Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A round up of new supperclubs

The Altenburg Kitchen

Cloakroom area and skis

Altenburg girls...

Wild mushroom risotto

Blackberry cheesecake

A box to put the money in, is trustingly placed in the hallway...

The architecture and layout of your house can be crucial in a home restaurant whereas most conventional restaurants are specifically designed to accommodate the cooking and serving of food to large numbers of people.
The Altenberg kitchen is in a ground floor flat, all on one level, with a large kitchen and plating up area, two large and elegant dining rooms and a spacious hall area for hanging up coats and welcoming guests. This Clapham home restaurant is run by two girls, Camilla and Lucy, who are so amazingly competent they scarcely broke sweat as they catered for 25 people. The apartment has a warm and cosy ski chalet feel, in fact skis are casually leant against the wall, nestling among the coats on the rack (wonder if they ever get a chance to use them in London?). It came as no surprise that the girls had worked as chalet chefs. I asked how come they had 25 matching soup bowls...
"my mum was a caterer and had stacks of them"
Aha, so it's in their background, no wonder it looks like a breeze.
The food: parmesan and chilli biscuits to snack upon followed by pumpkin soup then wild mushroom risotto for me, some sort of meat for the others, finishing with a blackberry cheesecake for dessert.
It was all very tasty, good home cooked food, a lovely addition to the South London group of supperclubs.
£20 minimum donation

Salad Club

Quirky neighbours hang artwork on the stairs


Spiced pumpkin soup

Washing up in the bathtub

Salad Club girls: Ellie and Rosie

Unusual loo roll holder

Waitresses become singers

Main course of pork

Guest getting off

A Caribbean Dessert

A popular supperclub in South London is run by two girls who go under the name of Salad Club. On the 3rd floor of a Brixton council flat on Electric Avenue, you are served by extremely pretty waitresses in flowery tea dresses, who later, formed part of a group and sang.
This evening's menu, on the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, was inspired by the Carribbean.
I started with a delicious soup, spiced pumpkin and good bread bought locally.
The mains: jerk pork for my companion and fish for me, with black rice, were nicely seasoned accompanied by a fennel and pecan salad which was, needless to say, very well dressed.
Dessert, a lime and coconut cheesecake possibly did not work as well texturally but was prettily decorated with flowers.
The hostesses had quite a few friends that night and so I didn't get a chance to talk to them. I realise due to space and furniture limitations that there are several tables for two, but it would be nice if table-hopping were somehow encouraged. It had the same problem as a normal restaurant in which you were not sure if you could talk to other tables.
Saladclub, Brixton
Price: £22.50

The Civet Cat Club

Sumac balls with home-made cheese

Tapioca fritters with a fantastic green chilli and coriander chutney


The open kitchen

Mr Singh's Bangras... a sikh sausage

Rice with quorn, green banana curry, salad, yoghurt

Carrot Halva with blackberry sorbet, fruit and mint

These little dolls were sewn from a drawing...

Murano glass ants

Mice heads...yes you read that right, not moose heads... more or less actual size

The Civet Cat Club in Newington Green is a new addition to an area already heavily populated with supperclubs: The Secret Ingredient and The Shed. Is there any house in Newington Green that doesn't have a supperclub?
Bravely the hosts, Tess and Daljit, cook in an open kitchen at the top of the house (it takes a while to open the door), in front of the diners.
We started with zingy balls of home-made cream cheese rolled in lemony Sumac.
Daljit has taken a family recipe from his grandfather, Mr.Harnam Singh and, with the help of Cinnamon Club chef Vivek Singh, created an Indian sausage soon to be available in major supermarkets.
Obviously as a non-meat eater I could not comment on the sausage, but it seemed to go down very well. I was given dukkah and pitta bread as a replacement which was a coincidence, as the hosts came to my supperclub back in February for the Middle-Eastern evening and I served dukkah!
The main course consisted of various authentic curries. There was a slight problem: I dislike beetroot, so did the other vegetarian (we don't all like beetroot!) so although I tried the beetroot and coconut curry, I just don't like the texture.
There was also an interesting cold curry; Moru Kachiathu mango and green banana curry with yoghurt, rice with Quorn and salad. The meat eaters had a lamb curry which they delared delicious.
The decor and style of The Civet Cat Club house is stylish, with interesting little works of art dotted about; it merits a good nose around. After all one of the main attractions of home restaurants is the thrill of voyeurism.
My only tiny quibble is I felt that most of the dishes were rather undersalted which was a shame as otherwise it was all very good. I later found out that Tess was brought up with very little salt.
Jeffrey Steingarten talks about salt in his book 'The man who are everything'. The neurosis about salt is very odd, it's totally unjustified except for the tiny proportion of the population (8%) who have a salt sensitivity. I think the no-salt message that is going out from the government and a bunch of other joyless finger waggers is wrongly directed: don't cut out salt, use good salt. Always use sea salt, it retains minerals lost in table salt. 
My issues with the salt is possibly why dessert was for me the real standout: fantastic carrot halva (recipe at end) with a blackcurrant sorbet. I could have eaten double the portion of the carrot halva though. It was that good.
The Civet Cat Club, Newington Green.
£30 minimum donation.

