It's sad that so few of us use our talents to fulfil our dreams. We gaze wistfully at maps, stare at planes flying overhead, and see the numbers on our work spreadsheets blur into foreign landmasses, but we just don’t take the leap into the journeys we really love. That is, of course, if you aren’t One Star House Party, the ‘World’s Most Travelled Restaurant’ pop up who have weaponised wanderlust and a love of cooking to create one of the most exciting dining experiences in the capital. You want inspiration; you’ve just found it.
Venue and Atmosphere
The venue really isn’t important here. The pop up has been spending twenty months travelling to twenty different countries, utilising a different space in each. While in Kenya they built a raft with a kitchen so people could dine on the river, and at Mount Everest base camp they made people eat directly out of the pans because it was so cold; in London we dined in a gallery space in Notting Hill.
The walls are whitewashed, one side of the venue is full high-ceiling-to-floor windows, and the toilet was in the same corridor as the pot wash (I was too British not to half-whisper 'sorry' to them as I walked in, every time, despite them really not caring) but it all adds to the sense of community. The open space was alive with chatter from the moment we walked in. We were seated opposite the kitchen, so the chefs worked in full view – some of them interned from countries they’ve visited – as well as all the drama. With the mood already high before we ate any food, our expectations journeyed upward too.
Food and Drink
It was BYOB, so before we tucked into our eight courses, we cracked open a luxurious bottle of Tesco’s best 2016 Merlot. Also, I know it’s literally an eight-course meal, but make sure you arrive hungry, because the first course is a loaf of bread: fermented aubergine bread with smoked hummus, from Oman (the whole meal costs £85). With every course one of the chefs – bursting with enthusiasm despite sweating in the kitchen – comes over to tell the cool and sometimes amazing tale of how each dish was discovered. However, unlike your mate’s boyfriend who 'simply loved Oman, you must go darling', these are both fascinating and piles on the appreciation and admiration for the food.
The bread was delicious – they don’t use yeast in Oman, so it was slightly stodgier than normal – but that hummus was divine, with my friend and I fighting over the last smidge like two millennials in a post-apocalyptic Waitrose. Many of these dishes are traditional with the chefs putting a personable twist on them, such as the second course of congee with scallops from China; a form of rice porridge. However, the small bowl was thinner than the porridge you're used to, letting the tender scallops do the talking and creating a delicate soup.
It's the next two courses that I've been thinking about ever since. First was the biltong with beetroot (originating in South Africa, where my dining partner’s mother is from). Normally, the beef is dried over many days; these guys do it for twelve hours, in their oven, using a special technique which meant it arrived rare in the middle and dried around the edges. This created an interesting contrast in textures and flavours, leaving it rich and salty. But, in the end, the Vietnamese dish won the show.
Pork belly and a lettuce wrap with peanut sauce: the pork was so tender I thought it was softening my mouth around it; combined with the peanut sauce that added a satay-ish twist, it was an incredible act of self-restraint that we didn't devour everything in one go. We must've looked like that Internet golden retriever who balances piles of food on his nose. It was probably the best pork belly I've ever eaten. What makes this dish truly magical is that they learnt the recipe from a Vietnamese family who, in their words, took pity on them while they walked amongst the country's roads. In exchange for doing odd jobs for them, they taught them this recipe. A dish this good, born from pity. Travelling is amazing.
After a paneer cheese with tomato and onion masala (the paneer was smooth instead of firm, which made for a peculiar, creamy taste – my friend didn’t finish it, though, because she’s scarred from once being forced to eat half an onion at a dinner party (don't ask)); chicken cooked beautifully with sugar cane to give it a sweet edge (though that edge could have been sweeter to make it really stand out, to my tastes) and ugali from Kenya; we ended on a bowl of caramelised condescend milk with pineapple from Thailand and pumpkin porridge from Mount Everest.
This isn’t porridge like you’ve ever tasted it before: a sort of inverse of the experience of eating at the mountain, there were frozen pumpkin shavings that warmed up as you stirred it into the porridge. It looked pretty too, served in a bowl made from half a squash that made for a spectacularly bright finale. But this dish exemplified the whole meal: whereas it's so easy for the travelling restaurant concept to be pretentious, One Star House Party isn't. The people running it are down-to-earth and lovely, and the food is earnest - hell, we ended a gourmet feast with porridge. And it worked. Outstanding.
One Star House Party isn’t just brilliant, it’s evaluate-my-entire-life brilliant. The food is fantastic, but the people and the stories behind each dish transcend it from just a dinner. It taps into that daring explorer within all of us while taking your taste buds on the journey it both wants and needs. Now, if you'll excuse me, I’ve got to book my flights to Vietnam.