Monday, 13 April 2009

A Moveable feast

The name of this pop-up restaurant 'The Moveable Restaurant' evokes memories of Ernest Hemingway's eponymous book. Hemingway's 'A moveable feast' was the reason I moved to Paris...
Easter is the classic moveable feast in that it is a non-fixed date in the Christian calendar. It was therefore appropriate that River café chefs Stevie Parle and Joseph Trivelli host a Roman feast on Easter Monday. 
Stevie Parle, it is rumoured, lives on a boat near Hammersmith bridge. I was hoping that the dinner would take place in or near his barge. Now that would be something...
Instead around 40 people gathered on the top floor of the Auriol Rowing club. Fortunately it was a sunny day and we could make good use of the terrace overlooking the Thames river. 
Our names were scrawled on the paper table cloths, a nice touch that reminded me of Chartier in Paris. We were asked for our £35 as soon as we entered, cash only. Wine was £5 a glass or £25 a bottle, corkage £7.50p a bottle. The wines, chosen by Emily O'Hare, the youthful and charming River café sommelier, were extremely well chosen but I was a little shocked at the restaurant style mark-up. Emily runs a group on Facebook called Women! Know your wines which makes interesting reading.
Stevie and his staff, dressed in red and white striped aprons, moved amongst the guests, handing out tempura battered sage. This was delicious, it's a shame there wasn't more. An idea I will happily nick.

First course was an anchovy, broad bean, lemon zest and mint salad, with torn pieces of olive oiled bread. Good. 
anchovy, broad bean, lemon zest and mint salad
Next up was an asparagus mimosa served family style, handed down the long tables as we ate. The mimosa was perfectly seasoned and contained parsley, capers and yoghurt. Eggs mimosa or deviled egg is a feast day recipe from ancient Rome.
asparagus mimosa
Third course, and I was given an extra large portion (because they knew I was veggie), was a pasta, ricotta, peas and cinnamon dish topped with pecorino. An unusual combination which worked very well. 
pasta, ricotta, peas and cinnamon dish topped with pecorino
For mains most guests were served goat, a tender kid, with artichokes, broad beans and peas cooked in red wine.
goat, a tender kid, with artichokes, broad beans and peas
I was given two slices of tempura style fried polenta with a slice of lemon to squeeze over. Polenta is a little dull at the best of times (I generally grill it and whack a load of lime salsa on it) but I really appreciated that they had made something special for me. However the broad beans were slightly burnt. I adore artichokes, which in this case, were small and tender but I feel this was the least successful dish of the meal.
broad beans and artichokes with tempura style fried polenta
Dessert again was festive, a pastiera, a typical Easter tart from Italy which can be described as a light and fluffy ricotta and candied fruit confection.
a pastiera, a typical Easter tart from Italy
This was accompanied by lowquats or as they call them in France...nefles. ('Cela vaut que de nefles' is a French phrase meaning 'it's worth nothing'. Friends of mine in France are part of a LETS scheme, a trading scheme, in which 'nefles' are the currency.)

Both myself and the lady next to me, an Aga expert who has never cooked on anything else, took pictures of my dessert:
"Let's pap my pud!" I joked. 
At the end boxes of fondants and marzipan sweets from Pietro Romanengo in Genova were passed down the tables. 
boxes of fondants and marzipan sweets
I think coffee could have been served for the price. It would have sobered up the guests for their trip home. I also think the chefs could have been less reticent and mixed more with the guests. I went to this event, thinking it would be an underground/home/supperclub restaurant. It wasn't. 
I did like the mixed tables and the fixed menu but it did lack the warmth, informality and intimacy of a home restaurant.
It could have been any restaurant except for the fact that it was held in a one time rented location with moonlighting chefs. 
NB: I believe The Moveable Restaurant are trying out different locations to get a more intimate's a work in progress as it is for all of us...

The chefs briefly socialised at the end but it does make such a difference if you have that personal touch of the chefs speaking to you...


  1. ooh what an interesting dinner! That wine mark up is a bit much though I agree. Blimey. Nice to see a bit of mimosa in there, I love making mimosa, its good with baby leeks too.

  2. Yes it was very good.
    I guess they are wearing their business heads for this project.

  3. You clearly have a taste for criticism, be that of your own guests when you're a host, or of your hosts when you're a guest.

