Pickle Shack push the boundaries of modern dining with their theatrical and innovative supper club events…
*First published in Crumbs Magazine – Lead Photo by Matt Austin*
In many ways, dining at the Pickle Shack Test Kitchen is a lot like exploring Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It’s not very often you get the opportunity to eat pheasant noodles straight out of a syringe or munch on freeze-dried ants as part of dessert. But you don’t need a golden ticket for the chance to sample dishes that push the culinary boundaries – you just need an open mind and an empty stomach.
The Test Kitchen is a unique pop-up event designed to give Michelin-trained chefs, Josh McDonald-Johnson and Darren Jory, the opportunity to trial their innovative new ideas on a willing audience of diners. Set against the rustic backdrop of the Boatyard Bakery – on Exeter’s historic quayside – the event took the form of a whopping fifteen course mystery menu. In true secret menu style, we were instructed to arrive for a 7.30pm start, bring our own booze and get ready to “challenge our existing foodie conceptions”.
Our evening got off to a great start, as everyone took their seats at a communal table and got to know one another as we nibbled on our first course of cockle popcorn. These were delicious, lightly fried cockles, served in nostalgic little paper cones and spritzed with a fermented green elderberry spray. They were shortly followed by a freshly baked roll of Emma’s Bread, alongside lashings of chicken fat butter. The atmosphere was nothing short of jovial and the open plan kitchen allowed us to watch on as the Pickle Shack team worked their magic throughout the meal.
Courses three to five arrived in quick succession and set the tone for what was to come. A savoury ice-cream sandwich, containing the flavours of sesame and horseradish, was unlike anything we’ve experienced before and left many of my fellow diners sat in stunned silence as they tried to wrap their heads around the novel concept. This was followed by a stunning dish entitled ‘potato air’ and a light seaweed cracker topped with heart and liver. So far, so good.
The preceding six courses were akin to main courses and demonstrated considerable technical skill from chefs Josh and Darren. Among the standout dishes of the evening was pigeon, clay, moss: tender pigeon, wrapped in bacon and cooked in a clay egg, before being charmingly presented on a makeshift straw bird’s nest. There was also an outstanding pheasant noodle dish – a teacup filled with rich, silky consomme to which diners added their own noodles via an accompanying syringe and stirred in crispy bacon and cheddar crumbs.
Star among the four dessert courses was ‘Prohibition’. This was a fun, interactive dish that began with a mason jar of ‘giggle juice’ – otherwise known as Apple Pie Moonshine from the Fat Pig Distillery in Exeter. Diners were given a riddle to solve, while terracotta pots of dry ice added a theatrical flourish to proceedings. When the giggle juice finally wore off, we managed to crack the code and redeem our delectable prize.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been dreading the final course of the night, entitled ‘sea buckthorn and ants’. But, it turns out that edible insects aren’t too shabby after all. While a spoonful of ants was a bit of a shock to the system (one diner described the experience as being similar to popping their tongue on a battery!), I think that Pickle Shack might just be onto something with this new age ingredient…
Indeed, Pickle Shack are proving to be real pioneers within Devon’s foodie scene. I can’t help but admire the techniques and flavours coming out of their kitchens and if your interest has been piqued by these unusual test dishes, you’d be wise to get your hands on tickets to one of their upcoming events. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
For details of forthcoming Pickle Shack events visit pickleshack.co.uk