Chris Jagger, brother of Mick. Another must surely have been auditioning for the Bette Davis part in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Exactly what such an unlikely crowd imagined it wanted with a wintry indoor picnic was at first a mystery. Then we got stuck in into the food, arrayed on a large table to the side, farmer’s market style – and all became clear. The solitary warm offering, a velvety, dill-infused mushroom soup elegantly served in a polystyrene cup, was an ideal accompaniment to the glorious sourdough bread that immediately proclaimed Jack’s baking skill. The short-head winner in an exceedingly strong field was a layered, tarragony “Picnic Pie” of ham, gruyère and egg. “At last,” said my friend, in the sort of awed tone Howard Carter may have used on discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb, “a pie you can enjoy cold.”
Two latticed loaves made from rough puff pastry, one filled with sausage and sage and the other with pheasant and quince, both served with a gutsy apple pickle, had a luxurious, croissant-like butteriness. A pleated pie, made from olive oil flour, filled with potato, goat’s cheese, ricotta and radicchio, and with a lovely rosemary twang, was impossibly light and delicate. The Scotch-eggand-Twiglets picnic archetype grew still more distant with a brace of intricate salads – pear pickled in cider vinegar with cheddar, pearl barley, endive and beetroot; and aloo gobi-ish spiced cauliflower with cabbage, roast peppers, beans, peas and mint.
All our puddings were great, the victor being a macaroony cake of lime and coffee. If that combo reads less like a dessert than an emergency emetic, it proved to be one of those acquired tastes you acquire within 0.17 seconds, and dream about that night.
It was not until we had settled up and were bidding farewell to Jack, a precocious talent with a gilded future, that I remembered a longstanding and visceral loathing for cold food.