Editor-at-large Alexi Duggins is at your mercy… So you had him flex his mussels…
As if pop-ups weren’t weird enough… Thanks to cabaret themed restaurant Pale Blue Door, a pop-up’s idea of a soothing digestif can include an alt.drag artist wiggling their leotard-clad ball bag. And there’s nothing unusual in culinary oddballs Supperclub doing a ‘tantric dining’ pop-up where dishes include ‘cock in cider’. As in ‘cock inside her’. Get it? No? Neither, we imagine, did the veggies.
Now we have Mussel Men: a street-food shellfish stall that has turned pop-up restaurant where punters are invited to grab a mini wrestling ring and engage the owner in a ‘thumb war’. Naturally. I have one question: what the fucking fuck?
‘We’re called The Mussel Men, so we theme things on muscles,’ says MM’s founder – a beefy Scotsman calling himself Captain Bob – as he seats me in the candlelit, bare-brick interior of Dalston’s Fabrica 365. ‘I used to do arm-wrestles, but I’d get tired.’ Hmm, I guess it makes sense.
Well, until the thumb-wrestling starts. Prior to that, we’re served a bottle of crisp, appley prosecco, followed by a bowl of frites and a cardboard box of plump, melt-in-yourmouth mussels in a real Dr Dre of a marinière (full of booze and herbs). Delicious. Then, suddenly, a hyper Scot starts issuing threats.
‘You get a Mussel Men T-shirt if you win,’ grins the Captain. ‘I am gonna destroy you, though.’ And he’s right. But his thumbs are about twice the size of mine. It’s like watching a homicidal salami assault a chipolata – for the ten seconds I last. ‘That was weak to below-normal. Let’s try bare-knuckle,’ he says, shedding the plastic wrestling ring. ‘You can really get your fist into your opponent’s face.’ Unsurprisingly, I do not fare better. As the entire restaurant shoots me pitying looks, I realise that I couldn’t feel more emasculated.
Until Captain Bob pulls off his T-shirt, whoops ‘Let’s go again!’ and batters me a final time. Other punters challenge him. All lose. Eventually he starts offering ‘any challenge you want’ and I’m goaded into dueling that involves handstands (I lose), pull-ups (I lose) and arm-wrestling (take a wild guess). As a chocolate brownie is served, I grab the excuse to stop humiliating myself, and it takes just one mouthful of the gooey dessert to decide me on coming here again. At £40 for a meal for two, the food alone’s worth it. But next time, I’ll get my thumb in training first.