Fernandez and Leluu

Fernandez in the kitchen upstairs

Pear, pomegranate and oak leaf salad

Nice details on the table settings: tea towels as napkins...great idea, cheaper and you don't have to iron them, name tags. Uyen is a fashion designer too and you can see the little thoughtful touches everywhere...

Menu on the mirror

Fried mushrooms

The only beetroot thing I've ever liked plus a pie thingy

Risotto for me (a little bit too salty perhaps)

Uyen Luu looking a bit sweaty because...

...she had to run up and down these stairs about a million times...

Simon Fernandez' set list: the man must be a control freak: look at that timetable! You can tell he comes from I.T. My list of stuff to do is written on the back of a paper bag generally...

Table plan

Seabass and potatoes...simple but nice

Dessert, I got two as they weren't sure if I ate gelatine: a lime jelly mousse and fried bananas with chocolate.

Takeaway bags for leftovers...a proper Asian restaurant! (Good idea, saves trying to foist it on the neighbours)

Fernandez and Leluu: A Spanish/Vietnamese couple in a modern building near London Fields who have been getting good reviews. I have several friends who live on those streets (some of whom are planning an 'urban olympics' to parallel the real one in 2012), remnants of the 80s/90s Hackney squatting scene. It was like a punk Coronation Street. Uyen said she'd seen one of my friends, a guy with some mental health problems, a kind of Henry VIII figure on crack, in the street in his dressing gown.
Many of my friends gained ownership of their houses by squatting more than 12 years. Squatters, often maligned in the press, preserve buildings that would otherwise go to ruin, be torn down by councils and property developers that prefer to erect a modern building than preserve an old one.
I probably made a mistake by going for the 'Lamb Feast' night which of course, I could not eat. They made me vegetarian and fish options which was kind but probably put too much stress on the kitchen. There were long gaps between courses and the architecture of the building most certainly contributed to that. Their kitchen is upstairs from the dining area so poor Uyen must have run a mini-marathon going up and down those stairs! I said at the time "you need an extra person for front of house" and I've heard that Leluu's mum now helps out. I was there for only their second evening so I'm sure they have got things under control...
However they are the only place that has ever made me like beetroot, via a delicious dip which had the pink colour but not the awful texture of beetroot. Through the grapevine it's said that the Vietnamese nights are the ones to go for...
£30 minimum donation.

One of the things that upsets me are the reviewers that review supperclubs as if they are in a league table, as if they are in a normal restaurant. It seems to me that they are not understanding the's not a fucking competition. Every house, every dinner is different. In fact I've never been to a home restaurant that didn't try a thousand percent to give you a great dinner... it's such a privilege to go to someone's home. It seems to me that this attitude is general nowadays: from the 'competitive dining' of 'Come Dine with me' to X-factor. It all stems from game shows on tv.
Now a whole generation is brought up on radio host asked me "do people hold up cards with numbers out of ten at the end of your meals?" er no, and if they did, unless it was a joke, I'd ask them to leave.
There is room for us all, and the reason I started the supperclubfangroup on Ning is to make it easier for others to start up...

Elegant guest...

Recipe for Carrot halva by Paul Bennun:

Happy to give you the recipe for Grannyji Parminda Bennun's carrot halva
as requested by Tess of The Civet Cat Club

1kg carrots
1 litre full-cream milk
Some water
Sugar (300g modern taste or 450g old-school)
Teaspoon-ish of cardamom seeds
Star Anise (1 or 2)
Cinnamon (good half teapsoon, ground)
Dried blueberries (modern) or raisins (canonical)
Pistachios (75-100g)
Almonds (couple of tablespoons)
Ghee (2 tbl spoon)

Get shitloads of carrots (1kg was what I used at the CCC). Wash / peel /
dice or grate the carrots. Put them in a big ole pan and put some water in
(not to quite cover them, maybe just more than half a cup) and boil the
water for maybe 8 minutes.

