Section 33: pop-up restaurant in Govanhill Baths transforms old swimming pool
Sea of impressive food in edgy location, with a resident DJ to complete underground dining experience
Transient dining continues to gather proponents and eager patrons in Glasgow. Jay Thundercliffe took the chance to dive in at Govanhill Baths
Pop-ups, along with street food, food festivals and the now fading supper clubs aren't just occasional food events. At their best, they offer challenges to well-established paradigms of eating out. Hospitality heads off piste, restaurant walls are broken down, chefs cut their apron strings. They have become the signature of the age of stripped-back, trestle-table gourmandizing.
Mining this seam of creative, installation dining are newcomers Section 33 (the name refers to a clause in the 1976 Licensing Act covering an occasional booze licence, or it could be the eviction notice given to tenants – both seem relevant). Through September, their brooding website talked of subversion, guerilla dining and a dark, almost perilous experience.
In the end, their pop-up at Govanhill Baths in early October was a much lighter affair than promised. More Doors Open Day than Dangerous Dining. With the location only announced after many had bought tickets (£5 a pop), the baths were a fitting spot, a little edgy in that bits of the building might suddenly dislodge themselves, but an exciting venue, complete with DJ spinning easy-going tunes.
Pop-ups require goodwill – you're expected to go along with kitchen roll as napkins, staff dithering occasionally and the odd hiccup on the food. There's the unfamiliar terrain, unpractised staff, and necessity to solve problems in situ and fast. In this case, there's not much that could be done about the chilly autumn weather – one of the downsides to being in a tile-lined hole in the ground in a building that, glorious as it is, proves a tad draughty.
While pop-ups rarely offer bargain-basement dining – small plates here average £7 – it's also not a route to riches (something that should keep the corporate gorillas from gatecrashing). Word of mouth isn't just important beforehand, but also during and after, to help sell future one-offs and act as a shop window for other sidelines – in this case, as with others such as Scoop, there's a catering arm available for weddings etc.
Section 33's global tapas did much to impress and little to disappoint. Slow-roast lamb in roti bread, crispy venison mole empanadas and succulent ox cheek in West ale, as well as beetroot and spices with rice, were highlights. Flavours were sometimes a little subdued, perhaps the chill, but good food, community donations and mysterious locations combine to convince that there's plenty left in this pop-up world.
+ Pretty good food, for an ex-swimming pool
- Flavours sometimes lacked splash