I hate to admit being late to jump on the latest trend, but the whole underground / secret / pop-up dining scene completely passed me by. Now, I'm going to blame leaving East London just as every man and their culinary-inclined dog was opening up their sitting rooms. But that's just a lie. I even helped my TV researcher Bethnal Green flatmate trawl Spitalfields for people for her oh-so-on-the-moment show 'Restaurant in your Home,' and that was well before I crossed the river. I think I was rather British about it all: 'Going to someone's house you don't know to eat? Oh no, I'm not too sure about that...' But enough excuses.
So on Wednesday I was invited to a pop-up/secret/underground night hosted by The Rebel Dining Society. And guess what? It was in East London, and it wasn't even in someone's house.
The evening was called The Pernod Absinthe Green Hour. According to their website The Rebel Dining Society 'welcomes all those who are looking for a fresh and unique dining experience and our passion for food, art and music is the driving force behind our desire to push the boundaries of fine dining'. Though by Thursday it was probably more accurate to call it The Rebel Drinking Society, but that wasn't entirely their fault. It was the absinthe's. And no it's not illegal.
Choux Boy and I arrived at Hoxton Square greeted by absinthe cocktails and a mixture of Shoreditch types and some slightly lost-looking bankers. Told to drink until we would be seated at the long tressle tables in the main gallery, we followed our instructions to the letter. Absinthe is the stuff of legend and lethal strength: 68% proof and with a strong aniseed flavour it's not a shy spirit. In the spirit of research of course we tried all the cocktails - the distinctive flavour drowned the French Kiss and Mojito but the sweet Paris Citronne was a big hit. The Boy wavered between worrying about the Thursday hangover and worrying about that there wouldn't be enough drink with dinner - 'Filo what if it's like a wedding and they only budget half a bottle per head and then what if everyone else wants red too? I think we should have another cocktail just in case.' So we did.
Seated and swaying slightly, the art element of the evening (recreating Trafalgar Square - see Nelson's Column pige-fied below) was the ice breaker. A Shoreditch media couple (naturally), a freelance everything (journalist/PR/stylist), and a pair of Spanish girls who knew 'Shay' (a founding Rebels) set to work introducing themselved and cutting out their pigeons. I rapidly lost the interest of the Spaniards to the so-trendy-I-can-pull-off-a-full-on-moustache arty type next to me, and the Boy to deep concentration on his 'ravey' pigeon (bottom with the neon yellow 'string vest' on the left of the Column), so my mind turned to the food and not cutting my finger off using my safety scissors under the influence...
Four absinthe cocktails and a glass of wine down, the shot glass of green liquid fortunately wasn't absinthe based. But a tasty shot-o-soup alongside the light beany stew. The flavour and food was great but didn't make any hangover-reducing dent in the pool of absinthe in my stomach. And before my body got weaned back onto solids there was the Green Hour's take on the amuse bouche - er, absinthe. Straight. Out came towers of ice water, cut crystal glasses of vivid green absinthe and a man in a top hat and cravat. Time for the 'Absinthe Ritual'. Dripping the water through our sugar cube balance on a intricately decorated spoon, we were told of the drink's bohemian history - invented by Dr Ordinaire (Dr Ordinary, love it), Picasso and Van Gogh were fans, the creativdes' 5pm 'Green Hour' in late 19th century Paris - it's 'all about the love, the patience and the poetry of the drink'. Given that this was our fifth glass of the stuff we were easily sold.
Luckily before the Green Fairy cast her spell and I lost the ability to use my tastebuds our delicious rabbit two ways main arrived backed by The Roundhouse Experimental Choir, who were sadly almost drowned out by 120 absinthed-up diners grabbing plates and cutlery.
Somewhere between the rabbit and the two desserts I started seriously discussing getting my boobs painted in the Nevada desert (Burning Man Festival) with freelance-everything girl and I knew it was probably bus time. As the Boy and I staggered towards the 344 feeling like naughty children for being drunk and up past our bedtime on a school night, we decided we'd have to do this again. The food was delicious, the drinks not just flowing but gushing, the company interesting and four hours had passed in a blink of the green fairy's eye, plus we felt ever so slightly smug, like the rebellious cool kids had asked us to sit at their table in the lunchroom.
With The Rebel Dining Society hosting four more dinners with Pernod Absinthe and only £15 a ticket it's a bargain and an adventure - just make sure you bring some spare change for the bagel shop on the way home.