MADÉVI DAILLY revels in returning to London's dining scene
Pop-up. Pop. Up. In the dark, desolate depths of lockdown, I had almost forgotten those two magical little words, carrying with them the heady promise of a joyful night out in London. I love everything about pop-up restaurants – the ephemeral, blink-and-you’ll-miss it nature of them; the playful, experimental menus; the hint of chaos in the kitchen.
Papa L’s Kitchen is a prime example of the genre. The Papa in question is chef Lawrence Gomez, an alumnus of the Ivy and Sexy Fish, who’s set up shop at the Gojk on Brompton Road for five weekends. I headed there on a quiet Thursday night, determined not to let anything dampen my first dinner out in six months – not the imposing bouncer wielding a temperature gun at the door, not the masked and visor-toting staff, not even the torrential rain that meant the venue’s bijou terrace was off-limits. Papa L, it turns out, knows a thing or two about lifting spirits. His set tasting menu is generous to a fault – he’s the sort of man who’ll ply you with eight courses and send you waddling happily home. Our waitress, wisely, warned us to take our time. We fiddled ineptly with the digital menu, conjuring small plates from the kitchen at our leisure, over four very civilised hours. Sweet potato croquettes, zingy and piping hot, opened proceedings with aplomb.
Then came a grilled chicken salad dressed with mango and avocado, tiger prawns in a rich, buttery sauce, perfectly al dente asparagus and a handsome piece of soy and sesame salmon that flaked sultrily under fork. Thankfully, Papa L had our back: courses came paired with titchy but punchy cocktails designed to guide us giddily to gluttony.
‘This meal feels like a holiday!’ I exclaimed tipsily after the first course or four, breathing in the transporting scent of pineapple, rum and coconut from a small, delightful coupe. While ostensibly influenced by the chef’s Gambian roots – plantain chips and Jollof rice featured in later courses – Gomez’s cooking trots around the globe, borrowing flavours and ingredients from different cultures and cuisines – and sacrificing, perhaps, a certain sense of identity along the way. But there’s no denying Papa L is a deft hand in the kitchen: as we left and thanked him for an immensely cheering evening, he confided the gas had cut off half-way through service. A hint of chaos in the kitchen? I’d have never noticed.
Papa L’s Kitchen runs for five weekends from 28 August 2020.
Tickets are £65, and include an eight-course tasting menu with four paired cocktails; a vegan menu is available.