Aneke Spacie's pop-up restaurant at The Lightbox, Woking GU21 4AA - restaurant review
PUBLISHED: 10:04 19 April 2016
At some point in the past few years, someone appears to have cast a magic spell over Woking and now the town's food and drink offering is firmly on the map. As The Lightbox art gallery launches its first much-anticipated pop-up restaurant, Matthew Williams visits to find excitement is hitting new peaks
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2016
NEED TO KNOW
WHAT WE ATE
£75 a head
• Bubbles and canapés in the main gallery
• Early English asparagus with textures of tomato, Parmesan custard and crispy gnocchi
• English pea & peppermint latte, potted brown Morecambe Bay shrimp and granary soldier
• Lemon thyme butter- infused duck parfait, smoked duck, baby vanilla poached apple, fresh Egyptian fig, red Merlot gel, spring truffle dressing and white truffle nest
• Isle of Wight crab Scotch egg, sweetcorn cream, beurre and aroma of coconut
• Picasso in his Workshop fillet of beef with a celeriac puree
• Alice’s Tea Party: “Dark and light, hot and cold, sparkling and popping, colour and crunch...”
Fleurie 2014 Georges Duboeuf, £20
REVIEW: You would have to be living under a rock not to notice that there’s been something afoot in Woking over recent years. As one prominent contact told me recently: “There used to be a time where you’d have to take your clients to Guildford if you had any hopes of impressing them, but not any more.”
As well as the launches of Tante Marie’s new restaurant and the Cellar Magneval wine bar in the town centre and Water’s Edge by Horsell Common, there’s the innovative covered Market Walk stalls (from RaysIndian’s street food to independent butchery and more), a host of top-end chains and a series of thriving and high-quality pubs in the nearby countryside. Heady times indeed, and now there’s yet another magical set piece to add to the burgeoning menu…
Since 2007, The Lightbox art gallery has made quite a name for itself, often punching well above its weight with national-quality exhibitions. Now, they’ve unpacked their finest white linen, lit up the candles and put their kitchen to the test with a series of intimate pop-up restaurants.
Surrey Life was lucky enough to be invited to the very first event, and as we arrive, the tone of the evening is quickly set by glasses of bubbly and canapés distributed by attentive staff in the main gallery. The newly-launched John Constable exhibition captivates, director Marilyn Scott sets the scene, and then we’re whisked back down to the café, which has been transformed for the evening with low-level lighting and beautifully-adorned tables.
Tried and tested
At this point, we should probably admit that our excitement and expectation were already pretty high as we’ve had the pleasure of meeting the guest chef for the evenings before. Having dined at pop-ups at Byfleet Manor and her West End home in recent years, and enjoyed a cracking breakfast at her newly-launched Water’s Edge café, we know that Aneke Spacie (aka The Michelin Mum, thanks to her years of experience at the highest restaurant levels) is not only an excellent chef but highly creative with it.
The thought of her brilliantly madcap cooking in an art gallery was an inspiring thought – and, as we discover, the reality doesn’t disappoint.
Having chosen our wines from a selected list that is distributed with the menu, we take in our surroundings. It’s a packed house, and the gasps of intrigue are notable as the first dish is delivered: early sprung English asparagus with textures of tomato, Parmesan custard and crispy gnocchi.
It sets the stall out for the evening: pretty as a picture, extremely fresh and light as you like, with the accompaniments complementing rather than distracting from the asparagus – little touches of depth, bite and excitement.
Next comes an English pea and peppermint latte (what do you mean you haven’t got that one, Starbucks?!) served with a potted brown Morecambe Bay shrimp and a granary ‘soldier’ sitting in a dish on top. The vibrant colours come with a zing of peppermint that never threatens to overpower the other flavours.
You learn to expect the unexpected with Aneke’s cooking. For a while, the smoked duck with popping candy, baby vanilla poached apple, fresh Egyptian fig, red Merlot gel, spring truffle dressing and white truffle nest distracts us from the eventual star of the show, the lemon thyme butter-infused duck parfait. This only heightens the dish, when you do find your way to it. A bit of fun, but it’s never without serving a purpose.
For me, a highlight in a strong line-up proves to be the crab Scotch egg, with sweetcorn cream, beurre and aroma of coconut. A fairly heavy dish, but with a light touch, that sits comfortably among the courses and helps set things up for the pièce de résistance…
Laughter erupts around the room as Picasso in his Workshop is served. It’s fillet of beef with celeriac purée, but not as we know it, served on a faux easel complete with pencils and a little tube of beetroot purée to unleash the painter within. Perfectly cooked beef, it’s given a cheeky showcase, fitting for the gallery walls.
And, finally, with the room fully relaxed into the evening, the grand finale is the Alice’s Tea Party dessert, dispatched in china cups. Described as “dark and light, hot and cold, sparkling and popping, colour and crunch”, it certainly ticks many boxes and is utterly moreish.
For any discerning food and art-lover, the experience at The Lightbox’s pop-up restaurant is clearly going to prove hard to beat. The atmosphere in the gallery, enthusiasm from everyone involved, stellar service and creativity on the plate, leaves you walking out the door with inspiration on the brain and out into a town already brimming with ideas.
• The next pop-up restaurant with Aneke Spacie at The Lightbox, Chobham Road, Woking GU21 4AA is set to take place on Friday April 22 at 7.30pm. Book your table online at thelightbox.org.uk
• Vote for your favourite Surrey restaurants and local foodie events, from pop-ups to farmers’ markets and festivals, in this year’s Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards at foodawards.surreylife.co.uk
Our competition winner’s view...
“It’s hard to say what we enjoyed most about our evening at The Lightbox as it was all excellent,” says Amanda Harwood, who won a table for two in our The Diary competition in February’s Surrey Life magazine. “The combination of Aneke’s beautifully-presented food served in the gallery setting worked really well. Each dish was a miniature work of art, as well as being extremely tasty! We also really enjoyed being able to wander round the Constable exhibition at the start with our bubbly and canapés.”
On the plate in Woking
For a little taste of the Parisian life, there are few better places to relax with a glass of vino than this little hideaway.
The Restaurant at Tante Marie
Historic cookery school upstairs, modern restaurant delighting the public downstairs. A must-visit.
Having made a name for themselves with their restaurant, Rays have taken their Indian street food to Market Walk, too, with a brand-new stall.
Presided over by Aneke Spacie (above), this Michelin mum who made her name through pop-up restaurants has got a permanent home – and it’s on a new nature reserve.
Sands at Bleak House
Located by the McLaren Technology Centre, Sands was serving up fantastic fare long before many caught on.
• Share your Woking food and drink favourites with us on Twitter: @SurreyLife