    Perhaps you could be a bit more supportive of two young people who clearly share similar passions as you, instead of making snide and uninformed comments about mark-ups (how much did the wine cost them?), how they didn't speak to you personally, or how it lacked the 'warmth, informality and intimacy' of YOUR home restaurant.

    One thing's for sure: you wouldn't catch them serving white chocolate, mascarpone, Malibu, and raspberry trifle.

    Competition should be enouraged, as it can only be a good thing.

    This is all a little graceless from someone who has received so much publicity herself.

    As an occasional blogger, I understand the satisfaction of a good whine. Ms. Marmite, you can have too much of a good thing.

  4. Hi Anon,
    I'm really sorry for any offence. The criticisms in the piece are minor and hopefully constructive compared with the positive things I have said, but I realise words can hurt.
    It was interesting for me to go to this, to see things from the customers point of view. I am often tempted to stay in the kitchen but I always try to go out and personally greet each table. It makes such a difference to the way the guests feel...going to the Moveable restaurant made me realise that even more. Perhaps the chefs are shy but it is worth making contact with the public.
    I also looked at the River cafe menu and obviously it's much more expensive than what was charged here...
    As a single parent I've not been able to spend much money on restaurants, tending to go for cheap formica table ethnic cafes. So prices like £25 a bottle of wine seem expensive to me.
    Your comment about the trifle made me laugh. You are right, it is quite naff, the culinary equivalent of Katie Price or perhaps even Jodie Marsh! But actually it tastes pretty good! You should try it!
    I have been very lucky to get so much publicity. It has surprised me how much a home restaurant, not just mine but Jupiter Horton's too, has captured the public imagination.
    I suppose I would have loved to have had a more personal dining experience with such undoubtedly talented chefs as Stevie Parle and Joseph Trivelli.

  5. Hi Ms Marmitelover,

    The real issue is not what you said, but that fellow chefs, or indeed any practitioners in the same field, should not criticize each other publicly. It isn't done - overground, underground, on the banks of the Thames or in the depths of Kilburn. Stick to what you do better, and, from all the good publicity you have recently received, that seems to be running a home restaurant. By all means, tell us in your blog of the good places you've eaten at and what you've enjoyed. If you haven't liked a place or menu, then don't write about it. But criticisms, as a fellow restauranteur, are out of order- and your motives for including them may be misconstrued.

  6. Dear Anon, I also attended the Moveable Restaurant on Easter Monday and had a really nice meal.

    I do, however, agree with MsMarmitelover's comments. I have been to The Underground Restaurant and The Secret Ingredient and the atmosphere I found at those venues was completely different to the one I enjoyed during the Roman feast.

    My mother asked me what makes an underground restaurant different from a normal one, the answer I gave her is intimacy, and personality. Although I had a great meal last Monday, I found neither. It felt more like a function than something supposedly 'underground'. One could argue the Moveable Restaurant wasn't meant to be anything like an underground restaurant, but having seen it advertised in that circuit that is what I (and indeed Ms Marmitelover, I suppose) expected.

    As for your attitude about criticisms, can I ask you what do you think a review blog should be used for? If MsMarmitelover was only to write about what she enjoyed (and not what she didn't enjoy) I dare say her blog wouldn't be half as interesting as it is now, for a reader like me. Moreover, don't forget criticisms can be constructive and perhaps appreciated from the party they're directed to. I do not know if there is some hidden 'code of conduct' amongst restaurateurs forbidding them to criticise one another, but if you ask me anybody is entitled to have an opinion and voice it.

    I do wish to thank the chefs for the great meal I had, the dishes I tasted were very nice and perfectly cooked. My husband and I had a great time and will be advising friends to attend future events at The Moveable Restaurant


  7. I just want love in the ghetto.

    Peace out,


  8. Yeah love n peace man!
    Big snogs to Stevie and Joseph and 'anon'!

  9. I've got to agree with Anonymous-Marghe. A review is about telling all sides, good and bad. I found MsMarmitelover's review very positive on the whole. Anon does appear to be rather over-sensitive to the issue of criticism. Oh dear... I just want love and peace too!
    On a lighter note I must stand up for 'the depths of Kilburn' - I don't consider zone 2 'the depths' (!!)


