Vauxhall of a Sunday afternoon can be a pretty frantic affair. Pounding bass-lines from beneath train-line-arches around the ungainly roundabout announce weekend-long club nights not due to end anytime soon.
Party casualties spill on to the streets and drearily assess their concrete surroundings in London’s burgeoning skyscraper hub.
It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find a cosy wood-burning fire, woollen blankets and highland charcuterie, but nestled in a working steel yard just beyond the boundaries of south London’s throbbing mayhem is Dram and Smoke, a Scottish themed pop-up restaurant, the brain child of two Edinburgh exiles Paul Ross and Nick Fulton.
Upon our mid-afternoon arrival we are equipped with a bespoke cocktail and left to mingle with the other guests or lounge about blanket-strewn sofas whilst genteel folk music fills the air of this industrial space. A working yard during the week, Dram and Smoke arrive at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening to create a venue in which taxidermy jostles with steel rods for space. It is at once elegant and offbeat. Half an hour later we are seated, awaiting our first course of Haggis bon-bons and chilli jam. For a first time experience we were both pleasantly surprised at the mellow flavour, accompanied perfectly by the sharp heat of the jam. With no-one brave enough to ask the exact contents, we conjure our own gory suggestions.
Round two of charcuterie and home-made pickles is equally impressive but the real stars are the potted mackerel and cullen skink which follow. Two large communal oatcakes accompany the delicate mackerel, a resounding success resonant of the great wilds of northern Europe; while the cullen skink is smokey and nourishing. Admittedly at this stage we are almost too full for round five, the eagerly anticipated venison haunch with pearl barley salad and bramble dressing. Venison is such a dense meat that I feel it could be served rare than it is, as it gets tough quite quickly. Perhaps that’s one of the sacrifices of communal dining. Nevertheless the bramble dressing was tart and refreshing against the sweet barley and smoked meat. The accompanying rum finished ale from Iniss and Gunn was a real treat.
A break follows with a trip to sit in the roof-top sunshine and we returned to our pudding of deep-fried Mars bar with shortbread ice-cream and Irn Bru. Only now do I totally understand why this is so widely lauded. I had always been very sceptical but it’s so indulgent and gooey it would be impossible to deny its deliciousness. I got nothing from the Irn Bru – maybe I need some more training – but the ice-cream was rich and decadent.
Dram and Smoke is a gorgeous venture. Homely, friendly and mostly very, very tasty, a combination of ex-pat nostalgia and entrepreneurship is a great asset to any city. Allegedly, you have to wait until after dark for the venue to truly come into its own. But it’s a great place to while away the afternoon, in a highland oasis amidst the chaos of the capital.
words Jeannette Farrell