African Volcano

Address:  6 Southwark Bridge Rd, London SE1 0EF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Wednesday
Meal:  Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7/10

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.45I have explained the concept of Great Guns Social on this blog before. Different pop-up restaurants are allowed to take up residence in their kitchen for a brief period of time, normally a few months, before saddling up again and hitting the road, to be replaced by another chef with a stack of recipes and a dream.

Previously, we ate the tasting menu provided by Fodder, a pop-up specialising in foraged food. It was brilliant, surprising and delicious. They’ve vanished now, but the memory of their cooking remains vivid with us. Wherever you are Fodder, you have two fans here at Life at the end of a Fork!

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.10.39In their place is African Volcano, a pop-up specialising in the cuisine of Mozambique. It’s the creation of Grant Hawthorne and his wife, a pair of South Africans, who sell peri-peri sauces and marinades from their website, as well as at a stall in Maltby Market. They have a fairly large pair of foraged boots to fill, but at first taste, they’re having a good go of it.

Their peri-peri prawns with tomato and pilaf were a hit, rich and buttery, full-bodied and smoky. It was the kind of dish that you miss the very second you stop eating it. Spooning up the last morsel was like saying goodbye to a friend at the airport. I would happily have had a bowl five times its size and just sat around all evening with that plus a bucket full of chilled beers.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.37But all precious things come to an end, and before long the bowl was vanishing towards the kitchen, replaced with a plate of great, thick cuts of smoked salmon. My partner in culinary crime normally corners any fish dish (even if it’s nominally intended to be shared), and deflects any would-be scavengers with the tenacity of an African lion swatting hyena on Serengeti. This is fine in principal, but it does mean I have to take her word for it when reviewing marine dishes. This time was no different, so you’ll have to have it on her authority that the salmon was well smoked and full-bodied.

A plate of cured hams were marbled and glistening, almost purple. They were thin and lean, but full of flavour.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.54A southern fried chicken burger with spiced mayonnaise and red onions disappointed me. It was tall and narrow, difficult to eat, and strangely absent of the punch and vigour of the other dishes. It was certainly not volcanic. We found ourselves deconstructing it, eating the decent piece of fried chicken, and leaving the pretty pedestrian salad and bread on the plate. The ingredients of a burger should want to bind together. These had no affinity for each other.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 22.11.30The best dish turned up last at the party. Their Cape Malva pudding was an instant classic, one of the nicest desserts we’ve had this year. It came hot and spongy, studded with dark chocolate, a scoop of cool vanilla ice cream melting on the side, a cluster of fresh raspberries and strawberries gathered round it. Everything on the plate played perfectly, the sharp tang of the fruit and the deep flavour of the chocolate, the warmth of the cake and the chill of the ice-cream.

The dish took me by surprise. We’d dithered about whether even to have a dessert. But it was an ambush worthy of the African savannah, and it put an exclamation point on the meal.

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Congratulations to African Volcano. And congratulations to Great Guns Social for picking pop-ups so well, especially ones so sprawling different in their offering. Here’s to further culinary eruptions on the Southwark Bridge Road.


Fodder

Great Guns Social
Address: 96 Southwark Bridge Rd, London SE1 0EF
Bookings:  Walk in
Day:  Friday Night
Meal: Dinner
Price: ££
Rating: 7.5/10

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.46.19Great Guns Social may look like a squat little pub, but it is actually a very good restaurant. Or perhaps I should say that it’s a very good restaurant right now. Why this emphasis on the present? Great Guns Social has adopted a series of cooking residencies, offering talented chefs the opportunity to occupy its kitchens for a period of time, win some admirers and gain some experience, before rotating on and vacating the place for the next batch of eager cooks.

This is so obviously an excellent idea that I’m amazed more pubs haven’t tried it: good cooks get badly needed exposure, and pubs get the opportunity to serve something that isn’t a greasy battered cod or a rubbery hamburger. And, most importantly, we all get the chance to eat in the places.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.45.54At the moment, the kitchen is occupied by Fodder, a 4-strong culinary crew including two former Fera at Claridge’s chefs, Michael Thompson and Ollie Downey. They say that they “celebrate local, wild and seasonal ingredients by foraging for their produce”. ‘Foraging’ is a culinary concept I’m only vaguely aware of, and in the context of London it conjures up an image of an urban fox rummaging through a split bin-bag in the moonlight. But perhaps that’s just me.

Either way, what we were served certainly didn’t taste like it had been discovered in a bin. Every little dish we ordered was clever, inventive and exciting. Pig and Squeak were two solid little cakes of pork and cabbage, sat in a sweet apple sauce, their rough exteriors giving way to steaming, succulent contents. The green, whipped beef fat butter that accompanied our sourdough bread was rich with salt and flavour.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.46.07We ordered a poached cod in a bath of buttermilk. If a fish is going to be killed, it seems only reasonable that this sacrifice should be made worthwhile by the excellent cooking of the creature, and what we ate was a lesson in the posthumous treatment of a cod. It was delicate, soft and delicious, and the buttermilk was so tasty that it now seems wrong that a cod would ever swim in anything else. I’m not sure how one goes about foraging for a cod – did the chefs spend the night before wading around the surf on Chalkwell Beach, Southend on Sea? – but frankly I don’t care.

We ordered a chicken thigh, which came accompanied with broccoli. It had only been added to the menu that day, but I hope it enjoys a long and fruitful existence within those pages. It was lovely, the skin crisped and golden, the sauce light and encouraging.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.46.31Jersey Royal potatoes with baby dumplings and tiny morel mushrooms was also a fascinating little dish in miniature, although it did occasionally feel like being slapped on the tongue with a clove of garlic. Not a dish for a first date, unless you carry a bottle of strong Listerine around with you. One could probably be foraged in the Co-op around the corner.

We finished with a scoop of dark chocolate mousse and ice-cream made out of nettles. One of the fodder team informed us that nettles are one of the few things that are forageable all year round, and thus the unseasonably cold weather holding back Spring hasn’t put a dent in them. My partner in culinary crime was a little wary of gobbling up spoonful’s of something derived from a notoriously unpleasant little plant, so I had it all to myself. My mouth tingled for ten minutes afterwards.

Screen Shot 2018-04-07 at 10.45.35Great Guns Social is pushing a great idea, and fodder is doing it proud. Visit this restaurant if you find yourself in Borough. And next time I see a fox foraging in the moonlight, rather than shoo it away, I’ll wander over, and see if I can net something for the table.