  10. Well Miss Marmite,
    Thanks for coming. I'm sorry we were not more sociable, the two of us were however cooking lunch for 50 people without even anyone to wash up!

    We sold the wine at cost price plus the 7 pounds corkage that the venue (not us) charges- a 'restaurant style markup' would have put these excellent wines at 50 or 60 quid a bottle, a fact i thought most people would have tasted.

    It is a real shame we didn't have our 'business heads on' as after spending £900 on really excellent produce and paying our staff £10 an hour we made a fiver each!
    If our meal wasn't a supper club what do you think we should describe it as in the future?- Everybody ate the same food at long tables at the same time in a temporary space with invitation by word of mouth- seems like a supper club to me. I would like to avoid further disappointment though. Perhaps it was just too professional, though the food and the experience was hardly restauranty.

    Stevie Parle from The Movable Restaurant

  11. Hi Stevie,
    I'm just doing the accounts for the Underground Restaurant and it doesn't look like I'm making any money either!
    It's certainly not a money spinner.
    I thought Emily said the wine cost £11 a bottle?
    ok, rough count 50 x 35 is £1750
    Plus money for wine...
    Paying staff a tenner an hour, I suppose you feel you must, what with them working at Easter and all that...but why are you paying them if you are not paying yourselves?
    Any staff I have work volontarily because I simply can't afford to pay them. I don't get paid either.
    The issue with that of course is there is no consistency of service, of experience.It does make my job harder as the levels of experience vary. But each volonteer brings their own personality or talents to the restaurant. Maybe it all adds to the anarchic air... a good thing in a home restaurant?

    You two are proper chefs...and you are coming from that professional background in which you must pay staff, expect to have a washer upper etc
    I cook on my own for approximately 25 people and have a dishwasher. Doesn't that location have one?
    It IS really hard to be both chef and host.
    My tuppence worth is that you go around along the tables, a bit like the queen, and say hi to everyone, and a few words.
    I often go and sit with people at the end over coffee, maybe take round some cognac, and have a bit of a chat.
    For me this is the fun bit.(I also love prepping). I get to hear people's stories...I love that!
    The guests are self-selecting in the sense that generally only very interesting and adventurous people come to events like these. You get the odd boring fucker who doesn't 'get it' but they are few and far between.
    Maybe you have too many people? It's tempting though with such a large space.
    It's a pop up, a supper club but not a home restaurant.
    Marghe nails it: intimacy and personality.
    It was very professional, the food was certainly of restaurant standard.
    As the River Cafe chefs, a top London restaurant, I suppose I would be doing it to express aspects of myself that I couldn't get away with at the River Cafe.
    Anyway it's all a learning curve. God knows I've made tons of mistakes with The Underground Restaurant. I'm totally making it up as I go along!
    Hope to see you both soon at The Underground Restaurant...let me know when you want to come.

  12. "You get the odd boring fucker who doesn't 'get it'"
    what a charming way to describe your customers! Good luck to you!

  13. How rude to questions Stevie's sums.

  14. I love MsMarmitelover for her honesty and openness. When a dish isn't quite right, or she forgets it in the oven, or something else goes wrong at one of her dinners, she tells us all about it. Why would she treat a review of "A Moveable Feast" any differently?

    Anonymous said: "The real issue is not what you said, but that fellow chefs, or indeed any practitioners in the same field, should not criticize each other publicly. It isn't done - overground, underground, on the banks of the Thames or in the depths of Kilburn. Stick to what you do better..."

    Are you serious?? You'd rather have no publicity than a review that is overall positive with a few negative comments? Good luck.

    Also, this is a worldwide forum. MsMarmites audience isn't just limited to the banks of the Thames or the depths of Kilburn! So your rules for journalism there may not apply!

  15. This is all a long time ago and water under the bridge by now i expect but how hilarious! You've all entertained my afternoon very nicely. Thank you.
    As a sometime professional, mostofthetime domestic and allthetime over ambitious (in terms of what can be done given time and budget) and passionate cook I too want peace in the ghetto, but Anon, if you can't stand the proverbial heat for heaven's sake get out of the kitchen.


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