The Rambling Restaurant launched on Sunday after a wild flurry of activity with friends and neighbours. The precarious table I’d made out of a volume of Renaissance Drama, a Tom Wolfe tome, chest of drawers & filing cabinet was deemed unsafe, so I borrowed Mary and Edward’s garden table from down the road. My mum spent an entire day hemming material (wonkily self-cut in Ikea and some from neighbour Elspeth) to make tablecloths and napkins. Her friend Hilary provided candles and ivory bedsheets to go under the table cloths, which they both expertly pinned and sewed until they hung perfectly. My friend Emily cut down roses, created a suitable playlist on her ipod and ran off to the shops for extra cream and cava, while Michelle and Mei – the star sous chefs and hostesses of the evening – chopped, grated, wrote menus and generally got things organized. I used strength I didn’t think I had to shift my bookshelves across the room to create a room divider between kitchen and dining room and we hung up a curtain to shield diners from the cooking frenzy within.
By 7.10pm I had finished most of the food prep and left Michelle making toast, while I went to change. The first guests arrived shockingly (well just 10 minutes) early at 7.20pm (Chris and Helen must’ve been rather hungry…), so I just had time to scramble upstairs and make some Rambling Cocktail (gin and homemade elderflower cordial topped with cava and a mint leaf). For the next 40 minutes, as I pootled away in the kitchen plating up chicken liver pate and frying streaky bacon, I could hear people arriving and there seemed to be a cocktail party sort of atmosphere. People popped their heads in to say hello and take a peek at the cooking. One pair dropped in to say sorry, they couldn’t stay as they thought they had food poisoning, but they had come along to see what it looked like and they very sweetly insisted I take their donations – thank you! With the two cancellations we were still full, with 15 for dinner (not including myself, Mei and Mish).
Here is Mei with the liver, bacon and mushy pea starter (photo by Michelle). The main was trout on a bed of fennel and parmesan, potato rosti and rocket. We were so busy plating it up – a rather labour intensive process – that we forgot to take any photos.
Lavender icecream before the arrival of the chocolate fondant (photo by Mei).
Check out Boo in London’s review of the launch.
Rambling Restaurant hopes to be a weekly event and opens its doors again this Sunday for a Moroccan feast on a rooftop terrace in Bethnal Green! To book please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
You can’t walk far through the streets of Delhi without stumbling into some of these treats…
Sweet paan: this was an exciting mix of ingredients, expertly measured and wrapped up in a betel leaf. There was a bit of a language barrier at the little paan shack I tried, and neither the rickshaw driver who wanted us to try this solid after-dinner digestif, nor the man making it could tell me the ingredients. First he spread the bright green leaf with a mysterious paste, then added a treacley, tobacco-looking mixture. On top of this he placed cubes of what looked like turkish delight – pink, rosy and icing sugar-dusted (some sort of candied fruit). Then he liberally heaped on numerous seeds, including fennel and anise, followed by a huge dollop of honey. It was impossible to squash into my mouth all at once, as you’re meant to, so I politely took the biggest bites I could and stored the stuff in my cheeks, squirrel-style. I chewed and chewed for what seemed like a good ten minutes before I could even talk. Meanwhile the ultra-sweet, bitty liquid threatened to dribble down my chin. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to swallow any of this, but didn’t have much choice when my mouth was so full. And trying to spit out the side of a speeding rickshaw whilst avoiding the backspray of my own paan-flecked spittle was quite a challenge.
Parathas: soft, flaky, impossibly buttery breads. So hot and delicious they often burnt my fingers and the roof of my mouth. These were usually served with potato (aloo) or cauliflower (gobi) inside.
Samosas: crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, with plenty of cumin. Punjabi samosas seemed spicier than those in Delhi, and some of the best were to be found in Amritsar, at Bubby Vaishno Dhaba, a cafe in the covered market near the Golden Temple. They were fresh, crispy and served with sweet, smooth, fruity chutney on the side.
Potato cakes: these fried road-side snacks were surprisingly salty, tasty and filling. Usually served with coriander chutney.
Splash Family Restaurant & Bar, Minto Road, near Minto Bridge, New Delhi 110002, Tel: 23233856/57/58
We were taken to this restaurant by a wayward rickshaw driver who insisted we would like it and he was right. There was a strangely enormous white stone cup and saucer outside, tourists and expats inside. It was the first place we’d eaten where drinking alcohol seemed to be the norm and the big bottles of Kingfisher were overwhelming. The matar gobi (peas cauliflower) was delicious, with plenty of fresh ginger in it. The veg korma was creamy and cardomom infused. These dishes were accompanied by the softest, butteriest peshwari naans, flecked with sweet pink coconut. They were so buttery they were almost parathas. Both curries were also swimming in butter and were so rich we could barely move afterwards. Yum.
