Drinks cabinet stored on the piano
A few wasabi peas to start
The steak. Les assures me it was good quality.
In the kitchen
Tuna steak and gratin dauphinoise
A rainy night in London's East End, above a betting shop, you find the supperclub of statuesque Florida native, artist and DJ Amanda. Charmingly she gives no specific instructions on how to enter other than the address. Fat Les and I giggled as we walked around trying to find the entrance:
"Do you think we go through the betting shop to a back room?" I wondered, visions of passing through thugs in shirtsleeves, wearing visors and waistcoats, high rollers over a green baize card table.
Finally, round the back, we climb dark stairs to a candle-lit rooftop, laid out with red and white checked oilcloths on tables and overhead a vine covered pergola. It feels like a Greek taverna, stranded in wet cobbled London.
Midnight Steakout is a barbecue, but this is Britain and you can't rely on the weather. Amanda worries...
"Shall we bring all the tables inside?"She looks glamorous in towering heels, a vintage pinny, bare legs and a kimono top.
"No, it's going to clear up"she announces brightly with can-do American positivity.
Venturing outside after a couple of gin and tonics, a blanket was laid over my shoulders as I sat down, by 'Tracks', tonight's front of house volunteer. Some people get wet bums on the rain-soaked chairs but soon warm up as good red wine is handed out. We are given warm buttery fresh peas in their pods and bowls of radishes to snack upon.
Apart from Fat Les, I am sitting with a beautiful Bengali girl, a PR for Sainsburys who seems to know an awful lot about S & M clubs and a guy who plans to open a Cal-Mex burrito joint in Dalston.
The Bengali girl and I compare conventional restaurants to underground restaurants:
"When I go to a normal restaurant I'm always in the position of wondering if I can afford the whole experience...dessert, coffee, aperitif, wine. Here I know I can" she says.
Tracks takes our money and asks how we'd like our steak. Amanda fires up the barbecue, a roll up hanging from her lip, displaying an insouciant glamour at the grill. But relaxed vibe aside, she knows her stuff: my tuna steak and Les' beef steak are beautifully seasoned and cooked. It is accompanied by creamy gratin dauphinoise, French beans and three different sauces: horseradish, mustard and mayonnaise. 50s music, a tape made by Amanda, tinkers in the background.
For dessert we are given tiny vintage glasses which are filled with Armagnac to match with almond cake, raspberry sauce and cream.
Sometimes Amanda comes to sit with us "This started out as a dinner for friends who could then bring a friend" she explains. "I just wanted to make simple food: steak and potatoes and salad".
Simple it may be, but everything is delicious.
After dessert we make our way inside, Roy Orbison is on the turntable. Cheese, biscuits and cherry chutney are handed around.
Later one of the guests tinkers melodically at the piano; the window is open and the curtain blowing; the vibe is mellow. Amanda proffers a heart shaped box filled with mint chocolates; generous hospitality, Yankee style.
At midnight we get up to go, Amanda (who reminds me of another tall American beauty in London, Jerry Hall) is dismayed, drawling
"I can't believe you are all going so early! I'm just getting started..."