It might be here tonight, gone tomorrow, but the “pop-up restaurant” has become a popular trend on the Joburg dining scene.
Unique locations are used to “pop up” a great dining experience, which is efficiently executed, and when the last guest has left it is all packed up.
To get a feel of what it’s all about, I recently attended a one-off pop-up restaurant in the newly built Wits Art Museum (WAM) in Braamfontein, the night before it officially opened to the public.
It was organised by The Forum, which runs monthly “Underground Dinners” at the iconic Turbine Hall in Joburg, where diners are seated among the turbines of this refurbished 1920s power station and treated to evenings of music and the fine gourmet cuisine.
The WAM is a cavernous white space and home to more than 9 000 objects of classical and contemporary SA and African art that Wits University has collected over the years.
We started with drinks on the top level then took our seats, in clear Perspex chairs, for a fine three-course dinner that consisted of tiger prawns and baby leeks followed by fillet of beef with polenta and wild mushroom terrine, and berry mousse for dessert.
Champagne and good wine ensured the happy buzz and lots of conversation.
The cost was R380 a head, and R100 of this was donated to the WAM.
Aside from the novelty of dining in a gallery full of priceless art, the experience felt just a little naughty, like a schoolboy stealing away to smoke in the school grounds.
Dining underground at Turbine Hall, a looming, Dickensian-looking edifice in Newtown that invites curiosity every time you pass it, no doubt feels the same.
Yet The Forum’s pop-up dinners would stand up to any in an established restaurant, not least because of the fast and efficient service, which is a necessity as these are expertly piloted events.
“It’s a challenge to work in new spaces, because we have to orientate ourselves each time,” says Kim Roberts, general manager at The Forum “Things can and do happen. If the lights go out, say, you have to know where the switches are.”
At the WAM dinner, there were 35 staff serving about 120 guests, and it went off faultlessly.
This is what is expected by the patrons of pop-up eateries, says Roberts.
“They are mostly foodies, people who know about and expect outstanding cuisine and table service,” she says.
In the UK, Europe and the US, pop-up restaurants have been on the scene for years. In Joburg, they have grown largely from word-of-mouth, says Roberts – and social media.
In September, The Forum is taking the concept a step further and will be setting up outdoors, on a farm near Lanseria. Not least among the challenges on this occasion will be the weather.
“On September 16, we’re going to do a farm kitchen, sourcing all our own vegetables and produce from around the Cradle of Humankind to produce a Sunday lunch under the trees. It will be for kids too,” says Roberts.
On more predictable ground, The Forum also runs monthly “Around the World” suppers at its own premises, Campus Office Park in Bryanston, which have proved equally popular. The suppers are themed on different countries, so June is Ireland, July is France, August is Scandinavia, September is China, October is Spain and November is Australia.
Another unusual restaurant concept that’s been causing a buzz in Joburg is Dinner-in-the-Sky, a table for 22 that is hoisted into the air by crane for meals, business meetings and other sit-down gatherings.
I had the experience during a media run and must say first that this is not for people with a fear of heights. It also struck me as a little bizarre to be dangling from a crane overlooking sardine-packed townhouse complexes in Fourways (the crane is based at Cedar Square until the end of the year). And no, there isn’t a loo on board, so if you’re not very secure in that department, best stay on terra firma.
Dinner-in-the-Sky is available to the public once a month, and is hired mostly for birthday parties and anniversaries, but it’s corporates who favour it most, says owner Hilary Elmira.
A favourite expedition is the “whisky and Cognac” lift, she says. You would imagine that too much tipple up there would be potentially problematic, but Elmira says everything has gone smoothly to date.
“We always go down in time,” she laughs.