Popping East.

Originally posted 3rd May 2014

Last Saturday was a glorious day to be exploring East London.  Despite living here, and loving it (it’s as awesome as everyone says), I have not once written about the one thing that certain districts in these parts have been made famous for, and that is pop-up food.

Pop-up is often filthily tasty, but I loathe the concept.  Food is made to be shared with the people you love, and some of these pop-up ‘food trucks’ (what the buggery bollocks is a food truck?) are dismantled and gone within a week, possibly two, if we’re lucky.  So I’ll dive into one, love it for what it is – as is the case with all food for me, apart from sushi – and if I want to bring friends back then the bastarding place is gone or moved somewhere else.  What is the point.  If I want to eat well myself, and just for me, then I’ll buy two Red Velvet cupcakes from Tesco, sit in my pants and devour them whilst watching EastEnders.  Although I did feel slightly guilty enjoying an ice cream the other day whilst watching the police informing Ian Beale that his daughter had been killed.

So, in that respect, what’s the point in writing up such a food outlet if it’s not going to be there in the long term?  Nevertheless, now seemed a good a time as any to at least give one the time of day on T.F.T.  Ed dragged me along to Fairground in Haggerston.  It’s an old office building – gutted out and turned into a three-storey arts and entertainment pop-up, the brainchild of Street Feast head-honcho, the twattishly-named Dominic Cools-Lartigue.  Level one is arts and performance, level two is more educational, lecture-y stuff and level three is a massive bar and kitchen.  So we’ll be going straight to the top then.  Art is rarely meant to be enjoyed sober, or on an empty stomach.

This whole building reeks of East.  Barren, chipped walls, quirky, entertaining graffiti, concrete floors and toilets that wouldn’t be out of place in a Syrian prison.  Imagine the main set from Hostel, and you’re halfway there.

For my sins, I like these places – there is little to detract from the main features (in our case, beer and barbecue), the art is, for the most part, clever and unique and most pop-up buildings I have been to are – at the very least – comfy.  In the case of Fairground, at 260 to 264 Kingsland Road, you will be sat on those old bobbly Seventies single-seater sofa-chair things, or on old leather couches (YAY! – see here) and drink beer that even I would call nice, so much so that its quality even compelled me to ignore the cocktail list which included an enticingly-described whiskey and elderflower adventure.  And you sit and imbibe to the tune of acid jazz cued up to a second-generation iPod plugged into a snazzy Pioneer CDJ-850 Deck.  It’s the typical functional chaos that I love around this neck of the woods.

Of course, for every Jeff Mills tune or Seventies sofa there are two hipsters, and Fairground is full of them.  I have never seen so many bobs, beards and braces in one room in my entire life.  But what can you say, because they’re all lovely people.  You chat, make jokes and mingle – and in a bar we went to afterwards, I was served by an impossibly trendy lady with red hair and a T-shirt that read “Fuck your shit”.  She called me cute and I almost melted.

Compose yourself Mike!  Back to the food!  After a couple of rounds of Innis & Gunn beer, which is sweet, spicy and not in the least bit Scottish-tasting, like the bottle instructs, I was ready for pulled pork, delivered to me in the softest bun In.The.Entire.Universe, jammed with slaw and overflowing with pig to the point that I simply gave up using napkins and resigned myself to unrelenting mess.  The pulled pork bun was served on a steel tray – without anything else – affording me complete immersion into a cryingly good, slightly spontaneous lunch.

I guess what I am trying to say – in my usual inarticulate way – is that sceptics should give East London, pop-up food stalls and East London pop-up food stalls a chance.  I love a lack of conformity, where food can be served like this and it’s still great (and relatively cheap for East London pop-up, at £six a bun), where the atmosphere is somehow consistent with what you would expect but still be chaotic, simple and chilled.  Even when turned up to eleven, jazz can soothe me out.  There wasn’t much more to do at Fairground as we missed the lecture stuff (sorry Ed) so we left and went for a drink at The Strongroom, which I have previously slated on here.

I take it all back.  Casting aside the awesome red-head, what could be better than chilling in this bar’s beer garden (a few chairs strewn around the sunny spots in the car park), sipping Redwell’s Steam Lager (I don’t know either), surrounded by more beards and braces, bikes chained to walls and a great mate, great weather, in my favourite part of my favourite city.  I wore my favourite pair of ripped jeans just for the occasion.

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