Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Paris supper clubs: Hidden Kitchen

A discreet plaque at the door in the Hidden Kitchen's elegant Parisian apartment in the 1er arrondissement, all high ceilings, chandeliers, pale paintwork, marble fireplaces.
The napkin was delicate lace, too good to wipe your mouth on.
Braden the chef in his red kitchen.
Pretty pretty amuse bouches...
Braden came to the tab between each course to explain it. I tend to talk through the meal at the beginning, which I think works better as, by the 4th or 5th course, people are too drunk, engrossed in conversation, to listen anymore. See that beautiful Natalie Imbruglia lookylikey on the left? Danielle runs Whisk and Ladle in New York, another supper club. 
I started eating this, not realising the soup was about to be poured at the table (a good idea, prevents soup spills from kitchen to dining table)
So yeah, it's a bit messed up.
Squash soup with shaved fennel, pear and pumpernickel.
Fig and anchovy tart with arugula and pickled cauliflower
Minute but exquisite: saffron tagliatelli (with a hint of vinegar), mussels, clams and brussel sprouts
Palate cleanser, not pictured. Thought I'd give a shot of a bust instead.
Soft Poached egg, sweet onions caramelised, walnut turnip purée.
The meat eaters had crispy pork belly w walnut turnip puree and baked grapes.
The Hidden Kitchen's bookcase, full of cookery books
Aubergine on red wine risotto, braised chard, a rich earthy taste and the grapes contrasted with a sweet sharpness.
The meat version of my aubergine course. Duck sausage.
It felt like Babette's Feast: everybody tucking in and drinking with great concentration, trying to savour each taste.
The cheese course was interesting: a goat's cheese, butternut squash, Napa cabbage and pomegranate salad. The French often used to eat salad with the cheese course towards the end of the meal.
Chestnut cake with Chai ice cream (delicious), cheddar crumble, salted caramel and poached plums.
Coffee and biscuits. For me this was the only false note. Perhaps it's an American thing to have biscuits at the end of your meal, but I think chocolates would have been better.
Little visitor booklets were handed around with a flap to put your donation. Another nice touch which I may copy. I have a visitor's book but people mostly forget to write anything while they are on their way out to catch the last metro.

Braden and Laura moved to Paris in 2007. Their day job is hunting down new and exotic food stuffs for Wholefoods and Williams Sonoma in the USA. Their website says that they originally thought they'd do a supper a month to make new friends. Rave reviews in top French food blog Chocolat and Zuccini and the New York Times meant, however, that they now do around 6 or 7 suppers a month. It's not cheap, certainly, at 90 euros, wine included, but their waiting list is incredibly long. The day after the Chocolat and Zuccini review, they received 1500 booking requests. I booked for this dinner about 7 months ago.
The guests tended to be wealthy Americans, with a sprinkling of French guests at the other end of the table. Braden told me that one night they had a Saudi prince as a guest, who insisted on paying the bill for the entire table.
 "But some people have paid in advance" protested Braden.
 "Then tear up their checks!" declared the prince.
He also left a 300 euro tip. (NB: He's welcome at my place anytime).
They've had at least two marriage proposals there. I can understand that. It's really a beautiful evening, a true occasion. The chic apartment is in one of the best areas of Paris, near the Louvre, a far cry from my six years slumming it in the 20th.

