When a certain someone and I moved to London we agreed to do four things every month to help ensure we were making the most of our time here; it’s all too easy to slip into a comfortable routine, take this city for granted then next thing you know, you’re on a plane back to NZ and you haven’t even had an exorbitantly priced cocktail up the Shard?! It’s still on the list. So anyway, every month, alongside trying an ‘out of the ordinary’ restaurant (smugly overachieving), travelling somewhere (top marks for effort with a special commendation for some random locations), and getting a dose of culture in the form of a show or exhibition (failing miserably), we also aim to throw a dinner party…
For someone whose parents constantly had people over for meals, both planned and impromptu, the idea of having friends over for dinner is one that excites rather than daunts… to the point where I’ve been known to get a little carried away, neglect to count how many people I’ve invited (ten), decide to throw a slider party (four types with roughly two per person which equals a lot of teeny tiny burgers) which then results in a certain someone putting his foot down and saying never again! Of course he was only joking and there have since been more dinner parties; the compromise is a cap on the number of guests and a ban on having mini burgers on the menu! I’m ok with both these caveats.
As much as I love to feed people, when the number of people we’re feeding moves into double digits, things get a little tricky in the kitchen, particularly as I like to throw a three course menu kind of dinner party, and suddenly it’s a little more stressful and a lot less fun. Which is why I think people who host supperclubs are stark raving mad suckers for punishment. Who generally also happen to be incredibly talented cooks. Perhaps this is where I’ve gone wrong?!
One of these talented people is Michelle, an ex-chef and restauranteur who runs London from Scratch, taking people on food tours of Soho and Marylebone as well as hosting her Scratch Secret Supper Clubs. I’ve met Michelle at a couple of events, found her to be absolutely wonderful company so I thought it was only right to find out if she was also as wonderful at her day job.
We arrived at the Marylebone location to find a welcoming, mood lighting enhanced dining room and started introductions over a vodka cocktail and crostini of feta and almond before taking our seats at one of the two communal tables. Who your dining companions will be is completely luck of the draw and part of the fun, so put your most affable self forward and prepare to engage in all that small talk to get the evening rolling. We covered everything from favourite travel destinations to occupations to countries of origin… All standard fare in multicultural London I suppose!
This evening’s menu was labelled ‘Australian fusion’, which means what exactly, you ask?! Far from cliched kangaroo steaks or ostrich patties, I thought the dishes celebrated how contemporary Australian cuisine has evolved with diverse Asian, Middle Eastern and Greek influences. We started with a creamy coconut and saffron soupette which I gulped down all too quickly, served with a crunchy cigar filled with sweet potato. This was followed by a tantalising pork and prawn noodle salad; sometimes these can run the risk of being poorly dressed and bland but this version was fresh and fragrant.
The main paid tribute to the richness of the middle eastern flavours; a thrice cooked duck leg with herby couscous, grilled nectarine and sweet potato was such a creative and well conceived combination of flavours and textures. I loved the deep sweetness of the molasses on the duck which can ably handle such boldness, as well as the tenderness of the meat. I would also be happy to get some tips on making couscous taste this good, mine’s always a little sad and dry but this was quite the opposite.
To my delight a series of sweet treats were up next: a chocolate square with raspberry, a deconstructed cheesecake and finally a piece of brittle to end. The chocolate square was decadent and delicious, but the cheesecake was even more impressive. The use of the kataifi pastry as the base was a lovely nod to Greek influences as well as adding great crunch, the salted caramel was punchy, and I was so pleased to see figs on top… I’ve been surprising myself with how much I like figs lately!
We ended our tour of Australian fusion with a cup of tea (mint for others, black for me as I hate mint tea) and a nice bit brittle, then said our goodbyes to other guests, our gracious host and her sidekick, and headed home extremely full and happy!
Supperclubs are all the rage right now; with so many cuisines and styles to choose from I can see how the uninitiated diner could find it a little overwhelming to choose where to begin. Then on top of that, the thought of eating in a stranger’s house with other strangers might push comfort levels but I really urge you book one in – they’re really fun, you meet some interesting people who you may or may not want to dine with again, and the food is fantastic – particularly this one!
Scratch Secret Supper Clubs usually run every month and can be booked through their website, or you can also check out their Food Tours!