From where I’m seated, my surroundings are that of homely familiarity. I have a view into the kitchen with a duck-egg blue Smeg fridge, double porcelain sinks, coffee mugs dangling from hooks, and cookbooks stacked up by the window.
There are rows of empty shelved kilner jars waiting for preserve, and the remaining half of a recently shattered crusty loaf left on a chopping board. Heavy hooked-back drapes keep out the chill, and a stately wardrobe stands fast in the corner. There are film posters on the wall and the general nick-nacks of life scattered about the room.
Any other place and I’d be seated in the dining area of someone’s home. Not so here; I am in fact in a restaurant in Covent Garden.
PipsDish is a venture that has taken the supper club experience into a more commercial setting; its intention is to make you feel like you’re at home when you are in fact, out. The man behind the enterprise is Philip Dundas – food writer, author, cook, member of the Guild of Food Writers committee and all round culinary dynamo.
The idea of PipsDish was conceived back in 2011, first starting in Philip’s apartment and then moving to a disused Citroen Garage in Upper Street where, along with his friend Mary Doherty, hungry patrons were fed from this pop-up for almost two years.
When the garage closed, PipsDish moved to Hoxton Square running a small one-table restaurant from the basement of the British Standard kitchen designers showroom. That lasted for nine months and was followed by the opening of the Covent Garden dining experience in October 2013, all six quaint tables of it.
The concept is different to other restaurants in almost every way. There is first the most obvious distinction of environment – effort is made to keep any evidence of commercial activity hidden so as not to effect the unique am-I-in-fact-in-someone’s-home experience. The real kitchen where the food is cooked is out the back and down the stairs and the till system is concealed in that massive wardrobe.
Then there is the food; it stays true to the honest, unfussed, home-cooked fare so often found in the homes of supper clubs (and I’ve been to a few). And like a supper club but unlike a restaurant, there is no menu. Food served during a day is based on what Philip and team procure that morning. Their meat is from Gill Wing Farm in Sussex, the fish is landed from day boats in Cornwall using sustainable methods, they use artisanal producers they know. They work with what is seasonal and fresh and essentially, available.
So how was the food? Hot and generous and served in heavy Le Creuset vessels with astrantias (one of my favourite flowers) furnishing every table. A chunky piquant tapenade – fruity with olive oil and served on bread (which would have been better toasted) – started the evening. Heirloom tomatoes tossed with roasted onions, a touch of chilli and cooling goat’s curd was simple and splendid.
An oven dish of flaky slow-roast pork butt, brimming bowls of creamed greens with garlic and lemon, charred aubergine flesh with yoghurt and pine nuts, and roasted potatoes sprinkled with parmesan are the exact sort of things you want to be presented with to accompany the bottle of wine and raucous laughter shared between friends.
Dessert were silky pots of tongue-tackingly tart lemon cream topped with fresh raspberries and crisp shortbread rounds that crumbled and then softened in the mouth.
Every scrap of our dinner was cleared with great enthusiasm.
A plentiful three course meal in the evening as above is £32.50. Smaller seasonal plates are available from £6 – £10. A carafe of house wine is £12.50, a full litre £22, a glass £5. They open Tues – Sat from 12pm – close.
There is little I don’t like about this place – the no-menu BMF concept that will always draw me (sit down, order something to drink, allow them to feed you), and that it feels like a secret bolt-hole in the middle of one of London’s busiest districts only you and the few others dining around you know of. My experience at PipsDish is a blueprint of how an evening would feel if a friend invited me over for dinner and asked me to bring the red.
And there is little that can ever be wrong with that.
Liked lots: the feeling of exclusivity with such few tables; unique at-home experience when dining out; the obvious effort made to achieve this; everything eaten; dog-friendly; despite its small size it still had the buzz of chat and conviviality familiar to any good restaurant
Liked less: a couple without a reservation did end up sharing a table with another – be aware of this possibility, or just book in advance
Good for: romantic date; small parties up to four – although there is an area for an additional eight at the back; an honest meal you can’t be bothered to make at home; an oasis of calm in the tourist-crazed madness that can be London
My rating: 4/5
Note: I was invited as a guest to this restaurant.