As readers of this blog might know, my feelings for Paris are mixed. On Friday, when I alighted from the Gare du Nord, I burst into tears. My memories of this town are of leaving in the middle of the night, baby in tow, as I discovered my French partners', who I thought, godammit, was my friend, numerous infidelities. Humiliated, I drove to London and begged my parents if I could stay with them although we hadn't spoken for two years. A month later, chastened further by the fact that the French man, l'histoire de ma vie, had not even bothered to find out where we were, I drove a van to Paris and let myself in the early hours of the morning, after I saw him leave for work, while my dad waited downstairs. The French man had demanded that I move my stuff but, my little protest, I hadn't told him which day it would be.  I was shocked to discover women's jewellery, used condoms in the bed and a letter from the Mairie telling him that now he had broken up his family, he was now being awarded a rent-controlled HLM (council flat). I broke down, shocked to the core. Nine years. My dad came up, to find out what was taking me so long. My American friend Troy from the fac (university) and my dad hauled out all my furniture and belongings. The apartment was almost stripped bare. Why? Because I had bought everything. I was useless in the move, hysterical, a hunched drawn creature, speechless with grief. Still, I lost a ton of weight that month. Divorce and India, the best diets.
But you can see, I don't go to Paris as a tourist. I know Paris. I've had love affairs, relationships, abortions (oh those Catholic doctors really really don't like you if you do this, your internal examination will be brutal), childbirth, illnesses, paid electricity bills, used a Minitel (remember those?), tried to join evening classes, shopped, shouted, cooked, avoided the jewelled mosaic of multi-coloured dog poo on the pavements, made some friends (and believe me, the French ones have not a drop of sympathy when you split with your partner: "he was infidel? et alors?"), made films, watched films, had exhibitions of my photography, visited every museum and gallery, including The Museum of Bread (complete with pieces of Egyptian bread...er bits of charcoal). Three months after we split, I returned again to Paris, on my own, to collect my 'license', my degree in cinema from the Sorbonne. I spent six years living there, and my overwhelming feeling was that I hadn't existed there. Paris had touched me but my relationship with that city and with that man was not mutual. It never was.

The Hidden Kitchen


  1. really beautiful. takes courage to share that. and dear ms. m, you did exist- you lived, and you existed- passionately. x shayma

  2. I was about to bound into your comments box, all overexcited because I've also been to the Hidden Kitchen and loved it...

    But the second part of the post is heart-wrenching. Words are always trite about big life events, but it sounds really, really crap and must have required great strength to get over it. There, told you it would sound trite...

    I liked this post, food blogs should definitely be about life too.

    Pig x

  3. What an evocative post!! I have been following you on Twitter without knowing a thing about the pop-up restaurant that you tweet about! Glad to know that the baby is now "the teen" and that all seems to be well. In case you're looking at a holiday, come to India. With the teen. There's room on my couch :)

  4. I don't know you very well but wow what an honest and touching story. I'm pleased that this time in Paris was pleasant, with a good meal and hopefully some new friends.

  5. Beautiful. Your words and your courage. Thanks for sharing lovely lady.

  6. It was beautiful and brave of you to write about your Paris memories. Absolutely the right thing to do as a writer. Isn't food so much about the memory of people and places, after all.

    I recently had the privilege of trying the closed-door restaurant Treintasillas in Buenos Aires - http://bit.ly/bY0g4W and thought of you.

    Now that I'm back in London, looking forward to trying your place soon.


  7. Thank you so much for your kind comments. Really appreciated.
    marryam h: you are on. And I need to lose a ton of weight again!

  8. I couldn't agree more than your blog should be about you and your life and loves!

    Brave of you to let yourself go but you of course know that what doesn't kill you.......


  9. Dearest MsMarmitelover! That man didn't know a good thing when he had one. It was his loss, not yours. Thanks for sharing your story. You're an inspiration, the teen is lucky to have you for a Mom and we are lucky to be able to read about your life.

    About the biscuits, I don't THINK that's an American thing. I think we Americans want cake at the end of the meal.

  10. A beautiful and touching piece, thank you for sharing.

  11. Beautifully written - I completely understand and have lived/am still living a very similar story. You are fortunate to have been able to go "home". My home is California, I have not the right to move my children out of France. Amazing invisable can feel & how we do carry on - and how needing to lose weight seems to be the constant.

  12. Thank you for this!
    forget eat.pray.love - I want to see your story in the cinema. Who would you like to be played by?

  13. Sweet: I found out afterwards that, by going home, I'd contravened the hague act. So glad I did.
    There is a whole untold story here about how women are treated, and treat each other in France. Women are second class citizens in France, and if you are a foreign woman, then you are going to have a hard time.
    Look how Catherine Deneuve has slagged off Carla Bruni for sticking up for that Iranian woman under threat of stoning! I read an editorial from an editor of a French women's magazine when I was over there that said such awful things about their first lady.
    Carla is not perfect but she is real. I'm shocked at the lack of solidarity between women.
    I stayed with Trish Deseine and we often talked about how the French state treats women.
    Women all over France are made homeless because they have no right to inherit their husband's property when he dies, it goes straight to the children. If the children are kind then she can stay in the house, but that is not always the case.
    365: I've not read or seen Eat Pray Love, is it good?

