London’s first Japanese dumpling pop-up restaurant, Gyoza Otaku, came and went virtually unnoticed.
In mid-January, around 200 people, mainly
locals in the know, descended on the White
Horse pub in Hoxton, in the capital’s east end. DJs played and the
delicious food sold out in two hours.
Finding out about, and then frequenting,
the fly-by night, pop-up restaurant scene can be a challenge, even for the
savviest travellers. Most genuinely spontaneous, red hot pop-ups are aimed at
locals rather than tourists, and like Gyozu Otaku, they open and shut on
a whim. With a reputation that is based more on word-of-mouth than on
paper-based guidebooks, the whole raison
d'être for a pop-up seems to disappear as soon as you hear about them.
Yet with guerrilla
restaurateurs sprouting up from Melbourne to Los Angeles, more people want
to plug into this scene to sample interesting and cheap food, hang out with
locals and snoop around the derelict or unlet properties that are often used as
To find these cooked-up come-and-goers,
follow city-specific foodies on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook
and Klout, or drill down to the eatery
pages of national newspapers online. You can also use a mobile app like gtrot -- which mines your social media connections
for people who live in, or have been to a place, that you’re visiting.
“We got in touch with top London food
bloggers, so it’s good to follow them and make sure you plug into all the food
reviews,” said Kyri Patsalides, the founder of Gyoza Otaku. “Knowing local
foodies helps, or go on to local restaurant blogs and forums to see what people
are chatting about.”
While many pop-ups are short lived —a week
or a month-long affair —some pop-ups are now staying open for much longer, which
suggests that the impulsive catch-me-if-you-can culinary experiences may soon have
a more predictable, overt, less clandestine air to them.
Take the supposed pop-up concept Roganic in London, which will be open for
two (yes two) years. Boxpark a pop-up
shopping mall in the capital’s trendy Shoreditch neighbourhood plans to remain
in place for a staggering five years. There is even a centralised website for pop-up
restaurants and the social foodie scene: gestaurant.
“I think where [pop-ups] have been
successful in the past is that they create a buzz simply because they are short
lived – for example, a once in a lifetime opportunity for some to taste Charlie Trotter’s cuisine last summer
at Harrods,” explained Lucy Taylor, the head of restaurant relations at
Toptable, a UK-based restaurant booking service.
But even if those home bistros, underground
restaurants, guerrilla dinners and paladares become easier to find, the food
should still taste just as sweet.