Eating. Eating is my absolute favourite thing to do, be it shovelling cake into my mouth or ordering the most beautiful dish at restaurants whose name I cannot pronounce. But sometimes I stumble across something special, and Section 33, masters of pop-up dining, are just that.
I’m no stranger to pop-up dining – the Street Food Cartel events at SWG3 were firm favourites of mine when they were more regular. I loved the intimate vibe despite it being held in such a large room, and the food was second to none. But they started to taper off and I was disappointed, until at the end of 2014 when I found Section 33, a team who love to put on secret, exclusive dinners-to-share. They were running an event in the somewhat ancient and famous institution of Govanhill Baths, and totally transformed the venue; it was incredible night, but once it was done they disappeared again, with not a peep of information coming out of them for months.
Until a driech October day, last month, when a wee email landed in my inbox telling me that tickets for the next event had gone on secret sale. I bought two immediately and waited in anticipation for The Herald to publish the unusual location, which was announced to the the Britannia Panopticon. I’m ashamed to say I had no idea this building, just around the corner from my flat, even existed, let alone that it is the UK’s oldest music hall.
But as soon as Jason and I stepped inside I got a feel for it; I could instantly imagine hundreds of cabaret acts from years gone by on the stage, could hear the cheers of the crowd in the circular balcony. The decor by the Section 33 team added to this. The twinkling of the fairy lights, the collage on the stage, the speakeasy-style seating arrangements all created a stunning, relaxed atmosphere, and it was very difficult to comprehend that this setup actually hadn’t been here this whole time. Because it certainly felt like it – the friendliness and efficiency of the staff, the expertise of the musical entertainment, and, of course, the food.
Ah, the food. The best bit. Section 33 insist you share, as the food is served on small plates and comes whenever it’s ready in atypical restaurant style. This idea made me grumpy the first time I experienced guerilla dining but once I realised it means I get to order, try and taste even more, I soon warmed to it.
It took a while for us to decide what we were going to have; we settled down with a hoppy, bitter Meantime London Pale Ale each whilst browsing the menu. From all the delicious sounding options you can see above, we opted for scallops served with caramelised duck, peanut and pineapple, chilli and soy caramel chicken wings, buttermilk fried pheasant with bbq beans, mussel popcorn with black garlic mayo, vietnamese asian herb rice paper roll, and pork cheek served with pear mustard, brussel sprout and glazed carrot. Yes, three dishes each. Yes, we are greedy.
The pork cheek was fantastic, but the mussels and scallops outstanding; as a sucker for seafood, it didn’t come as a surprise to me that these would be my favourites.
That being said, I know it’s a cliche but the pork cheek just about melted on my tongue – dishing it from plate to mouth was so difficult because it wouldn’t stay on the fork long enough. The pear mustard was so delicious I declared I wanted to spread it on my toast every morning. But no more so than the black garlic mayo that came with the delicately breaded mussel popcorn. You know that kid you scowl at in a restaurant because they’re literally dipping their finger into the bowl and licking it? Me. That was me.
But the winner for sure was the scallops. Last year, Fish Plaice had a popup at the Candleriggs which had originally been put up as part of the commonwealth celebrations and I ate there with my mum and all my friends for my 21st and had the most spectacular scallops of my life, worrying that I’d never have the same again. But Section 33 topped it. They were huge and so meaty, and I took snail-sized bites to make them last as long as I could. I didn’t want to share, no, refused to share, and bargained with Jason he could finish the pork cheek instead. The addition of the pineapple set the flavour off incredibly well with the tangy kick and, with a forkful of these two and the duck altogether, I was in taste heaven. Unlike the chicken wings that we had also ordered, the taste of caramel was much more prominent in the duck and combing all those flavours pretty much gave each of my individual tastebuds an orgasm.
And then to the puddings – yes, we ordered three and yes, the waitress did question us to make sure we wanted three, given that there was only two of us eating. We like to eat, and we like to sample the menu. Leave me and my expanding stomach alone.
Jason talked me into the pumpkin cheesecake. Although it was my least favourite of the three, by no means does this mean it was bad. I’m used to pumpkin flavoured everything being rolled out in autumn and it being far too sugary-sweet and utterly unsatisfying but there was no feelings of teeth about to immediately fall out after munching this – I was surprised by how strong the savoury notes were, only sweetened by scraping the maple syrup softly off the bottom of the dish.
The giant salted caramel profiterole, in the words of Jason, could have ‘taught everyone what salted caramel is SUPPOSED to be like’. The perfect balance of decadent and fluffy, the caramel was not overly sweet as is so often the case and the idea that less is more definitely worked as I was digging with my spoon for every last drop of sauce, rather than feeling sick of it after two bites.
The queen of puddings came in the form of panna cotta though – I love coconut and panna cotta is my favourite dessert so, this being on the menu was obviously a victory for me and my mouth. The blueberries, although a simple choice, gave a tartness that I loved and Jason didn’t even get a bite of this one. Sorry.
Washing it all down with a Rum and Rosemallow cocktail (WATERMELON? IN A COCKTAIL? ITS SO SIMPLE AND SO GOOD AND WHY HAVE I NOT DISCOVERED IT SOONER), my only regret was not taking more photos but, getting phone out at the table would have ruined the atmosphere. If you fancy checking out Section 33’s next event, then yer dinner’s in the links below.