  14. Oh and I'd love to be played by Holly Hunter! :)

  15. What a gorgeous supper club!
    Please send the Saudi Prince my way when he comes to your's as a guest!

  16. Thank you for sharing your story, it cant have been an easy write but what a bold brave life. The Teen is getting a great example of woman, even if you didnt in France. I had dreams of living there when we were in London, I'm glad they stayed just dreams. Excellent choice on Holly Hunter, Kyra Sedgewick would be another good pick:) Dont bother with Eat Pray Love (IMHO), I managed three chapters of the book and wanted to give her a slap......but the movie might be better, you can gaze at Javier Badem if nothing else!
    P.S Hidden Kitchen, bliss!

  17. Wow, that place looks amazing! And your story is very moving.

    I read ages ago about a guy called Jim Haynes (have you heard of him?). Every Sunday for the past 30 years he's hosted a dinner at his home in Paris. I've always wanted to go there, and never yet found the time! Hidden kitchen is now on my every-increasing list of funky places to eat!

    Which reminds me, I must book for one of your dinners!

  18. Leonie: I will be reviewing Jim Haynes place in the next post on Paris supperclubs. I visited both of them.

  19. It is almost by accident I stopped at your site. An article in the Portland (Oregon, USA) daily newspaper listed your, and other, underground supper clubs. I hadn't expected to read about your travails in France, but your story kept me reading.

    I do have a couple of questions. I, too, lost much weight over a traumatic divorce 30 years ago. Divorces since then have not been all that devastating, so I have been putting weight back on. That method of waist reduction no longer works for me.

    I would love to go to India, but I'm on a pension that hardly allows me the privilege of going to Portland's attractive downtown area. So that is also out of the question.

    Can you suggest any other method? Would it be possible to get meals imported from a Russian truck stop?

    My other question concerns your degree in Cinema. Have you ever used it? I nearly completed a graduate program in Film, but quit when I realized that obtaining work in the film industry was just a pipe dream. So I bought a pipe and put myself into an opium stupor. The dreams have been fabulous.

    I do hope that someday I will again come to London. But it will have to stop being the most expensive city this side of Hanoi before I can get there. When it does, I'm looking forward to dinner with Ms. Marmite.

    (Marmite! How can you stand that stuff. It's made in the US for export, as no one here eats it. Of course, no one over there eats peanut butter, so I guess we're even.)

  20. El computo: you are a typical aquarian.
    Sorry your subsequent divorces haven't really done the trick. I guess nobody really means as much as the first one.
    The article you talk about...is that the one where the young reporter quotes me as saying "I'm genuinely interested in making food from scraps" (actually I do like cooking from leftovers) where in actual fact I said "I'm genuinely interested in making food from scratch".
    I'm doing a russian food night soon.But not from a truck.
    Marmite is god, how dare you!

  21. The Supper Club looks fabulous. I would love to visit some time.

    I really feel for you with regard to your hideous ex. You know this of cours,e but you are well shot of him. He did you a favour without realising it.

  22. Just saw this post- must have missed it before. Wonderful food - I'm always in awe of this kind of cuisine...to have the patience and skill of presentation! Bet it was delicious! Kind of art work on a plate!

    As for your own sharings of the past...wow...tugged at me emotionally a bit...men can be so awful...truly...what a horrible thing to go through...I hope it made you stronger though...and perhaps if it hadn't happened you wouldn't be where you are today? You are better off without that kind of thing...I'm sure you know that...

    (I think I'm going through an anti-men phase at the moment...) Big hug to you - I think you're brilliant! You know that...xxx

  23. PS I love your open honesty too xxx

  24. PS Why does India make you lose weight?!

  25. Easier than I expected


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