One of my childhood memories is going food shopping with my mom, and always being on the lookout for the ‘V’ sign, an emblem of all things vegetarian. Veganism wasn’t even a thing back then.
Being of the plant-based persuasion a few decades ago used to be problematic due to poor labelling of products, and the limited range for vegetarians/vegans to choose from. Which is why I recall food shopping, with my vegetarian mother, tedious and a real chore (sorry Mom).
Fast forward to 2019 and not only is the vegetarian sign delightfully ubiquitous, there is also a wonderfully diverse vegan produce range. (I am still researching vegan labels, so bear with me on that one, to come in a standalone post.)
It is not only supermarkets who are stocking more vegetarian/vegan produce; eateries too are catering for veggie lovers by putting on vegan and vegetarian menus.
Now, I am not a vegetarian, but I am trying to up my vegetable intake and decrease my overall meat consumption. Which is why I was intrigued by Incognito Dining’s latest pop up event that was strictly vegan.
I love it when non-vegan chefs push boundaries and get creative; it makes for an all the more exciting culinary adventure.
It was a drizzly evening, I had been rained on all day, my clothes were wet, I had spent the full day outdoors in the goddamn freezing cold, my shoes were squelchy, my hair had taken on the epic frizziness levels of Worzel Gummidge (can you hear the tiny violins playing yet?), and as I didn’t have time to run home and change, I had to rush to dinner in my damp glory.
You should know that three things annoy the heck out of me: being cold, being rained on, and orange politicians, so I was in a foul mood. Could Incognito Dining make me forget about my sorry state?
Incognito Dining is a pop-up venture, whose founder Joe Woods is a well-known chef in Derbyshire and snappy dresser to boot. His latest menu was a tribute to all things vegan, which I was intrigued by, as precious little information about the menu was available till the time of dining.
The pop-up was housed at Elements Tea and Coffee House Derby, a great space consisting of floor to ceiling windows and light, bright and airy space. Front of house was chatty, and we were promptly shown to our table, but not before saying hello to the chef. He plated up his first dish at the pass, which was a joy to watch, because I love knowing more about the ingredients and cooking techniques.
Joe was busy coaxing some maroon red liquor and fashioning it into dramatic spikes, whilst chatting to us about the dish he was serving.
Now, I get annoyed when I have to talk and cook, which is why I automatically liked Joe’s considerate and informative stance on cooking. How could he remain patient and not mind diners (fine, me) gawking at his dishes?
We kicked off with tapioca crisp (chickpea, olive, lemon). Hummus-like in texture with a satisfying oiliness and hint of citrus on the swallow was sublime.
Dish number two was titled ‘Encapsulated Sesame’ (beetroot, sugar). Striking to look at and thought-provoking to eat, the fragrant sesame and earthy beetroot were a gorgeous tangle on my tongue.
Dish number three were Jersey royals (onion ash, lovage mayonnaise, morels, asparagus). Plating was pleasing to the eye, and the onion ash provided a hit of umami, acting as the perfect partner to the subtle-sweet flesh of the asparagus. Morels were a squishy, spongey delight too, and when eaten all together in one mouthful, made me forget about my sorry, rained-on state.
Dish number four was carrot (coriander, peanut, coconut). Dense and wonderfully al dente carrot with herby notes of coriander was a joy to eat. I could just about detect a whisper of the coconut, which worked surprisingly well with the carrot, as I did initially think the combination of these two ingredients might push the dish into the sweeter end of the spectrum. I was wrong – Joe obviously knows his stuff.
A pre-dessert ‘apricot egg’ was unusual yet fun to eat. Scooping out a pudding mix from an egg-shaped holder was definitely memorable; I especially liked the apricot conserve mix at the centre of the ‘egg’.
Actual dessert was rhubarb meringue (home-made yoghurt, tarragon). This was easily my favourite dish from the whole menu, and I wish I could eat this again (and again). Veganising meringue which relies on egg white as a base, is no mean feat, and this one didn’t disappoint. Crisp exterior and aerated interior (aquafaba base perhaps?) with the tart rhubarb hit on the swallow was sublime. I could happily eat a bag of these meringue shard and feel at peace. This is what I was craving when news broke of May’s departure in June. Note to chef: perhaps he can sell these as gourmet snacks for those in times of trouble (I’d buy a few bags myself).
Afters were salted caramels, which arrived with a flourish in a hand-painted box. I love dessert, and was supremely pleased to see three variations of the sweet stuff on the menu.
Dark chocolate enrobing gloriously gooey salted caramel, was the stuff of dreams. I would have liked to see more of these in the box, perhaps next time?
There is a certain amount of theatre in dining at Incognito Dining. From seeing Chef plate up faultless food at the pass, to tasting food that you would never have imagined to be cooked that way, Incognito Dining is pushing boundaries via inventive cooking. Joe has a real understanding of, and respect for ingredients, which is why this is one chef to watch. The venue itself is the perfect partner to Incognito Dining’s stunning food. Long may this partnership continue, as I thoroughly enjoyed the service and smiles from the chatty front of house.
The next Incognito Dining event is on Wednesday 5 June at Elements Coffee House. I highly recommend dining there, and defy you not to leave with a smile on your face. Chef Joe Wood, see you again very soon.
Rating: (1: Hate: – 10: Love: I’d sell my kidney for a meal here)
Eatery: Incognito Dining
Address: Pop-ups across various locations in Derbyshire and beyond. The next one is on Wednesday 5 June at Elements Tea and Coffee House
Founder & Head Chef: Joe Wood