Popdown by Cuisson
One of the great joys of Borough Market has always been its reinvention. No two trips are ever quite the same, as you scramble to see the latest food stands that have materialised, or a supplier who’s just got hold of the most incredible seasonal produce. Tucked beneath the arches or hidden round the corner, there’s always something new, and that’s where we find Popdown, by Cuisson, squirrelled away at the end of Cathedral Street.
Describing itself as “a gastronomic experience”, it’s one of those achingly cool supper clubs, all unvarnished wood and simple place settings that promises great food in a relaxed setting. There’s a palpable air of excitement as diners get their first sight of tonight’s menu and sip on some excellent cocktails. The menu changes frequently, based on the ingredients the chefs go out and find each day as they make use of the market’s extensive wares.
That selection is put to good use in a ceviche with yuzu, soy, and wasabi, as the latter ingredient comes both in its more traditional form and in a smattering of Tobiko, a fish roe that is infused with other ingredients. It’s an exciting addition that immediately gets the guests talking, and provides a little punch of heat that would normally come from chilli. Yuzu does the same for the citrus element of the dish (although a touch of the traditional lime is applied in the form of peel) and the effect is a dish that is distinctly Asian, yet still very much recognisable as a ceviche.
Honey glazed duck with hazelnuts follows and it’s as visually stunning as it is delicious. Diners are delighted to see the chefs plate this beautiful dish before their eyes at the end of the dining room, a small touch that helps break down any sense of formality and gets people talking. The gaminess of perfectly cooked duck is brought out by a floral honey, whilst a touch of soy in the sauce keeps the entire thing feeling light as a feather. It’s served with plum, cucumber and citrus, which do a great job of cutting through the sweetness of the honey. That’s the overarching theme that runs throughout the evening’s dishes; at most, half a dozen clean, distinctive flavours that all perfectly accentuate one another.
It’s one we’re looking for again when we see pork loin with nigri, pickled cabbage and beansprouts. The concept of this dish is fantastic: sweet pork, sharp cabbage and spicy beansprouts all combining as a beautiful trio. It just doesn’t quite pull it off though. The beansprouts are too boisterous for their own good and end up dominating. It’s a shame because the pork, marinated in golden syrup and cooked perfectly, is fantastic on its own. The caramelised syrup sear helps to bring out the meat’s own innate sweetness, but that subtlety is lost. Separately, the elements work but there’s something out of balance about them all together on a plate.
All sins are quickly forgiven when we set eyes on a coconut foam, kaffir lime curd, ginger crumble and sous vide pineapple. It’s hard not to gush about this deceptively simple looking dessert, which turns out to be nothing short of a symphony of taste and texture. The tangy slick of curd, the meltingly sweet pineapple, the crunch of ginger crumble and the delicate coconut foam all combine exceptionally well whilst maintaining their own distinct identities. They simultaneously contrast and complement each other with the same grace that has characterised most of the meal, providing a fitting (and popular) end to the dinner.
It’s this elegance, this cleanness of flavour, that’s really the star at Popdown. There’s no baffling desire to overembellish or overcomplicate, just an appreciation for great taste and fresh ingredients in a relaxed environment. If that’s not the very essence of what a supper club in the culinary riches of Borough Market should be, we don’t know what is.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Popdown can be found at 1 Cathedral Street, London SE1 9DE, for further information or to make a booking visit here.