Above: Chef Nicos, who wouldn't smile out of respect for the lobster about to meet its saffron brothed end.
Lobsters, my brother says, tell horror stories about The Kraken to baby lobsters, to make them behave. "The Kraken searches out, destroys, consumes the biggest, the gnarliest, the meanest among us", Mama and Papa lobsters bubble, with waving antennas and clacking claws. "Entire lobster armies, battlescars and all, get decimated. Ground to umami dust. Just think what The Kraken would do to you. The Kraken would have you for breakfast. Literally."
"In Lobster World," my brother tells me, "You are the Kraken".
So when Chef Nicos invited me to attend his Lobster Pot popup at The Arch Gallery in Cambridge Heath (9-11 May 2013) as a media guest, I probably said yes much more quickly than is cool. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among Canadian lobsters - the lobsters of choice for his seafood menu.
Chef Nicos grew up in restaurants. His Greek Cypriot parents ran one until late last year, which has nudged Nicos to want to carry on the family legacy to start his own restauarnt, sometime, somewhere. In the meantime he cooks at Junction Tavern, and Angels and Gypsies in Camberwell. And hosts popups to try out different food formats and locations. His last one, also at The Arch Gallery, featured comfort food pie mash and gravy.
The Arch Gallery is a beautifully refitted railway arch in Cambridge Heath. What used to be a long stretch of car mechanics now hosts a varied mix of furniture and bike stores, real estate agents, and now, a flexible arts / events space.
I can't remember the last time I had a live piano man carress the keys over dinner. Fancy! With a gas-cannister-powered open flame heature right next to him. Edgy!
For starters, Rubenesque Colchester rock oysters. Mr Edible is nervous about me eating raw shellfish, as we're expecting Baby Edible #2 in August. I sulk when I'm told I'm allowed only one.
"Which one is least likely to get you into trouble?" he asks.
"The biggest one," I snap, and snatch before he can say much more.
I eat mine completely plain these days, and the fattest oyster on the platter was sweet and creamy, with none of the metallic tang that sometimes comes with their more anorexic looking relatives. Mr Edible tells me the shallot vinegar "didn't taste commercial" - a compliment.
And now to the main event. A lobster bucket for 2. We wonder if it will come with 2 lobsters, or 2-person sized lobster. (The Kraken declares there is no such thing as a 2-person sized lobster.) In any case, this bucket came with 1 lobster to share.
The booty at the bottom of the bucket: A generous portion of baby prawns, razor clams, clams, mussels, and samphire, swishing in a very pleasantly spiced saffron broth. With celery, carrot and onion for sweetness, and some pepper and lemongrass for kick, Chef Nicos tells me.
Afterwards I wander back out towards the entrance of the gallery, where the open kitchen -- not just to all punters walking in, but also in full view of the street as it's right next to the full height windows of the arch -- is positioned, and spy on the action at the pass. The pop up menu choices also included Devon crab claws, and giant tiger prawns. When I saw this fresh portion of prawns coming out for service, it was possibly the first time in my life I wondered if I should have asked for something else instead of the lobster.
In addition to cooking, Chef Nicos tells me that his other passion in life is drumming. There's something about this setup of pots and lids and the way Nicos whizzes his way around them that captures both for me.
So what next? Watch out for something in Camden, Nicos says. And his hometurf, Camberwell, where he wants to dig deep into his roots. "I want to do My Big Fat Greek PopUp," he says. Kali Orexi!
Disclosure: I'm the founder of Edible Experiences, and attended this event as a guest.
Click on the logo below to view upcoming events by Nicos Popupalot.