If you haven’t heard of Dram & Smoke before, there’s a clue in the name. These Scottish pop-up experts come with a reputation for good (barrel-smoked) food and good whisky, and have enjoyed a run of sell-out events in London. Their most recent project was in Hackney this spring, and they’re now back for a month-long winter residency in an ex leather tannery in London Bridge.
Though rushed off their feet with prep for this winter project, this big-hearted Scottish chef duo Nick Fulton and Paul Ross kindly agreed to help some friends and me to organise a warm up act. This came in the shape of a one-off charity supper club evening at Brixton East 1871, a beautiful 19th century furniture warehouse with plenty of original brickwork and character. We were raising awareness for a charity called SeeBeyondBorders, which runs projects in Cambodia to help children get a better education, and that a group of us had seen first-hand having been to volunteer with them the previous year. As well as help from the amazing Brixton East staff, partnering with D&S let us benefit from their event experience, and most importantly put the actual cooking-for-100-people part in very capable hands!
With all the work that goes into organising an event like this, the food was probably the most enjoyable part to sort out. Given we wanted to turn a profit on the ticket sales for the charity (and venue hire, security and bar stock aren’t cheap!) we asked the D&S guys to design us a menu of 3 courses on a restricted budget that would still impress ticket buyers after they’d parted with their hard-earned cash. D&S didn’t disappoint, and with a few tweaks back and forth we settled on what we hoped would be a very good feed.
On the night itself we started with drinks upstairs at the venue, a double-height space with vaulted ceilings and original wooden beams, where we’d set up a bar and raffle station. I’d been completely charmed by this space, particularly having seen it all set up for a wedding the first time we’d visited the venue. D&S had come up with a couple of cocktails including a Hot Toddy (delicious though could’ve been hotter) and an Apple Mac (tasted as good as its name, essentially black label whisky and appletiser!). Others also seemed to be enjoying their Rosemary G&Ts. Soon it was time to head downstairs where the tables had been set up in the same communal dining fashion as D&S do at their usual pop-up events.
Nick and the D&S team had been hard at work all afternoon in the kitchen area and everything seemed well in hand, each table alight with flickering candles and patterned crockery. We began with a starter of Potted Mackerel which came in an individual side-clip jar each, with communal bowls of Rhubarb and Homemade Pickles, and Crispbreads served on a wooden board with lemon wedges. I’ve never been a big mackerel fan but this was so well flavoured I actually enjoyed it a lot more than expected, particularly with the tang from the pickles.
If we’d been looking for the wow factor with the food, the main course definitely made an impact. A large Beef Shin Pie arrived at each table, with puffed up pastry pieces around the edge and the shin bone sticking up in the middle. It was almost a shame to cut into such a piece of art but we asked one girl at our table of 12 to plate up, whilst the vegetarians at the table received generous portions of Mushroom Pie. We helped ourselves to sharing bowls of smooth Smoked Mash and delicious Heather Honey Glazed Carrots, which the lovely waiting staff soon refilled for us. The beef was slow-cooked and tender, and I liked having bone marrow gravy and the extra pastry pieces to go with it. Everyone had seconds and by the end the dish was cleaned out. In a stroke of recycling genius, a chap from the neighbouring table even asked to take our shin bone home for his dog and promptly wrapped it up to put in his pocket! Waste not…
A short speech about the charity followed while everyone started digesting a bit. Then it was time for dessert: Vanilla and Bramble Pannacotta with Honeycomb, or Lemon Posset if you didn’t eat gelatin. It made me feel a little land-of-the-giants as it was served in an oversized dessert bowl for sharing. A simple dish though tricky to serve in such a way that everyone got the same proportion of pannacotta and topping (yes I’m that person that gets protective over fair dessert allocations). But they served it with extra pouring bottles of bramble compote which I thought was a nice touch, so you could add as much of the tasty purple topping as you liked. The honeycomb also looked quite pretty crumbled haphazardly on top of the compote but it stuck to my teeth too much for my liking. Again the portions were extremely generous, and in fact we had to leave some behind (ohh the shame).
Full tummies all round meant people took more that a little cajoling to get them back upstairs to draw the raffle and round off the night. Everyone I spoke to around the room complimented the food, and indeed it’s just the kind of hearty cooking that’s perfect for a wintry night. Their staff were absolute stars too, and as the front of house face of the chefs backstage it’s the waiting staff that can make or break an event like this. They were all very personable and smiley though, and clearly already immune to people’s gasps at the sight of main course.
Just as the Dram & Smoke tagline promises, it was a night of good scran (food), bevvies (drinks) and general flumgummerie (everyone has their own word for that part!), and all for a good cause. If you’re quick you can still catch a dose of their Scottish hospitality at their Winter Project which starts this week – rumour has it there are even booze-friendly games to keep you entertained this time… beer pong anyone?!
Winter Project, Tues – Sat until Dec 19th