The concept of the pop-up is a culinary phenomena that has been gathering pace over the course of the last couple of years with more and more restaurants, evenings and ideas popping up all around Oxford. You only have to look at Oxfork for evidence of a pop-up that has settled into a permanent foodie fixture to gauge just how well it can work. However, popping up is half the story, but choosing the location(s) is something that needs to be done with care and consideration; village halls are a cornerstone of British society that still keep community spirit alive, but as the years roll by they gradually, and somewhat inevitably blend into the background. This always strikes me as a shame, a community hub of yesteryear just keeping up appearances. When I first found out about the Wandering Kitchen, the nostalgia hunter in me was awoken and I wanted to delve deeper.
I set about reading the story behind this concept, (of course alongside the menus!) and garnered an understanding of what this project was all about. Owners Ed and Jo have a real story about how the name of the company, and its values, culture and vision were born. I won’t ruin your chance to learn about how they came up with the name and the logo, but this kind of creativity and detail is something that should be celebrated in the era of chain pubs, buy one get one frees and rubbery burgers.
So, with the background reading done, FoodOfTheOx visited the Wandering Kitchen’s very first pop-up event with an open mind and an empty stomach to ensure every last bit of food and drink could be enjoyed. Arriving at Ewelme Village Hall I was anticipating a potential ‘I can see my breath’ moment amongst a backdrop of village bingo trestle tables, thankfully I couldn’t have been further from those misconceptions.
The room had been carefully setup just like a bistro dining room; clean and simply laid tables, candles and dimmed lights set off with the subtle touch lanterns bring, accompanied by good music. All that remained was to sit back, enjoy the wine that comes included in the price and wait for the food to arrive. The menu is simple , but appetizing and understandably you pre-order your choice for the evening. It costs £40.00 a head but includes a bottle of wine between two, and four courses.
We decided to start by sampling all three starter boards:
- Meat plate: slow roast pork belly, black pudding with a honey glazed reduction and The Wandering Kitchen game Terrine with apple and rhubarb chutney
- Vegetarian plate: crispy parmesan polenta chips and caramalised red onion and goats cheese tart (v)
- Fish plate: salt and pepper squid with a sweet chilli dip and langoustine scampi with a lemon mayo
The platter concept is very much from the school of tapas, and it’s great to see a range of starters on offer. I have to say the sweet chilli dip is a real firecracker and not the usual sugary based sauce usually dished out, it was brilliant. All of the platter elements were well presented, well cooked and very much enjoyed. Theyfirmly played their part as the warm-up act for the main event.
We decided to sample the following mains:
- Venison and boar stew with cheese scones
- Braised Lamb shank with sweet potato mash
It’s worth going back to my twitter reaction for the lamb shank; Just wow. #Shanked. It was everything I hoped for, a generous portion of meat that kept going, meaning I could encourage it to fall off the bone, which it did knowing there was more to discover and eat; tender, endless and cooked with care. The picture doesn’t do it justice, but nothing ever will until you try it. The Venison and boar stew was gamey, flavoursome and hearty. Again, eating is believing here folks. I unashamedly gnawed at the bone like a gift-laiden dog until every last bit of treat-meat was gone (and yes I got all the Marrow too!). If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know, I’m not sure what else could.
Then it was pudding time; we sampled the following:
- Sticky almond cake served with vanilla ice cream
- Warm chocolate brownie served with vanilla ice cream
There was a continuing theme growing, every course was a knockout. Heart-warming food served in every course from starter through to pudding.
I have to say this was one of the best experiences I have enjoyed in my time as food blogger. When you combine a brand, a setting and great food coupled with great service into a package and it comes together with such prolific force it’s hard to beat. Not only is this serving as a great place for food lovers like me to go, but it’s acting as a vehicle to bring the community back together. I witnessed the village of Ewelme come together and share food, wine and laughter in their own village hall.
I give the Wandering Kitchen a thorough recommendation and I cannot wait to find out how it progresses and how well it’s received by others in Oxfordshire.
FoodOfTheOx rating: 9.5/10