11 | Oct | 12

Richard Johnson

Restaurant Without Recipes

There’s a lot being written/ spoken at the moment about how best to take street food indoors — winter’s round the corner, and the pavements are starting to look a little less inviting. This week the Restaurant Show recruited Kerb traders to drive into Earls Court 2, and park up on their indoor ‘street’ (along with ‘double yellow lines’). It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Restaurant Show execs prepared to queue for anything.

But is there another way? A way of taking the street food sensibility — and swagger — and putting it indoors ? I joined Scott Collins of MeatLiquor and Petra Barran of Kerb to discuss the idea on a panel at the Restaurant Show. And then went off to scout a place that manages it in spades. A self-styled ‘restaurant without recipes’ — in an old Citroen repair workshop.

Originally created as a temporary dining experience by Philip Dundas – who penned the antidote to paint-by-numbers celebrity cookbooks, ‘Cooking Without Recipes’ – PipsDish is here to see us through to the festive season. Together with his ‘kitchen soulmate’ Mary Doherty, the space has created a foodie fanfare with people returning again and again to the place where you just eat what you’re given.

Ironically, it was where Philip used to take his car to be serviced before he saw the potential of the concrete floors, exposed brickwork and vaulted corrugated roof to create a no–frills, function-over-form dining room. It provides the perfect theatre for Philip’s cooking to take centre stage. Sitting at old wallpaper pasting tables on old Sunday school chairs and benches, it’s £30 for canapés and three courses of modern country cooking.

It’s pure street food — indoors. The creativity that takes place in the kitchen eschews lists, measurements and timing in favour of simplicity, flavour and innovation; not only does it keep things interesting for diners, but also for Philip and Mary who don’t need to replicate cookie-cutter recipes each and every night. On any given evening, diners can expect the likes of Cumbrian black-face lamb with chicory & anchovy dressing; Shorthorn boeuf bourguignon with rainbow chard; squid stuffed with chorizo & tomato sauce; spiced roast shoulder of mutton with fennel; and hake with cavalo nero & romesco. Sweet is just as good as savoury, with decadent delights such as baked plum amarettini with marscapone & vanilla ice-cream, lemon creams with shortbread and baked peach Alaska with Chantilly ice-cream. And with everything delivered from trusted Islington supplier Farm Direct,  diners are assured of rare produce that is fresh, seasonal and very British.

Food isn’t the only focus at The Garage, however; above everything else is Philip’s love of people, which is exactly why on Wednesdays Philip’s team works on a social responsibility project with Age UK to provide nourishing free lunches for local Islington elderly. What’s more, the emphasis on people extends not only to what’s cooking but also the experience itself. Diners are introduced to the menu at the beginning of any given evening, with each dish explained and explored by Philip himself, and the open kitchen and shared tables lend themselves to a warm, convivial atmosphere that have most chatting as much with a stranger as with their friends. Says Philip: “The Garage is about stripping back all the barriers you find in conventional restaurants. Here it’s about people and food. How when they come together in authentic, hospitable surroundings it’s possible to create a homely dining experience with style.”

The Garage is just one part of the whole that makes up the PipsDish brand. With a second book in the writing and the search for more urban spaces with a twist, there is never a quiet moment for Philip. Although I can see him plumping for a van before too long….