Pop up restaurants. They’re trendy, they’re exciting, and they bring an audacious and bold concept to an otherwise routine dining landscape. One week it’s a vacant, dilapidated storefront; the next week in its place is a full-on, bustling eatery complete with tables, chairs, a wait staff and, best of all, food. It’s a bona fide restaurant and, seemingly overnight, it popped up on the horizon and, just as quickly, it will disappear.
I admire the trailblazing chefs who endeavor to set up shop in the unlikeliest of places. They have the ability to transform an empty space into someplace that you not only want to see but be seen in, as well. Living so close to NYC, where pop up restaurants, well, pop up all the time, the opportunity for me to dine at one of these short-lived spots is never far out of reach. However, my first pop-up experience did not occur in NYC, nor where I live in Stamford, CT, nor was it even in the United States. I traveled all the way to England for my first pop up encounter.*
Chef Katy Holmes has brought a bit of down on the farm whimsy to The Dales in the North Yorkshire countryside with her take on a pop up restaurant, The Hay Bale Diner. Aptly named, this unpretentious eatery located at the family farm, Birstwith Strawberry Farm, is housed in a barn surrounded by bales of hay and, following the trend of pop up restaurants, is set to have a limited stay.
The success of The Hay Bale Diner speaks to the region’s desire for more, more, more—more great food like this, please. The Hay Bale Diner, which was originally scheduled to have its doors open four days a week (dinner Thursday-Saturday; Sunday lunch) for four weeks from August 22 to September 15, has, by popular demand, been extended for an additional week through September 22.
After having experienced it, I can understand why.
The four course £25.00 per person menu changes each week as Chef Katy celebrates a bounty of wonderful English produce and puts it to good use, along with her inspired interpretation of a retro American twist, to create a meal worth savoring.
My party of four’s visit this past Thursday, three weeks into Hay Bale’s run, was a satisfying experience that began with a sparkling ginger beer based welcome cocktail. The first of the evenings’ courses, which we enjoyed on the terrace just outside the barn doors, was an appetizing bite. The canapé consisted of smoked mackerel pate on beetroot blinis. And to think I almost missed out on this little gem as the tray bypassed me on several occasions. Thankfully, I did finally manage to get my nimble fingers on first one, then two, then three of the tiny tasty darlings.
The slight smoky essence blended into the mackerel pate was far from overwhelming, and the cucumber round that sat atop the canapé added an element of crisp texture as well and provided an overall balance for the diminutive tasting. If this was the barometer for the remainder of the culinary event, it would be a delicious evening indeed.
After an hour of cocktails and small talk, the crowd of thirty-six made its collective way into the barn and we were seated at one of the large communal tables. Chef Katy and her staff kicked the meal off in a smooth way with a pea, chili and basil soup paired with a mini triangle of Monte Cristo sandwich.
Velvety yet slightly chunky with tiny bits of peas in the mix, the soup had a very green essence to it—not just in appearance but in taste as well. While never having been one to flock to any pea-based soup, this was a delightful treat for my palate, one which I devoured wholeheartedly.
The evening was progressing from good to better and I was anxious to sample our third course for the evening. Unfortunately, and while this has no bearing on the flavors of the food, the lapse in time between the starter and main course was inordinately long. On the plus side, it did leave more time to leisurely enjoy our bottle of pinot grigio. As a side note, at this particular evening’s meal, The Hay Bale Diner did not have a liquor license, necessitating the need for a BYOB affair (with no corkage fee).
When the main dish arrived, I allowed the distraction of the long wait to temporarily fade from memory. Nothing much matters when a gorgeous plate of food is placed before you. The thick cut slices of roast topside of beef were draped on a slightly crispy leek fritter along with a small portion of savoy cabbage. Resting atop the sliced beef was a thick sauce fashioned from apples that brought to mind mashed potatoes but tasted oh so much nicer. Each element of the dish worked sufficiently on its own, however, when the various flavors comingled, the plate truly came to life. More specifically, the beef, which was a bit nondescript, made the taste buds stand up and take note when paired with the white wine jus which formed a tiny lake on the plate. Overall, it was a dish worthy of praise . . . and, in the end, we longed for second helpings.
If you’re looking for a meal that will leave you so full that you can hardly breathe with your stomach distended to the point of bursting, then this is not the place for you. Instead, the portions are reasonable and sufficient for the average adult. This may be fine for some, however, when it comes to dessert, you may find (as I did) that your greed outweighs your true need. Making excellent use of an abundance of plums from a friend’s garden, Chef Katy created a decadent garden plum frangipane with star anise and spiced custard that had me rethinking my vow to steer clear of baking. I am not ashamed to say I ate every bite and found myself wondering if there were more portions stashed away in the kitchen for an instant replay. It was sweet, without being too sweet; tart without being too tart—a perfect blend of opposing flavor profiles jockeying for domination in my mouth. In the end, they both won out.
I’m fortunate that we happened upon an advert for The Hay Bale Diner on the internet before leaving for Europe, and even more fortunate that the pop up coincided with our visit to Harrogate. Chef Katy Holmes, I thank you and your staff for being my very first . . . my first, but certainly not my last . . . pop up restaurant experience.
The Hay Bale Diner is open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday (dinner 7:00p-11:00p) and Sunday (lunch 12:00p-5:00p) through Sunday, September 22, 2013.
To book your reservation for The Hay Bale Diner at Birstwith Strawberry farm, go to https://thehaybalediner.eventbrite.co.uk/. But hurry before it’s completely booked. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
*While I would like to think that I have not only the wherewithal but also the means to jump on a plane and travel 4,000 miles simply for the sake of a meal, this isn’t the case. My husband and I happened to be vacationing with family in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.