London Supper Clubs: Fernandez & Leluu and After Eight

Happily, it seems to me like Fernandez & Leluu has been around for ages – probably because we were lucky enough to first discover it back in November and have been back many times, including one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. But they’re mere babes when you compare them to Jim Haynes, a seasoned supper club host with thirty-five years’ experience. I was thrilled when After Eight and Qype invited us to share an evening of dining, drinking and story-telling at one of our favourite east London (or anywhere) dining spots.

Not a typical supper club evening, in that it was buffet style rather than seated.  The After Eight mixologist in the corner was an excellent touch too, with four cocktails on offer.  No wonder I liked them all, as most were made with Tanqueray and I’m much better with that than vodka. The Bramble was tart, the Spring Collins was the choice of the night, the Rose Club one was surprisingly alcoholic (Niamh got the name of the liqueur which she thought would be perfect for bellinis, raspberry and rose I think) and the After Eight Alexander was creamy, minty, chocolatey, laced with cognac: I don’t usually like cream-based drinks but it was wonderful.  The barman was rather pleased with that because he wanted to keep the flavour of the chocolate itself, which he managed admirably.

Oh – the food? Prawns in a lime-citrus mayonnaise, a slab of dense terrine, springy fresh summer rolls, delicately fried spring rolls, crunchy chicken salad for starters.  Followed by perfectly cooked beef carpaccio, Uyen’s homemade foccaccia, mashed potato in potato skins, and marinated mushrooms that I would have sold my soul for.  Bread and Butter pudding – more like a crumbly little gingery scone – with Summer Fruits.  I bet you’d like to see a photo of that… um, yeah. It seems I mainly captured the guests.  So here’s some we ate earlier (ok, last year):

This time at Simon and Uyen’s it was as much about the company as the food, and listening to Jim explain how he’d initially opened his Parisien home to friends, then randoms, for over three decades (a house guest wanted to say thank you for his hospitality, and so volunteered to cook for a group of his friends: now it happens weekly, they accept 60 or more guests each Sunday depending on whether the garden space can be used and it’s a guest chef as often as Jim himself). We were all intent on inviting ourselves even before he (possibly maybe – not really) invited us all over to stay with him – yaaaay, I’m packing the bag and booking the Eurostar this evening!

He’s a natural raconteur with a genuine interest in people which helps to explain why he’s continued on with this for so long – and this is something he shares with Uyen and Simon.  Anyone who’s game enough to open their home to strangers on a monthly or even weekly basis not only has a passion for cooking but a great curiosity about life and fellow man.  Or is very, very brave. Either way I’m so glad, as supper clubs have provided some of my favourite meals over the past year.

What’s so exciting about underground restaurants, as much as the food, is being thrown together at a table with people you might never meet otherwise.  That could be risky, but to be fair we’ve only been to one supper club, elsewhere, with a ‘rogue diner’ who was rather painful, and demanding.  Though that can happen at anyone’s dinner party once the wine is flowing, or at any restaurant for that matter.  The pay-off is benefitting from fantastic hospitality – Uyen and Simon excel at this – with imaginative menus and the freshest ingredients.  We ate, drank and chattered until rather too late on a schoolnight Tuesday. Of course we finished as the After Eights were being passed around (a stalwart of childhood Christmas times.  As proven the other night, the correct way to eat them is to daintily nibble off a corner, and then post the rest of it into your mouth like a Lego man into a VHS player).  We stumbled home very happily (him: the cocktails, me: uncomfortable shoes).  Roll on the next night!

Thanks to Fernandez and Leluu, Qype, and Jo Seymour Taylor/After Eight

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London Supper Clubs: Trail Of Our Bread and the Awesome Birthday Cake

I’ve been known of late to use and abuse the word ‘awesome’, though once I would have shunned it. But ‘awesome’ is the only word to describe the fantastic ‘surprise course’ at Trail of Our Bread on Saturday. A work of sugarcraft art – but how did it taste?

We’ve been to this supperclub before to review, then were gutted to miss out on the Ocean Commotion evening.

We saw some familiar faces when we arrived and I’ll bet they’ll write more complete accounts of what we ate – it was my night-before birthday celebration so I was glad to have any photos come out at all.  We started with chestnut and chorizo soup, laden with caramelised onions. I could have eaten bucketloads (classy, me).   Seconds were offered but previous supperclub experience finally came to bear and I (uncharacteristically) restrained myself, ostensibly in order to enjoy each and every course. Realistically, so that I wouldn’t need to be rolled out.

:: Fideo* pasta with garlic butter ::

:: Rabbit with petit pois, lettuce, cider and spiced glazed chicory ::

:: Rhubarb Fool with ginger shorbread ::

The main course was (Easter) bunny which again was something I’ve never cooked – or eaten for that matter. I was treated to two saddles, though I was assured that the meat on the bone was just as flavoursome. Thanks to a surprisingly good bottle of Chapel Down and a decent Cabernet Sauvignon that we were making our way through, I’m a touch cloudy about the exact order in which the next courses arrived.

There was the wibbly but tasty experimental citrus jelly, the set and ludicrously moreish Absinthe jelly, and then Jim, our host, made an announcement.

For the duration of the evening, a surprise had been hidden in plain view, right beside me.  Jim knew that it was my birthday and he suggested making a cake – which Anna baked and decorated from scratch (she asked the boyfriend “What does she like?” “Meringues.” “Sod that, I’m not making a meringue”).  It was a layered sponge with buttercream, jam and fondant.  The sugarcrafted poppy was fab, and the touch of genius was using crushed Oreos for the soil.  You paused before taking a mouthful, it was so fantastically realistic.

You never know quite what you’ll get at a supper club.  This time around we had lots of new things to try (for me, rabbit and absinthe included) and shared our table with a great bunch of girls and the odd wildcard. Group photos aren’t the norm but we had those too.  The set dressing – including Alice in Wonderland style TOOB goodiebags – was imaginative and sparked conversation, including whether we really should ‘Drink Me’ or not, when faced with little cork-stoppered bottles filled with what might have been absinthe or Fairy Liquid (vodka with colouring).

Thank you so much to Jim and Anna for making it such a fun night, and especially for the awesome flower pot – and yes, it did taste as good as it looked!  That’s definitely out of the ordinary for novelty cakes – and hell, anyone who knows me know how fussy I am about baked goods.  Anyone need a bespoke cake for an event?  I recommend you contact and try to cajole her.

*I think that’s what the pasta was… and more photos are here