|Popping up: René Redzepi comes to Claridge's later this year|
For starters there was Thomas Keller who brought The French Laundry to Harrods for 10 days last October, in the form of a nine course tasting menu that cost £250 a head, excluding drinks and service. All 1,400 seats sold out almost instantly with a reported 1,600 on a waiting list.
Then at the end of July this year - again, for just ten days - René Redzepi is bringing "A Taste of Noma" to Claridge’s. He'll be serving a five-course menu at lunch and dinner at a cost of £195, excluding drinks and service. Fancy going? Tough. Two and a half hours after they went on sale, all available places had been snapped up.
But at least at both Claridge's and Harrods, nobody was going to turf you out of your table. Not so when New York's David Chang of Momofuku fame comes to the St John Hotel at the end of this month. While details of the menu have yet to be released, it will cost £100 per person without drinks and service, and the initial plan was for two sittings at both lunch and dinner.
As he'll be in town for just two days, you can kind of see the logic in them wanting to pack in as many punters as possible. But when we e-mailed asking for a table for four, we were told we'd been allocated one at 11:45 PM and that we'd have to return it after two hours. The hotel later confirmed that they'd accidentally sent a standard e-mail and that actually they wouldn't be turning the tables of the late sitting so we could stay as long as we liked. But they did still want upfront payment of the full amount which would be non-refundable.
Maybe we're being silly, maybe we should be jumping at the chance to pay £400 now to dine at midnight in three weeks time. And undoubtedly hundreds of people are - you only have to look at how quickly these things sell out to see that.
But when you stop for a moment to think about it, the whole thing just gives a little niggling sense that we're being had. Not necessarily from a financial point of view - although given that at current exchange rates, dinner at Momofuku is £80, at Noma, £165 and at French Laundry £175 (including service), you can make your own call on that. But it's more an uncomfortable sense that we should be grateful for being given the opportunity to eat somewhere, rather than that the restaurant should be grateful for our custom. At the very least, you might have hoped that £100 a head could buy you a non-standard e-mail.
Of course, nobody's forcing anyone to go anywhere - it's a simple case of supply and demand, and there's obviously a demand. But does that give restaurants carte blanche to charge what they like and treat customers however they like?
Value is a nebulous concept in restaurants at the best of times, and perhaps all of these pop-ups really are worth their three figure bills, perhaps we should be giving thanks for the chance to sample the culinary genius of such greats in our own city…
What do you think? Did you go to the French Laundry at Harrods? Have you got reservations for Noma or David Chang? Are we completely missing the point? Or has everything just got far too Emperor's New Clothes-ish? Let us know below...