Had you told a group of cool young Londoners that on every Friday night in December they’d be queuing up in plummeting temperatures in a Dalston backstreet (hopping over the torrent of a burst water main one week) in order to be corralled into an old warehouse yard where they’d queue further more for their supper and huddle around braziers for warmth, they’d have laughed you out of their hipster pub and told you to sling your hook. And take your skinny jeans and silly haircut with you.
So how is it – really, how is it? – that a bunch of maverick cooks and their friends have created what has been my favourite London foodie experience of the year? Taking the concept of street food up a level of three and taking it out of its usually more toasty climes, The Long Table has had hoards of Londoners – from all corners of the capital – digging out their thermals and waiting in line to eat astonishingly well-priced mouthfuls of food from the likes of Nuno Mundes, Sam Clark from Moro, the St John Bread & Wine crew, meat purveyors Hawksmoor, Roganic’s Ben Spalding and a host of street food champions such as Lucky Chip, The Rib Man, Big Apple Hot Dogs and LA Sueños.
The first week I went I arrived at 6pm on the dot, and already there was a queue of some 200 people snaking around the block of an old warehouse building, just around the corner from Dalston Kingsland – meet me at McDonald’s and I’ll take you there. With two scantily-clad friends (each was wearing just one pair of socks and one jumper each) and my hound Henry (a Great Dane who had smelt the charring of flesh in the near-distance), we queued patiently until it was our turn to follow the herd into the courtyard.
Inside, generators buzzed out lighting which, every now and then, would flicker off, then on, and then off again, lurching some areas into complete darkness. Did we care? Not one bit. As we queued for each section, we stomped our feet and blew into our hands, talking and laughing with the people around us. On week one we were stunned by a plate of chorizo and duck arroz made by the actual hands of Sam Clark, owner of Moro. Nuno Mundes’s offering of a braised beef short rib with caramelised mushroom and peanut sauce floored us. We’d found a pew at the end of one of the long tables (hence the name) strewn with candles in empty wine bottles and devoured the goodness. The dog drooled and begged, we laughed and made merry with all around us, drained a couple of bottles of wine and then hit the pudding tables. Absinthe hot chocolate and beetroot trifle filled a gap we didn’t know we had left.
The next week and we were back for more, wrapped up for an expedition to the Pole (two pairs of socks, vests, layers of clothing, hats, thick gloves, thin gloves…), leaping with the hound over the burst water main and into the queue. This time, with one week under our belts, we planned our attack with military precision. The fact that one of the lovely gents from The Long Table stall presented Henry with a bone of dinosaur-proportions meant he was kept busy as we calculated our menu.
First up, pokily spiced beef tacos from LA Sueños. A stand-out dish. So wonderfully seasoned. Then we queued for two plates of St John’s braised pig head stew, with the dense crunch of cracking and a sweet/sour pickled carrot. Wow. For a fiver? Really? Then a couple of burgers from Lucky Chip – their regular burger, rather than the reindeer special. One of the best quality burgers I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve eaten a few. Then St John mince pies whose interiors were dense and dark and sweet, which helped wash down the remnants of our third bottle of wine. Then onto a smoky brandy drink (sorry, I forgot from whence it came – things were starting to blur and my eyes were stinging from the braziers), and then more absinthe hot chocolates. We were a bloody disgrace. But drunk enough and full enough to be warm and toasty and brave enough to use the portaloos. Some things are best left forgotten.
If you haven’t been yet, be sure to visit this week as it’s the last outing before Christmas. I hope they’ll be back – there will be many demands made of them, I am sure. Incredible food at bloody brilliant prices, lovely people, a warm crowd and loads of booze. I can’t think of anything better to do on a cold winter’s night.
Last date: 16th December, 6pm until 1am. Seriously: wrap up warm.
Follow them on Twitter: @TheLongTableAS