The pop-up phenomenon

Written by Magandeep Singh | Updated: Aug 17 2014, 07:00am hrs
THERE WAS a time when a restaurant used to be the pillar of a community, when the opening of one was front-page stuff and the closing akin to the passing away of a long-cherished friend. Time seemed to move slower and it seemed that a place that could serve honest food with a sincere sense of hospitality could pretty much exist forever. People never tired of going back no matter how static the menu remained.

But that was then. Today, a restaurant than can survive the first six months is a success story to be much lauded and fussed over. Lets be honest, any place that manages to live through the scrutiny of scribes in every formatfrom online to blogs, social media to micro-blogs and all other forms of dissipation in betweencould well be a place that would manage to do brisk business even if it was on the border of two feuding countries!

And just when we were getting used to the idea of short-stay eateries and just as the notion of dealing with the premature departure of a delicatessen was dawning on us, a new concept has come along that is making these fly-by-night places seem almost stationary. This is the pop-up phenomenon and it is taking the world by storm.

It is a great idea really: imagine that you once visited a restaurant where the chef regaled you with his ideas all meticulously interpreted plate after plate. Unfortunately, his set-up was too remote to be accessed regularly and too intricate to be replicated elsewhere without his constant personal supervision. With a pop-up, this is now possible.

The idea of a pop-up is when a chef takes over another place and doles out his brand of food for a fixed period, no more than a few days to maybe a month. When Indian Accent had a Michelin-starred chef come and cook alongside Manish Mehrotra, that was a super pop-up experience. More recently, Olive Mumbai paired with Goas Thalassa for a pop-up. Olive Mumbai is currently running a Guppy by Ai pop-up with chef Vikram Khatri present in person. Meanwhile, the pop-up of the year is already being planned, as acclaimed chef Gaggan Anand will descend on Delhi and Mumbai with his quirky version of Indian dishes.

But what about a wine pop-up Why cant a sommelier take over a place and do a wine bar in a similar format We could get in wines that arent always available, maybe even change the style, switching from the old-world to the new-world or vice-versa. We could play with bottle formats, have more offerings by the glass, in fact, do a whole show around the beverage. It would be such fun to take over a whisky bar and do a wine pop-up, not in a way to scare away malt aficionados or worst still, to try and convert them, but just to provide a sense of refreshing change, something to enjoy, even as one builds up the longing for a good dram.

Pop-ups are a great idea and with food we are already seeing just how useful they can be as not just a marketing tool, but also one for educating people on the various cuisines that are out there and grow awareness, thereby paving the way for a full-fledged outlet. Wine could take a page from this and adapt the concept to build a similar platform that unites people out of curiosity and then keeps them there out of a budding interest.

Wine bars abroad do it often, mostly through tent cards or menu inserts, where they may propagate a rare or lesser-known wine style that they have (a) recently managed to acquire; and (b) in such small volumes that it wouldnt make sense to list permanently. If the news is dissipated properly, the ensuing rush for the wine can help the overall business in a very positive way, as also up the wine quotient of the place. In India, a tent card merely highlights wines that are being served by the glass at a price at which one could just buy the whole bottle in a shop.

Alas,wine pop-ups remain a distant notion. For now, we shall have to contend with the same boring lists with the same names and the same (ageing) vintages. And then comes the saddest bit, the realisation that the only thing, which does seem to constantly change on our wine lists, the only thing that is upwardly dynamic and hence a cause of concern each time we are out ordering a modest bottle is the price.

The writer is a sommelier