I used to be a lawyer by day, and a cook by night. A couple of weeks ago, I stopped being a lawyer by day, and so I guess that makes me a cook, full-stop. It took me a very long time to arrive at that decision, perhaps too long, but now it will be full-time, full-on cooking, writing, working on future restaurants, creating a ceramics line with friends, making some cooking videos, and god knows what else is to come. Fingers crossed that it all goes well, but at least I know it will be fun.
To celebrate my last week of life as a lawyer, I threw a pop-up with two of the coolest girls I know. Since then I’ve been catching up on two and half years’ worth of sleep, so I’m only just getting around to writing about what was the most gorgeous segue into my new life.
A little background to the pop-up… my French friend and Hong Kong sister Emily Baylis told me she was opening a flower shop-slash-bar in London with a friend next year. Emily is one of these people who has so many talents you lose count, and floral design is one of them. In a short time, she has created a celebrated floral business in Hong Kong, June in March, and sadly she will be leaving me, I mean Hong Kong, in December. The botanical bar is the brainchild of Emily and her award-winning bartender friend, Anya Montague from the UK. Anya and her boyfriend Leo have a consultancy, the Travelling Bartenders. This means that she consults and bartends at bars in places like the private island of Nihiwatu, Indonesia, and posts pictures of herself tanned and riding horses on the beach at sunset and generally inciting jealousy all across social media.
Emily and Anya’s London venture will be a floral studio during the day, and at night, serve cocktails inspired by the wild herbs and flowers that one can forage in the UK. In other words, it will be perfection. I don’t remember who brought up the idea of doing a pop-up in Hong Kong, but what a dream it seemed to test their concept in Hong Kong. Emily was in charge of the jungle formerly known as my studio. Anya would create the cocktails, and I was the cook. Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch for 35 people each. After a tortured multi-day Whatsapp session where we bandied about potential names (“The Hedonist Botanist?” “too many ‘nists…”), our pop-up became the Pollen Room.
Anya flew in to Hong Kong from Paris several days before the pop-up with a suitcase filled with potions and tinctures like a botanical sorceress. We had eggs nestled in hyacinth and rose petals that imbued the eggs with a delicate floral scent. (Other than that, we had banned roses from our repertoire as too obvious.) Anya made even more infusions in my kitchen from herbs with intoxicating names like meadowsweet and pineapple weed. I got to experiment with deliciously obscure greens like wild garlic, bronze fennel and plum sorrel.
It was a hectic week prior to our pop-up, and with one and half hours to go before our first guests arrived on Saturday evening, there were still tables to be set and pork to go into the oven. We were flitting around my studio like forest fairies, if forest fairies were over-caffeinated and had bags under their eyes. But like magic, by the time the doorbell rang for the first time, the tables were set, candles were lit, and we even managed to have on some lipstick.
What followed was a Saturday evening and Sunday brunch filled with laughter, wonderful guests, gorgeous cocktails and tables laden with food. My loft had been transformed into a verdant, flower strewn jungle. Heaving vines tumbled down from the ceiling, and towers of greenery had sprouted all over the dining room. My entrance was a shimmering archway of gilded palm leaves. When I woke up on Sunday morning in this jungle, I actually had to catch my breath it was so stunning.
Each day had its own character, with Saturday being the darker, edgier event with more cocktails going round, while the Sunday brunch had a more relaxed, weekend vibe with sun flooding the studio. On Saturday, the menu included homemade cheese resting on a rainbow-coloured bed of tomatoes and wild garlic sauce, slow-roasted pork belly with fennel, chamomile chocolate cake. On Sunday, I served a wild nettle frittata, made Persian-style with copious herbs and walnuts, osmanthus-infused pear scones. For both days, we made floral-infused pasteis de nata which were inspired by my unhealthy obsession with Portugal and of course their progeny, the Hong Kong egg tart.
When it was over, the Pollen Room seemed like a dream. The weekend had been exactly as I had imagined, and I’m so grateful to have kicked off this new phase of my life with it. We’re already scheming for a pop-up in London after Emily has moved and I’ve recovered from the trauma but before the actual opening of their bar. London is filled with stunning warehouse spaces crying out to be covered in flowers…
In the meantime, here’s a recipe for one of the Pollen Room cocktails created by Anya. I hope you enjoy and that we see you in London for the next Pollen Room pop-up!
PS. The photos for this post are by me as well as several Sunday brunch photos from my talented, actual photographer friend, Amanda Kho. I want to thank Amanda for these beautiful photos from Sunday, Beverly Chan-Carver of Life at Studio B. for the pitch-perfect menus and Irene Capriz and Claudia Albertini for lending us their vintage chairs.
Makes one cocktail
45ml blended scotch whisky (we used Great King Street artist blend)
20ml nettle and thistle cordial (recipe below)
5ml lemon juice
Soda water to top
Build ingredients in a tall glass, add ice then top with soda. Give it a little mix with a spoon or straw and encompass the ingredients with the soda.
To make the nettle and thistle cordial:
250ml cold water
250g caster sugar
2 tsp citric acid
10g edible thistles (optional if you can find them)
Soak the leaves (and thistles) in cold water over night then strain and mix in the sugar and citric acid until dissolved.