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New pop up restaurant company draws on the spooky side of Essex history

PUBLISHED: 15:49 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:49 22 August 2018

The Cells, a new restaurant concept opening in Colchester. Picture: Tomo Travelskie

The Cells, a new restaurant concept opening in Colchester. Picture: Tomo Travelskie

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A company is running a series of pop up events designed to be visually spectacular, in the grisly surroundings of a former prison block in Colchester.

The venue for a new restaurant concept, The Cells, in Colchester. Picture: Tomo TravelskieThe venue for a new restaurant concept, The Cells, in Colchester. Picture: Tomo Travelskie

The venture, Dirty Lobster, aims to appeal to the snap-happy millennial generation by hosting events in which guests dress up in outrageous outfits that provide plenty of fodder for Instagram.

For company co-founder Tomo Travelskie, organising the raucous events are a stark cry from his job as a chef for the Savvoy Hotel in London.

The 32 year-old has been running such immersive experience events in London with his girlfriend Rosie Roman for the last two and a half years, but moving them out to Essex two months ago has proven to be tougher than expected.

“Its difficult to find locations in Essex,” he explained. “In London its easy, because there are these fantastic art studios - places that act as a blank canvas. But in Essex, those sorts of places don’t exist.”

The Cells by Dirty Lobster - the food. Picture: Tomo TravelskieThe Cells by Dirty Lobster - the food. Picture: Tomo Travelskie

After holding pop-up restaurant events at a former cafe in Chelmsford, Mr Travelskie, who lives in Romford, came across a former cell block underneath the Town Hall on Colchester High Street, which he thought would spark the imagination for the sort of story-led gourmet gatherings he had in mind. “The location is very cool - it dates back to 1557 that has several ghost stories associated with it,” he explained. “People have reported seeing the ghost of a little girl in cell six.”

The venue used to be home to three restaurants, all of which had closed more than two years ago. At first, its owner wanted more rent for it than Mr Travelskie says he could afford. “I have been badgering him for a year and he has finally given in,” he explained.

Dirty Lobster is opening the space as a pop-up burger and lobster restaurant, ‘Dirty Lobster at The Cells’, for a month from Sep 8, and throwing an ‘Alice in Lobsterland’ event there on Oct 11 and 12. Then there are plans for a ‘Mary Lobbins’ themed-event around Mary Poppins, and at Halloween, the suitably spooky venue will host an ‘American Horror Story’ freak show with their ominous-sounding character named ‘Lobster Boy.’

“These immersive experiences are a great selling point for the restaurant, because people are looking for something different,” explained Mr Travelskie. “We live in a digital era where sharing our social life is more important then ever before. Pop up concepts are going down a treat in London because people want to take pictures and instagram themselves looking amazing. Concepts re-energise business.”

The Cells, a new restaurant concept opening in Colchester. Picture: Tomo TravelskieThe Cells, a new restaurant concept opening in Colchester. Picture: Tomo Travelskie

Dirty Lobster are also opening a Lobster-themed pop up restaurant at a manor house near Weeley in Tendring, and Mr Travelskie says Suffolk could be next on the cards.

Mr Travelskie explained that his passion for lobsters transpired during a trip around North America with Ms Roman when he realised the popularity of the seafood dish there. “Nobody was doing much with lobsters in the UK, and we thought it would be a great concept to bring home. I had been in fine dining for so many years, I just wanted to do something myself.”

Mr Travelskie is still working part time at the Savvoy to support his new venture. “I am trying to balance my work life with dream life. I want to support the business by working so we have money to pay the rent while we buy it up. We are an independent, not a chain with big finance.”

People can book a table at Dirty Lobster at the Cells at https://www.lala-world.com/collections/essex-pop-ups/products/pop-up-restaurant-colchester-cells-8th-till-30th-oct

The Cells bar. Picture: Tomo TravelskieThe Cells bar. Picture: Tomo Travelskie

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