Add as much full-cream milk as you used carrots -- so in this case a full
litre. This is where it gets hard work -- you'll bring this to the boil,
reduce to a gentle simmer and stir every few minutes. Do this for an hour.
Grannyji would put a star anise in and remove it before serving. A very
small amount of cinnamon bark -- grind less than a teaspoon -- rounds out
the flavour.

Meanwhile, get your nuts. You'll need a good 100g of shelled pistachios,
which you'll blanch with boiling water and then rub in the hands (or with
a cloth) until the skin comes off. Reserve. Separately, you may want to do
the same with a few tablespoons of almonds -- I don't, personally.
Normally I would also be soaking some dry blueberries or raisins in Wray
and Nephew's rum. Grannyji would use raisins only and she wouldn't soak
them in rum. Anyway.

At this point, the halwa will probably still be very slush. Don't panic if
it's dryish. Either way, add a LOT of sugar. In the past, we're talking
nearly half the weight of carrots in sugar. These days, I use a bit more
than 300g of sugar for 1kg of carrots. Stir, stir, boil and stir until the
milk and sugar have been absorbed.

When it's time to dish up, melt 2 tablespoons of ghee into the mix
(optional but you'll be damn glad you did it) and simmer until mixed
thoroughly in. Stir in 1 teaspoon of cardamom seeds (crushed pretty
finely) and the raisins or blueberries. Put the halwa into a huge serving
bowl or individual portions and sprinkle your nuts on the top.

Recipe for coriander chutney by Tess O'Leary of The Civet Cat Club

Coriander chutney - I couldn't really say the amounts as I tend to make it up as I go along. However the ingredients are as follows:
tempered cumin seeds (this is when you lightly fry the seeds in ghee)
pinch of salt
finely grated ginger
plain yoghurt
lots of fresh coriander - more than you would think
coconut - fresh or dry, not cream - soak the dry first to soften it
You could add a few fried mustard seeds if you haven't got them in an accompanying curry - you don't want everything to taste the same!
Add the whole lot into a blender and away you go. Add more garlic, lemon, salt or sugar to taste. Try to make it at least a few hours before serving for it to infuse well. I made it quite sweet and sharp.


  1. what a lovely round-up of supper clubs. the photos were beautiful, esp the ones of the homes- the murano ants and the loo roll holder. not too sure about pairing gaajar halva with sorbet though...wishing all these ladies the very best, am in admiration. x

  2. Thank you Shayma and hope to see you sometime at The Underground Restaurant.
    Ps I thought you were in Pakistan for the hols?

  3. Finally made it to a supperclub (in Brighton) and had a wonderful experience. Am hooked.

  4. Hey! Looks like some great places! I think I'll have to check one or two out. You've been rather busy! I'm interested in what you have to say about salt...we were actually discussing this topic over breakfast this morning! Anyway, I guess I won't be here again before Christmas so Hope you have a Merry Christmas and the dinner goes superbly xxx

  5. Thanks for an interesting write up about some new supperclubs. Looking at all the pictures you've ever published of these events,they all have one thing in common, and it's that everyone looks happy. Speaks volumes doesn't it?
    Here's hoping 2010 is an even better year for you, the 'Underground Restaurant' and Underground Supperclubs everywhere.

  6. that's a very nice round up, I really enjoyed reading it, looking forward to trying at least a couple of them out soon. I liked your point at the end very much about the reviewers and the Come Dine WIth Me/X-Factor mentality, so true and so depressing to see.

  7. THanks for this post - am about to start my supper club in January (fingers crossed) so was helpful to read about so many all in one place. Will check out out your Ning group for supper clubs!

  8. Bakelady: they do look happy don't they?
    Jones: it's often reviewers that have lots of money, a desire to make a name for themselves, a pompous and pretentious attitude to food that fall prey to this league table stuff. There are some bloggers who really don't get it, certainly not the community, grassroots, anti-establishment and underground aspect of this movement, but set themselves up as an authority just because they have the income to eat out alot.
    I also see this worrying tendancy in my daughters generation to see everything as some kind of game show, a theatre of cruelty.
    Lexeat: hope to come to one of your evenings...your christmas do was very impressive.


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