I like pop-ups restaurants. They're creative. They're fun. They're slightly bonkers. So I don't think it's especially clever to be too hard on them. You're eating food cooked in a garage or shed-like environment; look- it's not exactly The Ritz or The Waterside Inn at Bray is it?
Bearing this in mind, we booked ourselves into the Dram & Smoke, a new pop-up venture in edgy, up-and-coming inner-city Vauxhall. It's where we happen to live, so it was a pleasant five minute scurry from our Victorian hovel to get there. It's in a former steel yard. Think cobbled streets, holes in walls, shabby old typography, rusty iron braziers and the wafting aroma of roast pigeon and you'll get the picture. Wun, Wabbit, Wun Wabbit Wun Wun Wun. There was a roof.
The brainchild of Edinburgh entrepreneurs, Paul Ross and Nick Fulton, Dram & Smoke has food of a Scottish theme, with the emphasis on theme. You sit at communal tables and there's a bar to one side, selling the excellent toffee flavoured Innis & Gunn Beer, whiskies and bottles of wine. The transfer printed Royal Worcester porcelain was a nice touch. Monarch of the Glen, Landseer, the Famous Grouse and all that.
To be honest, the whole thing was a massive Scottish Love-In, which slightly caught me off guard as I was expecting (perhaps idiotically) to encounter- how shall we say- a more international bunch?
Scottish Independence was, thank God, off the menu, although talk was consistently of the "Back in Scotland..." and "I support Andy Murray, as I am Scottish" persuasion. I did, at least, learn the recipe for Balmoral Chicken.
Does Scottish Cuisine exist? Does British Cuisine exist? What makes a menu Scottish? Is it the ingredients? Is there a thin dividing line between classic and cliché? Dare I open an English themed pop-up in Glasgow serving Sussex Pond Pudding, Cromer Crab, Toad in the Hole and Brown Windsor soup without being lynched? If I did, I don't think I would try and serve Autumnal or Winter dishes in the middle of Summer, even in the climatic heaven that exists north of the border.
Anyway. First up were balls (bon-bons) of deep-fried Haggis, served with Chili Jam. I'm always a champion of Haggis (aka "sheep's pluck boiled in its stomach" to non-Brits) and it hit the mark, although the 'jam' was strangely runny, almost sauce like in its consistency.
Next came 'Scottish' Charcuterie. Lots of it. Good-ish chunks of Chorizo and Parma Ham served up on a bit of old plank, with pickled vegetables in a Kilner bottle. Not sure how 'Scottish' that was.
Then came some form of marinated, potted Smoked Mackerel, served up in those jars you used to catch tadpoles in as a child. Juicy and Fresh. Decent Flavour. The Cullen Skink (like Vichyssoise, but with the addition of Smoked Haddock) was fine.
And then came hunks, I repeat hunks, of red, rare, Smokin' Venison Haunch, served on pearl barley, propped up on a pair of bricks, with some form of beetroot sauce. Now, I'm definitely a rare steak sort of man, (as it happens I turn into a werewolf at the rise the Full Moon), but this was food of the Gothic persuasion. I couldn't banish from my mind the image of a circle of ravenous Neanderthals gnawing into the raw backside of one very kaput deer.
And then came the pudding. Deep Fried Mars Bar with Ice Cream and Irn Bru sauce. It was ghastly. How is this Caledonian delicacy made? A Mars Bar (made in Slough if you've ever wondered), is dipped in batter and then deep-fried in a vat of boiling oil. I cannot even begin to describe the horror. It tastes like a piece of shrivilled skin embalmed on a nodule of chemically zapped caramel. Even the complimentary mini-bottle of single malt Monkey Shoulder whisky couldn't sterlise the taste. Mrs Aitch liked it. I'll leave that one to the Scots.
£40 a head plus the cost of a bottle of wine.