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.
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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.