I'll be honest, the term 'fine dining' normally makes me want to stick pins in my eyes. I've been to some fancy-dan restaurants before in the course of my work, and normally I just find the atmosphere so stuck-up I'd rather be anywhere else. The food may be delicious, but if it's stuffy, I'd still rather have a bag of chips instead.
So when I saw the "aspirational fine dining" club Asparagasm was going to be running a pop-up in Brixton, I'll admit it wasn't the first place I wanted to check out.
Still, I'm a greedy so-and-so, so I thought I'd haul my arse down there anyway and see if they could serve me up a dinner tasty enough to make me change my opinion on fine dining.
Luckily enough, Asparagasm decided to take the ambition of fine dining places, and leave their oppressive atmosphere. No overbearing sommeliers here, just a hardworking cocktail guy, and the starched tablecloths have been ditched in favour of paper ones. Think casual rather than ceremonious.
The pop-up is in Vozars (normally a gluten free cafe) in Brixton market. It's just a matter of a few tables outdoors, which you get to share with other diners when things get busy. The menu's rather tiny too - just three mains, three starters and three desserts to choose from (the booze menu is far longer, and if you ask to look at the cocktail list, some poor waitress has to hoik a great big sandwich board almost as big as she is over to your table.)
For our starter, me and Mr Flicking the Vs decided to try the papa arrugadas with mojo rojo - I picked it over the callaloo fritters or avocado, black bean and corn ceviche (the other two options on offer) as I didn't know what it was, and really wanted to find out!
If you're feeling equally curious as to what papas arrugadas is, let me put you out of your misery:
Yep, papas is potatoes (I should know that really, right?) but I had to google arrugadas when I got home, and found out that it meant 'wrinkled'. I guess that's a nod to the look of the dish. I also googled what papas arrugadas should involve: it's a Canary Island recipe of new potatoes, first boiled than baked. I'm not sure whether the papas were baked here, but the texture was a little suboptimal - a bit on the claggy side.
Luckily, the sauce that came with it was absolutely delicious - rich, creamy and devilishly moreish. The dodgy spuds were happily lost in their velvety covering.
Things stepped a notch when the mains arrived - tofu with root veg and asparagus for me, a lentil parcel for Mr Flicking the Vs. In this particular contest, my main totally won. I mean, his was nice and smoky- puy lentils, ratatouille and a bit of salsa verde on the side - but mine was pure comfort food heaven.
The tofu was lightly herbed, cooked til thin and crispy, the asparagus was deep fried til the middle practically melted, but the crushed root veggies were something else. How exciting can mash be, you might think? Very, I'd tell you. I think if Asparagasm's was the only mash I could eat for the rest of my life, I'd not be hard done by!
If I had a complaint about the dish, then it would be the portions were a bit on the small side (and not just because the mash was so good!) - a little more on the plate wouldn't go amiss. Other than that, it was glorious.
Of the three desserts, the berry bocker glory with chocolate tiffin and chocolate ice convinced me it should be the one to see the inside of my stomach, and I didn't want to disappoint.
There was a smooth, sharp raspberry sauce poured over a couple of chunks of tiffin and the sort of ice cream that makes you proud to be vegan. Oh yeah, there were some berries there too, but I was kind of lost in the ice cream by that point.
I could well be wrong, but I think the ice cream might have come from Ms Cupcake and the tiffin from Lazy Day, so there was more assembling than cooking when it came to pudding, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it nonetheless.
If you want to check out Asparagasm yourself, head down to Vozars. It's not fine dining - and I mean that as a high compliment. If you want to get yourself to Brixton for a good feed and cocktails (and I recommend you do!) you've got til Saturday. This pop-up isn't here for long, more's the pity.