I tried making chapatis (rotis/Indian flatbreads) the other day, to go with my matar mushroom. I’ve made them twice before and it seemed pretty simple at the time. Hmmm. I got overly enthusiastic and lugged a huge sack of wheat flour (or atta) home from the shops. Meanwhile my friend searched out a YouTube video with clear instructions of what to do (a video that now seems to have disappeared).
It was a lot like making pastry: work flour and fat (oil) into crumbs, add water to make into a dough, rest and roll out. But I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet…
My chapatis didn’t puff up in the pan like they did in the video. They just sort of stayed hard and flat. You’re meant to press down on the bubbles that form, so forcing the air into other parts of the chapati. When I did this, either the air refused to budge or I popped a hole in the dough so it escaped altogether. Each one got a little easier though, until they were just about decent and half puffed up.
On Saturday evening I headed to Brixton for the opening of Ellie and Rosie’s Salad Club. What is salad club? It’s one of London’s new living-room restaurants and serves a four course meal for a suggested donation of just £15. I must admit I was a little worried and had visions of a secret, super-skinny, salad-worshipping society, but Ellie set me straight. The name comes from a time when she and her friend Rosie used to go to the gym together once a week and follow it up with a salad and a good catch-up. This they called Salad Club. They are obviously good girls – my post-gym sessions used to involve an enormous amount of pizza and so convinced me that going to the gym was actually bad for me. Twisted logic. Anyway… the girls’ salads got bigger and better week by week until they decided they should probably share them with the rest of us, along with plenty of non-salad type food too.
Every Sunday for the past 30 years, people have been wending their way to a converted sculpture studio in Paris to have dinner with Louisiana-born legend Jim Haynes. Over 100,000 people from all over the world have been to his home. Children have been conceived here and come back to cook feasts; artists and writers have found inspiration; models have had photoshoots taken; those without a place to stay have kipped on the sofa for a night and ended up staying for years… Everyone is welcome and Jim is fantastic at remembering names, making introductions and making sure that everyone is talking to those they haven’t met before.
Jim really has grabbed life with both hands (plus fingers and toes): dancing with prostitutes in Venezuela, putting on hits at the Edinburgh festival, co-launching Suck, the sexual freedom newspaper, directing the Wet Dream Film Festival in Amsterdam, hanging out with Germaine Greer in Italy and the Rolling Stones in France, to name but a few memorable moments. He also taught Media Studies and Sexual Politics at the University of Paris 8 for 30 years.
I went along last Sunday afternoon to see the preparations for this weekly feast. This time Mary Bartlett, who regularly cooks here, was in charge. And she was so calm I couldn’t believe it! With years of cooking at Jim’s, plus previous catering experience under her belt, she makes preparing a three-course meal for 100 look easy.
The menu that day was Indian pea soup, followed by 6-hour roast pork crusted with thyme, fennel seeds, wine, salt and pepper, not to to mention the 100 clovers of garlic – yes, 100 cloves of garlic! This was served with new potatoes and green salad.
Dessert was strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar and sugar, served with pine nut biscuits.
Rather surprisingly, the fridge and freezer are just normal kitchen size and the larder consists of a few shelves behind a curtain. But storage is not an issue, as most of the food is delivered by trusted local suppliers on the day of cooking. See Mary’s blog for her cooking tips and techniques. She has also co-authored a book with Antonia Hoogewerf and Catherine Monnet called Throw a great Party, inspired by evenings in Paris with Jim Haynes. Catherine was a ballet dancer from Los Angeles and set up the feasts with Jim in the seventies. Although she now lives in Shanghai, her son was there that evening carving up the pork.
The calm before the storm: by 5pm all the food is prepared, with just the last minute heating, carving, salad-dressing and bread chopping to do. Jim and Mary sit down to ponder the evening ahead. Jim has a paper of names (including a waiting list), a highlighter and telephone at the ready, as he takes confirmation calls throughout the day. We’re all hoping for sunshine, so we can spill out onto the steps outside.
It’s not the biggest space…
Jim’s plan: stay at home and get paid.
People arrived from 7.30 onwards and the meal was smoothly served buffet style. People lounged on the sofa, perched on chairs, meandered about between the food, the drinks shelf, inside and outside. The place was buzzing, but never too crowded.
I met all sorts of people, including a lady from Chicago who used to dance the can-can at the Gaslight Club from Paris, a photographer from Palestine, an English butcher and his Italian wife who had a real passion for food and the co-founder of Salad Club, a new living-room restaurant in London that launched last night.
It was a truly inspiring evening all-round and the Rambling Restaurant launch is on Sunday 7th June! Email me at email@example.com to reserve a place or for more information.