Thursday, October 18, 2012
Supper clubs. So hot right now. As if London didn’t already have enough new restaurants opening every week, there are supper clubs popping up everywhere. Including Brick Lane, which is already famous for having one of the highest concentrations of restaurants in the capital. But just off the famous street, a creative dining option of a different kind has debuted: the unRestaurant.
After my first and only experience with a supper club, I vowed never to go again (not least because the woman who ran it sent me a string of vicious emails after reading my post!). But I was recently invited by Lime & Tonic to the first of a new monthly supper club in London, and I decided to give the concept another chance. It had been two years, after all. The scars were fading.
I arrived at the unRestaurant venue, which was just off Brick Lane in the home of two architects that owned an art gallery across the street. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful their home was. The second was how much like a home it felt. From a grey cat named Truman lounging on the sofa to the comforting fire in the fireplace and the beautiful decor and garden, I was ready to move in as soon as I walked through the door.
But the owners had other ideas. Namely, to offer us Prosecco and canapes. Given my love of sparkling wine and all things edible, it was a close second. While we sipped and noshed, we got to know one another. London being the small world that it is, I ended up knowing one of the other attendees.
When the food was finished, we walked across the street to the Eleven Spitalfields Gallery, where two large tables were set for dinner. The intimate venue and candlelight made for an impressive setup, and the high hopes that had been set from the start made their way even higher.
Then I found out that the chef, Paul Hannagen of Cuisson, was preparing the meal without a kitchen. Back in the studio behind the art gallery, all he had to work with was a sink and his own portable cooking equipment. Was I in for another supper club disaster?
As it turned out, I wasn’t. In fact, I was in for the exact opposite of a supper club disaster. From the first course of brown shrimp with lime and tonic jelly to the second course of truffle and goats cheese mousse with hazelnut and celery, I was impressed by how much Paul could do with so little equipment. I was in for a treat.
I was also in for a lesson. Due to the fact that there were only two people in the “kitchen”—the chef and an assistant—each table was asked for a few volunteers to help serve a course. I raised my hand, and soon found myself learning how to plate food (hint: imagine that the plate is a clock and take orders accordingly).
Paul was very patient with me in spite of the fact that my pan was so heavy I kept having to set it down to rest my arm. Eventually all of the food made it onto the plates and over to the tables, and it tasted all the better for having been worked for.
And what was the food, you ask? Slow cooked pork cheek with braised Swiss chard, polenta, and chorizo. Rich and comforting, it was every bit as good as it looked and sounded.
The final course was preceded by a palate cleanser of Bulmers granita with apple jelly, which was a nice twist on a traditional interstitial dish.
Dessert was butterscotch set cream with textures of pear, oat crumb, and spiced blackberry. It had a great blend of creamy and fresh elements, and a nice balance between soft and crunchy. It was a great end to a surprisingly good supper club experience, so much so that I might be temped to break my supper club fast again next time the unRestaurant pops up.