In the last few years, the ‘pop-up’ scene has literally exploded in Cornwall. It’s a cool concept, but perhaps is getting watered-down through over-use and risks losing its edginess. In my humble opinion a pop-up should be a one-off or rarely repeated event, in a genuinely unique or quirky location, where the food and drink is something that bit special or unusual.
The East Quay Canteen pop-ups certainly tick all those boxes and are one of the most enjoyable food experiences happening in Cornwall right now. So far there have been just three weekend events, the awesome hidden location is breath-taking, and the food follows different themes each time. As a result, the events have quickly developed an underground following and get booked up quickly.
East Quay Canteen occupies a beautifully ramshackled waterside unit which was used for years by a boat restorer. It’s on East Quay in Hayle, which is still very much a hive of activity; fishermen come and go, boats are hauled in and out of the water, lobster pots line the quay and oysters and mussels are processed nearby. Jewellery makers, artists and surfboard shapers also rent spaces, adding a touch of creativity to the industrial, maritime atmosphere.
The Canteen itself is a prep kitchen for Ryan Venning and Emma Banks, who run their busy wedding and events catering company, Little Gem Catering, from there. It’s transformed on rare occasions into a rustic restaurant where, once you’ve found the right spot on the quayside (a hard-to-find address adds to the charm!) you’ll find cosy candlelit tables, an assortment of mismatched furniture and crockery, outside seating (weather permitting) and some very good smells coming from the open kitchen or outside grills.
Chef Ryan Venning used to head up the kitchen at Porthminster Beach Café – an indication of the quality and level of creativity you can expect from this awesome food enterprise. His business partner Emma worked as a food stylist alongside celebrity chefs and on professional photoshoots for magazines, cookbooks and television. It’s Emma’s eye for design (and her many trips to Shiver Me Timbers reclamation yard) which has made the space at East Quay Canteen so Instagram-able!
On the weekend of our visit, Ryan and Emma had designed a menu of Asian favourites. We had one of each of the starters (the pop-ups are great for families by the way – the boys loved the fun location) which were all delicious, then tried the Indonesian Monkfish Curry and the Slow Cooked Beef Massaman. The fish was great – I always love this style of curry – but the Beef was the stand-out. Ryan had cooked it for two days in a water bath before finishing it off over the outside grill to give it a charred, smoky flavour. A honey, soy and chilli sauce gave the dish a sticky, rich edge which, combined with the classic Massaman spices, was just incredible.
More themed pop-ups are planned for next year, although they will still be few and far between to maintain that sense of fun and rarity. The summer nights on the quay should be spectacular – tables can be hauled outside for guests to eat right next to the water, as the fishing boats return from their days at sea and the sun goes down over St Ives Bay. Live music will also play a bigger part in future pop-ups.