I feel obliged to preface the following post about vegan food with the disclaimer that I do in fact eat quite a lot of meat. Despite my essentially carnivorous nature, it would be the dairy I really missed if I were to embark upon a vegan diet - yes, no bacon would be terrible, but no cheese, butter or eggs? Still, I do love all veg and all pulses, so I was interested to see if Jackie Kearney, Masterchef finalist and otherwise known as The Hungry Gecko, would be able to make me forget the absence of farmyard favourites at her pop up supper club at Tampopo in the Corn Exchange this week.
The first interesting event of the night was getting there bang on the start time and finding a lengthy queue outside. People don't generally queue for vegan food, but with both nights fully sold out there was clearly something of a buzz about Jackie's take on it; indeed, the fact that the accompanying book, Vegan Street Food, has sold out on Amazon is testimony either to the current enthusiasm for all things plant-based, or Jackie's ability to make such things sexy. The evening was also great value at £20 a head, starting with a lychee fizz (essentially a glass of Prosecco with a big fat lychee in the bottom), followed by canapes and a series of dishes to be shared at the communal tables, supper club style. First up was a tray of Pani Puri Pops, joyous little puffy orbs filled with a mild, creamy filling of lentils and vegetables, swiftly followed by the swaggeringly spicy Tom Yum Shots, served with sticky rice balls to calm their fieriness. The Thai Style BBQ Tofu Skewers came served with a peanut and cucumber dip that I greedily spooned all over my plate; the texture of tofu is not for me (I've tried and failed many times to like it) but the flavours were excellent and I can't pretend I didn't have a second one when the platter came round again.
The mains started with a Balinese Seaweed Salad and some amazing Smoky Tofu Murtabak - fried pancakes which were crispy on the outside and meltingly exciting on the inside. If anything wins me over to bean curd, it's these fellas. The Jackfruit Rendang with lemongrass, coconut and chilli was similarly revelatory - I am very partial to mango and other fruit items in curry, and this little bowl of tender young fruit in a rich sauce with the kind of heat that builds up in a satisfying, cumulative manner rather than a blow-your-head off way was just lovely. The steamed Jasmine Rice on the side tempered the heat to perfection, and cleansed the palate ahead of my favourite dish of the night - the Hungry Gecko Dal Masala (yellow dal with aubergine masala). I'm a big fan of dal, and this one was rich and smooth and perfectly complemented by the chunks of soft, smoky aubergine; even better mopped up with beautifully thin and flaky Roti Bread.
So far, so excellent. A slight hitch with the food quantities though meant that the Vegetable Laab (Laos style lettuce cups) ran out at the two girls sitting next to me (who ate their portion quickly and warily, clearly and rightly afraid I would mug them for it at any second), and the Vietnamese Mushroom Claypot never reached us at all. When we asked a passing waitress she was very apologetic and suggested that despite Jackie's best efforts the food had run out; we had eaten plenty, but it was a shame not to get to try all the dishes - particularly as we all really fancied the Mushroom Claypot.
These organisational issues aside, the food was exceptional. I might not yet be convinced by tofu but the flavours and textures elsewhere were so good that I genuinely didn't miss the meat, and would definitely be persuaded to eat these dishes on a regular basis as part of a slightly less carnivorous diet. In fact, I've put myself on the waiting list for the book - if tofu gives Jackie the energy to cook for a whole restaurant and then come out and smile and chat, then I want IN.
- Tampopo is in the Corn Exchange, Manchester M4 3TR. We were invited as Jackie's guests and didn't pay for our food, but paid for additional drinks from the bar.