Popping up for supper...

Ali Young.

Ali Young. - Credit: Archant

Becky Alexander explores the new wave of pop-up supper clubs...

Supper Club by Ali Young.

Supper Club by Ali Young. - Credit: Archant

Pop-up supper clubs are a big thing in London but this trend has taken a long while to get to St Albans. I’ve heard about pop-ups in a Peckham car park and in vacant shops, and it sounds like a brilliant way for chefs to get their food out there without committing to expensive and risky premises.

Charlie’s Coffee & Company on London Road is quite a step up from a car park, and a lovely place to go for dinner, so I was really keen to try Chappell & Caldwell’s pop-up supper that I’d seen mentioned on Twitter.

As the venue is so small, tickets sell out fast, but we managed to go last week and had really delicious food cooked by Ali Young, who owns Chappell & Caldwell.

Ali was a drama teacher for many years, before deciding to have a lifestyle change. She studied at Leith’s for a year, which included training at Tabure in St Albans and with Skye Gyngell at Spring in Somerset House.

Desserts by Ali Young.

Desserts by Ali Young. - Credit: Archant

Ali now mostly cooks for private clients and hosts pop-up clubs when she has time. In case you are wondering, Chappell & Caldwell are Ali’s grandmothers’ maiden names, as they inspired her cooking.

The ‘30 Mile Supper’ really appealed to me; we produce some amazing food locally and I love that a chef is truly taking notice of that.

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We booked to go in January which must be the most challenging time of year to cook seasonally.

The menu was to be a surprise, but Ali emailed the week before to check about allergies and to send a suggested wine matching list (it is BYO), which can be bought from local supplier and Herts Ad columnist Julia Jenkins at Flagship Wines. You can even get it delivered ready for you.

It was a rainy night, but the venue looked amazing with candles and stylish place settings. We were given a glass of Campfire gin with rosemary along with a little snack of roast cauliflower and paté while we settled in. The menu listed the key ingredients for each course and the reverse had a hand-drawn map showing where all the ingredients had come from.

I don’t want to give too much away about the menu, in case you go, but to give you an idea we had a further five courses, each one beautifully presented. You can see the influence of Skye Gyngell in the way Ali respects the ingredients and how she combines flavours.

We loved all the dishes; the beef from Hedges Farm braised in Three Brewers beer was excellent.

One of the most memorable dishes was a little earthenware bowl of turnip velouté; I never really cook turnips, and it was truly delicious with a surprising range of textures.

With each course the waiter brought out the wine we had taken with us, with plenty of tap water too. It was a calm, relaxed evening with excellent service; we went with friends but given the tiny tables and stools in Charlie’s, most people go in pairs.

The next pop-up is likely to be ‘Brunch for Dinner’, possibly on a Sunday, which was very popular when Ali first tried it last year, so look on chappellandcaldwell.com for dates.

If you need someone to cook for you, Ali can come to your home or venue with a small team if needed, and she has lots of ideas.

Ali does lots of private and corporate cooking, from canapes to celebration feasts.

Menus are through discussion with you, and can be almost anything, from seasonal British to food inspired by travel; Ali recently cooked dinner with a Scandinavian theme. I contacted Ali about doing canapes for a school event and she emailed a range of ideas which were amazing and at very reasonable prices, considering the skill and presentation involved.

It would be fantastic if we get more pop-ups in our local area.

Ali has shown is that it can be done and there is a real interest and market for it.

I’m not sure our car parks would be that great for dinner though...