Review: The Stew House

February 10, 2012

Stew House - Photo: Giovanna del Salto | All Rights Reserved
I was walking down a dark back street in the depths of London’s Hackney feeling hungry and a little lost, something not usually recommended especially in high heels. It was not looking promising for dinner, that is until I saw a glint of glitter from the tassels of a girl’s skirt up ahead, as she sashayed up the street arm-in-arm with a gentleman in a top hat and tails, wielding a cane purposefully. This was not the place for such attire.

The lights of Lidl and Iceland glared not so far behind, and the only other people in eye-shot had hoods and BMXs. This couple could only be on the same search as me. To seek out in this cold, dark night, the Stew House, where the promise of warm food and good company beckoned. Despite sounding distinctly like a Victorian kitchen for the poor, it is in fact, the latest and most feted in the pop-up restaurant trend that has seen Londoners dining in every unexpected corner of the city.

Stew House - Photo: Giovanna del Salto | All Rights Reserved
I trotted up to join them, but even with forces combined, we only located the unmarked door when another couple fell out for a cigarette. The girl had a feather in her hair and the smoke wound around her coiffed curls like a halo from a cigarette holder. It felt like we had entered some wonderful foodie speakeasy, where our supper was secret while the booze flowed freely.

Organised by gallery creatives The Dead Dolls Club, the interiors were designed by duo Tinker Tailor and local artist Dan Hillier to be some sort of rustic gothic Tudor banquet, like Dracula’s family dinners at the country castle. Sumptuous black tablecloths fell around long wooden school benches, and while the surface was strewn with candelabras and partridge feathers, we drank from glass jars and our cutlery was stacked in the middle. They had created this pleasure den in someone’s home, their rooms disguised behind white boards painted delicately with fireplaces, curtains and windows. I was like Alice in Gastronomic Wonderland.

By the flickering candlelight the guests decked out in their Dickensian best only became more beautiful. Top hats bobbed about proudly, and red lips left lipstick kisses on white powdered cheeks.

Stew House - Photo: Giovanna del Salto | All Rights Reserved
The long, communal table filled up around us, and like so many pop-up restaurants the normative dining rules don’t apply. I introduced myself to my neighbours something only mad people and Americans normally do. I recommended my cocktail, and they told me last time they came they were sat on hay bales, which ended in all sorts of rolling and rollicking by the night’s close.

I had a mouthful of both starters: the goats cheese tart was the perfect amount of sweet to creamy, but it was the terrine that stood out. Great chunks of pork with a sweet chutney garnish. The kitchen in the middle of the room was a cloud of steam and frenetic movement, as they slowly fed the table bottom to the top.

The premise of the Stew House is something to warm your cockles on a cold winter night - a choice of three stews each time, starter and dessert - and why not dress for dinner while we’re at it? I opted for the Venison, Port and Chocolate, and used my finger to lick the bowl clean. The meat fell away from the fork, and you could taste the chocolate without the overpowering quality of a mole (as in the Mexican sauce not the small mammal).

By the time pudding came out, the whole table had seemingly swapped places. Apple crumble was the classic British dish to finish, followed by a burst of dancing, letting us make-believe a little longer that we were not in the dark depths of Hackney but in a British banqueting hall befitting only the most decadent diners.

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