Surrounded by fragrant apple and apricot trees, vineyards and hedgerows bursting with wild fruit is a cottage garden with a small table making an attractive feature. In fact, it is the Tiny Table, a popup dining experience catered and styled by Julie Friend, Masterchef winner and a popular foodie face in Kent, southern England.
I’ve known Julie for several years and always admired her enthusiasm, that she wears her considerable experience lightly and of course eating her food. She once made a sell-out batch of lemon cupcakes to sell on The Lemon Grove market stall at a local food festival.
Normally found cooking at events such as weddings and birthdays for hundreds of people or writing articles on local farmers markets and artisan producers, Julie is now responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and taking her mixer and spoons into her own hands. Indeed, she is now planning the meals, sourcing ingredients, prepping and cooking, serving and hosting and finally as guests leave for home it’s time for pot washing. Phew! Busy, busy.
Six close friends or family members can gather around The Tiny Table to enjoy food especially prepared, cooked and served by Julie on some artfully selected crockery and cutlery on a table decorated with flowers reflecting the colours and scents of the seasons.
I was intrigued to see how The Tiny Table had popped up and what diners might expect to eat and drink.
So, here, Julie kindly shares her ideas and love of food with The Lemon Grove!
Hi Julie, thank you for taking some time out of your busy day to chat with The Lemon Grove!
The Lemon Grove What was the inspiration for you to create this dining experiences?
JULIE The honest answer is that I was panicking a little as my cheffing work diary slowly emptied due to COVID-19, although I was grateful to be able to continue my food and recipe writing with Kent Life, the popular lifestyle magazine for my county. But as a self-employed, freelance chef there was no Government furlough scheme for me, so I needed to think of new ways of bringing in some cash.
TLG What were you doing as a chef in the food world before Covid-19 lockdown?
Julie My diary was full of weddings, parties, supper clubs and various other jobs that all entailed large groups of people getting together or supplying restaurants, so straight away all of these were cancelled.
TLG Where did the inspiration spark come from, to open your garden to dining guests?
Julie I realised that I had this beautiful space, literally on my doorstep with wonderful views and a kitchen that had already been certified by the local government authority because of my other work … so it was one of those cartoon light-bulb moments. Who wouldn’t want a two minute commute to work?
TLG How often do you open the doors to The Tiny Table?
Julie I am trying to limit myself to two days a week, but demand has been such that this is creeping to three … maybe four …
TLG What do you feel that guests are looking for when they book a table?
Julie I think people like the idea that the space is private and theirs for the duration. No risk of other guests around them and no pressure to leave or behave in a certain way. Its relaxed and safe. I had a Dad rolling on the grass with his sons between courses at the weekend and that really made me smile.
TLG How would you describe your cooking and the style guests at The Tiny Table might expect to eat? I see your recent menus have included these deliciously sounding dishes – Parmesan Shortbreads with a Broad Bean, Feta, and Mint Hummus and Parma Ham; and Earl Grey Tea Smoked Duck with Pickled Blackberries, Blackberry Vinegar Jell and Beetroot.
Julie I never know how to describe my food – it’s what I love to eat. Not stuffy but also a higher level to what people might make themselves at home. If I had to give it a title I would say ‘smart European’. Guests bring their own wine and drinks.
TLG You are located in the Kent, England’s garden county. Which ingredients and why would you use to you make your ideal Kent Dinner?
Julie We are so lucky here in Kent. It doesn’t have the title of Garden of England for no reason. You just have to go to the local farmshops or markets to see what’s in season and that’s exactly what I like to do. I prefer it when the guests just tell me if they have any allergies or things they really don’t like and then I can just create a menu around delicious Kentish produce in its prime.
TLG If you could be a guest at The Tiny Table, which dishes would you like to eat?
Julie Umm, good question! If I was eating I think I would order the gin cured salmon (with my homemade focaccia) followed by Masala lamb chops and then either the posset or the burnt Basque cheesecake. We are so lucky here in Kent. It doesn’t have the title of Garden of England for no reason.
TLG How can people book a seat at The Tiny Table?
Julie Obviously, the experience is weather dependent and is a challenge in the UK, so I will be limited to the best eight -10 weeks of Summer.
People can book by emailing me for more details at email@example.com .
Thank you Julie, for sharing your thoughts with us. It would be great if you could offer a recipe for The Lemon Grove readers! I hear your Lemon Posset is famous, perhaps you could let us into the secrets of this vibrant dessert of deliciousness!
I serve this in small dessert wine glasses topped with berries and a shortbread biscuit.
Serves 6-8 depending upon the size of your glasses
600ml double cream
150g caster sugar
Zest and juice of two lemons, keep separately
In a heavy based saucepan place the cream, sugar and lemon zest.
Slowly bring to the boil, then turn the heat down a little and allow to simmer for a good 3-4 minutes
You will notice the colour changes and turns into more of a pale yellow. Stir every now and then to ensure it doesn’t catch on the bottom.
Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice, whisking well. The juice is your thickening agent but will only work if added at this stage.
Pour into your chosen glasses and allow to set in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
Thanks so much for your time, Julie, what a fascinating story and best wishes for the future of The Tiny Table! I look forward to booking a table in the future.
Follow Julie and The Tiny Table’s progress on Instagram @the_tinytable or @kentcooking