It’s 4:00pm and Taffeta Scrimshaw hasn’t eaten yet. She’s on her way to order food for herself and her chef husband Jay, recognising the irony of being in the food business yet not having time to feed themselves. Taffeta is busy putting together the final touches on their first pop-up restaurant; a temporary dining room for 25 customers at The Fountain Inn in central Cambridge. For two nights, this will be their restaurant until they pop-up again at another location next month.
In 2007, the Scrimshaws bought The Pheasant, a gastro pub in the village of Keyston. In 2009, The Pheasant won Best British Restaurant on Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, making it all the way to the final. After coming second on the popular programme, the pub became fully booked months in advance and quickly gained widespread popularity. Despite their television appearance and success, in January of this year they reluctantly sold the business back to the original owners. The Scrimshaws stated: “We have enjoyed every moment of our six-and-a-half years working here and have tried very hard not to let it go under. But unfortunately, due mainly to the current economic state, this has become harder and harder.”
Taffeta got the idea to open a pop-up restaurant after hearing about them in London, but hasn’t been to one herself. “We did supper club nights at The Pheasant”, she explains, “and I like the idea of sitting around tables and making friends.” She says that she wants the pop-up atmosphere to be cosy and relaxed, with everyone chatting together at shared tables. With high rental costs in Cambridge, a pop-up made more financial sense to the Scrimshaws.
Switching their Facebook page and Twitter account from The Pheasant to Scrimshaw’s, Taffeta used word of mouth and social media to advertise their new concept to customers. For two nights, 25 places would be available for diners to enjoy a set menu (or a vegetarian alternative menu). The details of the menu or the location (other than Cambridge) were not made public until just over two weeks beforehand. Spots were quickly snapped up by guests who were familiar with Jay Scrimshaw’s dishes, and those who were willing to have faith in his menu.
Taffeta considers their first night a success, noting that patrons were in a good mood and seemed to enjoy themselves. Jay’s food “went down well”, she says. The menu includes belly pork served in fluffy, feather light buns with hoisin sauce, crispy breaded salsify with a tangy parsley hollandaise, clean-tasting crayfish Vietnamese spring rolls, tender pieces of grilled monkfish with a chicken wing, date puree and foie gras vinaigrette on lentils, meltingly tender slow cooked beef cheek with garlic greens and gnocchi, and warm sugary doughnuts with a deeply rich chocolate ganache sauce served in teacups for dipping. The eclectic menu is a sample of Jay’s favourite dishes, some of which are served on plates for sharing, and provides an excellent ice breaker. Attempting to pick up a slippery spring roll with questionable chopstick skills proves to be a source of amusement for everyone at the table.
The décor is vintage-inspired, filled with pieces from mismatched tea sets, mirrors, candelabras, and clam shell ashtrays reincarnated as pepper dishes. Most items can be bought on the night so that the look of the pop-ups can evolve over time. Guests sit at three long wooden tables, and the cutlery is arranged in jam jars at each place setting. The atmosphere is like being at an informal dinner party, and like a typical host, Taffeta isn’t allowed much time to sit with her guests. She still manages to chat with everyone, ensuring that everyone is well looked after and relaxed. Most guests are former Pheasant customers and seem to be passionate about food. Talk at the table meanders from opinions of one of the local farm shops to sourcing sustainable and fresh fish to the first meal prepared for partners. By the end of the evening, two-cheek kisses are exchanged and promises are made to come back to Scrimshaw’s next pop-up.
Taffeta isn’t sure what the future holds for Scrimshaw’s and doesn’t dismiss the idea of owning a permanent restaurant again. In the meantime, the next restaurant is set to pop-up on May 17th, 18th, 24th, and 25th.
For reservations and further information, email: email@example.com or follow the Scrimshaws at https://www.facebook.com/scrimshaws and at http://twitter.com/JTscrimshaws