PipsDish certainly has no pretensions — it's not purposely hidden nor unsigned like so many of today's faux speakeasy joints. It's a jolly hay-strewn site where the chef, busy at work in the open kitchen, welcomes you with a warm smile while a record player croons out bluesy tunes in the corner.
The setting is a rough-and-ready converted premise, known as the Islington Barn. This city barn comprises a food shop run by Farm Direct, and a make-shift kitchen and dining area for PipsDish. Signs of the building's former purpose are on show — such as the hydraulic lift columns that elevated cars for repair — but the lovely old shell has been given a new life with vibrant crates of produce, cooking smells, and barnyard touches.
There's a lot of good going on here. Chef Philip Dundas serves a pay-what-you-think-it's-worth lunch on Fridays and Saturdays, and he earns enough from that to provide local pensioners a free lunch. He cooks with produce from Farm Direct, a service that brings small-scale farm-produced products straight to the consumer via a box-delivery scheme.
Philip has written a book called Cooking Without Recipes that is inspired by his own cooking ethos. Instead of preparing a recipe written by someone else he feels it makes far more sense to choose what seasonal ingredients look best to you and think creatively to combine them into a variety of delicious dishes. Every edible scrap gets used, as he strives to avoid creating food waste.
|Philip with a tray of colourful salads.|
Philip comes round the curtain and greets everyone, then explains a few things. Bathrooms? They're outside (like you'd find at a gas station); while it's slated as a three-course meal, there are often more courses, depending on what he's got in and what inspires him. Everyone should feel free to flip through the record collection and play what they like.
Basically, just sit back, relax, pour yourself whatever you've brought to drink, and await an array of tasty food. As you're sat just off a bustling high street it's easy enough to run out at any point and buy more drink should your drop run dry. The farm shop sells big bottles of stellar ginger beer if you're in the mood for something soft.
There is a laid-back feel here; expect to be on your bail for a good few hours as courses are served at a leisurely pace. It's a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and we were so pleased with every course. Each dish had loads of flavour and tasted incredibly fresh. Here's what we feasted upon...
|Sourdough toast thickly smeared with tapanade (we got two slices each - yeeees!)|
|Golden Nugget squash and purple sprouting broccoli soup with croutons and chive pesto.|
|Salad of red chard leaves, candy beetroot, potato, charred walnuts and mustard dressing.|
|My main course: Fish pie with lemon parsley butter, roast potatoes, stir-fried spinach and leeks.|
|Alex's main: Roasted Old Spot pork with fennel seeds, onion and raspberry gravy, Bramley apple sauce, roast potatoes, stir-fried spinach and leeks.|
|Bread and butter pudding with caramelised marmalade and cream.|
After the first course some live music performers arrived. This acoustic group performed cover versions of pop music in a chilled out style. I particularly loved their slow, smooth take on Hey Ya by Outkast.
Once the dessert dishes were cleared we stepped out from behind the curtains, walked out the bright red doors and back on to the city street. Country mice became city mice again, but with bellies full of farm fresh goodness and a calmness that comes from a day on the hay.
We were guests of PipsDish.