When I walked through the door of a quaint little café in Greenwich to meet Rani, the self-titled Spice Angel, before her inaugural supperclub, I was greeted by her wide grin and immediately bowled over by her enthusiasm. She was chatty and friendly, and I warmed to her instantly. Which should have comforted me but being the weird person that I am, it actually made me a touch anxious about the evening ahead. I like passionate chefs, which also makes me want to really like their food. The menu also consisted of some of Rani’s favourite family dishes which just made me salivate with further excitement.
All this culminated to create quite high expectations, and the relief I felt when one of her beautifully put together Chowpatty dahi batata puri exploded with bursts of flavour and texture was immense. Just like her sunny personality, this combination of potato, chutneys and pomegranates inspired by her upbringing in Mumbai’s Giragon Chowpatty was an uplifting mouthful. How Indian chefs manage to jam pack the delicate cases and not have them disintegrate into a crumbly mess, I’ll never know!
If you tell me there’s a dish that’s ‘so finger-licking good, I won’t even need wet wipes’, you will have my full attention. I think you all know that I don’t mind a bit of dainty dining, and I’m now quite accomplished at navigating my way round a table cluttered with multiple sets of cutlery, but I’m just as happy to forgo that altogether. In many cases, fingers (clean ones, of course) are just as good as forks, and in some situations, they’re even better. A plate of Malaysian chilli crab is a fine example; forks will bring you nothing but sauce in the face with a side of frustration, whereas diving in there with your fingers will bring you unadulterated, delicious joy. And sauce in the face, but that’s a small sacrifice.
I recently discovered this finger-licking goodness at the Wild Serai Supperclub where their signature Malaysian chilli crab reduced the room to silence, bar the cracking of shells and slurping of crab meat and sauce… But I’m getting ahead of myself; before that there were other delights. Each table came laden with the most gigantic prawn crackers I have ever come across, which is no mean feat considering my affair with them has been a long one. From a young age, I’ve watched my mother transform them from unappetising opaque discs to the wonderfully salty, crunchy crackers we all know and love, and naturally I’ve eaten more than my fair share. And so the memories started flooding in.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I am one of those cheery people who truly believes that food brings people together. People like to eat together, some people like to cook together, and heck, I know lots of people who like to talk about food together. That might not be the same in your circles, but it’s most definitely an occupational hazard of moonlighting as a food lover/writer/photo-documenter. When people discover my alter ego as ‘Connie Consumes, International Consumer of Food’, many ditch whatever line of conversation we were running and skip to the food talk. Not that I mind at all because I’ve generally got food on the brain.
Once we get the ‘what is this blog thing’ out of the way and steer away from restaurant recommendations, we get down to business with the bit I really love… just nattering on about anything and everything people love to eat or cook, the weirdest things they’ve eaten on their travels, friends and family who are exceptional cooks, signature dishes… I’m inherently nosey, you might have realised this if you’ve met me so I could keep chatting about this stuff for hours on end. Test me if you dare.
That opening question is a far cry from the usual, ‘would you like water for the table; still or sparking?’. I’ve also never been asked my age and gender just after being seated, hardly polite table etiquette is it? This start gave me an inkling that this was hardly going to be a polite dining experience, this was an experiment… and here we were, two tables of hungry, intrigued, and perhaps somewhat nervous guinea pigs.
Leading us through this experiment were two truly talented (but quite frankly mad) scientists; psychologist Charles Spence who has worked with another well known gastronomic experimentalist with a very expensive restaurant, numerous tv shows and even a range of appliances, and Jesse Dunford-Wood, creative chef extraordinaire and owner of The Parlour in which we were dining. When I received the invite with the rather ambiguous description of the evening I had no idea what to expect; after listening to these two enthusiastically introduce the concept, I decided there was no point trying to anticipate what was coming and just go along for the ride!
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.