'Free' wine if you buy an artwork
Surreal cocktail in a teacup
Chicken a l'orange
Pesto a l'orange
Beautiful vintage crystal
My imaginary dinner
Sue the hostess and the 'half course'
Have tape measure, will attend dinner party
This is Davina
Kale in a tin of tomatoes...wow crazee
You lift your plate and ooh!
I heard about the Surreal Dinner Party pop up restaurant on Facebook. On a muggy but dull August evening I make my way to Shoreditch. The streets of Hoxton are full of 20 year olds getting drunk.
15 people are invited. Inside there is an enormous table, probably a billiard table, with a large cello on top. So far, so surreal.
We are given a cocktail of Cava, bitters and brandy in a tea cup poured out of a teapot.
After approximately 30 minutes we are led into another section of the room where a table is laid with beautiful vintage crystal. Above our heads is a floating cloud with tea cups hanging from it.
Dress code is wear something surreal: I wore a flamenco dress with a bowler hat and moustache.
My fellow guests include a tall blonde girl with cello markings on her back, her posh boyfriend, two Italians who made no effort to dress up, a couple who are touring Underground Restaurants, a weekend trannie named 'Davina', a doll-like Portuguese girl wearing a child's party dress.
A charming volonteer Kiwi waitress wearing just an apron goes around asking our names and gives us all a free glass of wine.
The first course arrives. The light is very dim but it looks like tinned tuna on two slices of orange. I start to eat mine. I've never eaten such tasteless hard tuna. I look at another guest...
"What is this?"
Suddenly the hostess Suehyphendinnerparty dashes over...
"Are you vegetarian?"
'Well I eat fish"
"That's chicken" she says " I was calling out who is vegetarian?"
The music was rather loud. There's no way I could have heard. Ideally the front of house should have asked when she noted our names.
Still it's a mistake, an unpleasant one for me, but this is only the third night of the first weekend of this project. Does tinned chicken even exist?
I am given my vegetarian alternative, some home-made pesto on two slices of orange.
We then wait almost an hour for the second course which was a little dollop of goat's cheese and pistachio in a paper fairy cake case held up by balloons.
It's not bad. But I'm seriously hungry by now.
The blonde girl next to me asks me about my Underground Restaurant:
"Sell it to me" she says.
"I don't have to" I snap.
I'm at the end of the large table. I feel isolated. The couples just talk to each other. The Portuguese girl goes around with a tape measuring people.
Another hour and we get the third course: the carnivores get fish stew with chorizo, some kale in an empty can of tomatoes, potato in a sort of wheel. A couple of dishes of French beans with peanuts are passed down the table.
My stew replacement was aubergine slices with cheese in the middle. It's not too bad. No attempt has been made to make the kale tasty, and the potato is nothing special. In fact everything is school dinner bland. One's attitude is not helped by the slowness.
I start to wonder what is going on. Has she not prepped this meal beforehand? Is she cooking it all now?
We try to amuse ourselves between courses. Pieces of paper are handed round and we are encouraged to draw on them. I draw a plate of spaghetti, a vision provoked by hunger.
Fourth course: another hour later. I go to the toilet and pass by leaves with 'frog spawn' on them. It seems to take our hostess hours to 'plate' them up. In fact the hostess looks exhausted, out of it. I know she's had a death in the family, maybe that's taken it's toll?
We are served the leaves, topped with rose water and lemon tapioca(the spawn) and a tiny plastic frog. Reminiscent of this meal in terms of food styling.
Neighbour says "Toothpaste?"
Another says "Mouth wash?"
Nobody eats it.
The fifth course comes thankfully quickly.
A pear and spiced cake with a meringue top and home made gingernut icecream. It lacks sweetness. In fact all the food, apart from the goat's cheese and pesto is underseasoned. Is the hostess another of those low fat, anti-salt, anti-sugar types, motivated by a desire to keep her weight down? You cannot be a good cook and on a diet. It distorts your taste buds. I know from personal experience. Every time I've dieted my cooking has suffered.
Despite the charming service, I am disgruntled. It could have been my mood, which was low. It's August and the sky is grey. Low pressure is hanging over London and I'm finding it hard to raise the energy to get out of bed even.
At midnight I make my excuses and drive home in the rain.
Three and a half courses cost £35.
Free booze if you buy an artwork worth £15-£20.
Sue the hostess is normally an architect. Work in that area, like in so many sectors, is hard to come by at the moment. She's using her cafe experience to set this up and earn some money. She lives in a tiny studio flat and so hired this garage to stage this meal. Unbelievably the owner is charging her £100 a night and she is supposed to be out by midnight.
I heard from friends that attended Friday night that a reporter from The London Paper was there too "holding court" my friends said, and will do a piece on the dinner.
Nowadays the quickest route to getting your 15 minutes is to open a pop up restaurant. While my attitude is the more the merrier, it does seem like many people are jumping on the bandwagon(not accusing Sue of this just a general observation) just for a crack at fame.
Sometimes it's clear they haven't done any research. When I began the Underground Restaurant, a whole 8 months ago, there was only Horton, who started a couple of weeks beforehand, to visit. I was the first to report on this burgeoning movement. But...now there are several, more starting every week. Why aren't people going round to see a few before starting? There are 'top 10 secret restaurant' lists in the papers, but many of these 'top 10' haven't yet opened or have had only 2 or 3 dinners. The journalistic desire for a new trend does seem a tad forced. In a year's time, these lists might make more sense. (I've got more to say on this subject but will save it for another post.)
Suehyphendinnerparty seems a lovely creative woman, I like her concept, her styling, her vintage crystal, and appreciate the work and thought gone into this evening and hopefully the food and timing will improve.
Perhaps in a situation like this, especially when the hostess is jet-lagged and suffering from a bereavement, it would have been better to have a soft opening.
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