Tag Archives: underground restaurants

rambling restaurant

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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).

mei & liver, bacon, pea starter

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.

homemade lavender ice cream

Lavender icecream before the arrival of the chocolate fondant (photo by Mei).

intense conversations

Looks like some rather intense conversation going on. Thanks to Andre (of The Worm and Antic Banquet festival) for making coffee and to Horton (of The Secret Ingredient) for finding it…

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 ramblingrestaurant@googlemail.com

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salad club

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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dinner with Jim Haynes

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.

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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.

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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.

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Dessert was strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar and sugar, served with pine nut biscuits.

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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.

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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.

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It’s not the biggest space…

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Jim’s plan: stay at home and get paid.

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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.

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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 ramblingrestaurant@googlemail.com to reserve a place or for more information.

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the secret ingredient

 

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One dark and wintery Wednesday after work I made my way to Newington Green. It took me a while, some unnecessary rattling of a locked gate and the asking of a couple of passers-by before I found the entrance to The Secret Ingredient. One of my friends was equally confused and we had a couple of exasperating mobile phone conversations:
– Well where are you?
– I’m here, where are you?
– I’m here…
– Well you can’t be because I’m here and I can’t see you…
– What direction are you facing?
– Ah, there you are.

Strangely, the other four didn’t seem to have any trouble finding it, but hey, it was living up to its name so far for two of us. At ground level, around the back of a block of flats, a turquoise sofa finally drew me to the right place. From outside I could see into the kitchen, where our host Horton Jupiter was rushing about in a cool stripey apron, chopping, mixing, plating and gesticulating wildly at a girl in a chic flowery dress. This turned out to be his lovely girlfriend Rachel, who welcomed us in and was our gracious waitress for the evening. She led me through to the dining room, where two other guests had already arrived and were chatting about naked bingo or something similar. 

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Our party of six had a table for four and a sofa for two. Although we appreciated being able to sink into the cushions and liked the small home-made circular tablecloth laid on a mini-table on wheels, the two of us on the sofa did feel a bit left out. However, Rachel was happy to let us turn the wheelie on its side, use it as a chair and squeeze in around the bigger table. The whole restaurant seemed to join in and had suggestions on the re-arrangement of the furniture too.

We cracked open the bubbly we’d brought and toasted several things – two new jobs and one successful CRB check (don’t ask). Meanwhile, in the kitchen… Horton, who had originally announced:
– I’m more organised than I’ve ever been tonight! I really do feel rather relaxed about it all…
…was becoming increasingly frenzied as the time ticked by and the food wasn’t quite ready yet. He popped his head around the door every once in a while to check that we were okay and we certainly were. The dining room was cosy – softly candlelit with tea-lights and three tables of excited diners.

The menu was a vegetarian Japanese feast. We began with a small starter of pickled onion each. Some didn’t eat much of this at all for fear of onion breath, while others ate two portions and could’ve eaten more. Next came a dish stunningly presented on a mirror: crunchy cabbage maki, sesame-flavoured carrots delicately tied in seaweed, a beautifully cut radish with a mini lemon slice and some raw apple chutney. I won’t spoil the rest of the seven-course menu for those that want to go there, but it was good.

There was a second sitting after ours and the diners arrived as we were still eating our star fruit. Luckily for us, and unluckily for the hungry arrivals, these were friends of the cook, so he sent them packing to the pub down the road while we finished the last drop of hot sake and ambled out.

Not only a talented cook, Horton Jupiter is also in pop band They Came From The Stars. I met him at the opening of The Underground Restaurant a few weeks ago, another private dining room which is opening its doors to the public once a week. These two super supper clubs might be just the start of something new on the London restaurant scene and I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye out for more popping up. But get in there fast, as the prices are rising. The Underground Restaurant (every Saturday) is already charging £25, while the minimum suggested donation at The Secret Ingredient (every Wendesday) has gone up to £15.

Personally, I think this one is worth every penny.

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the underground restaurant

I haven’t posted anything up here for nearly four weeks and feel somewhat shamefaced about it. But, thanks to MsMarmitelover and her inspiring living room, now known as The Underground Restaurant, I’m back in the posting saddle. In the chic, chandeliered home of this photographer/writer/cook I met two fellow food bloggers – the lovely London Eater and the infamous Bellaphon. They both gently persuaded me that it really is best to keep up with the blogging.

dsc00767The concept of a restaurant at home is a good one, fully explored by Jim Hayes, an American in Paris who hosts up to 120 people for Sunday dinner every week. You get the thrill of eating out, but at less expense, less choice and the bonuses of nosying into someone else’s home environment and of meeting new people.

I went with my friend Michelle, someone equally excited by new eating experiences as I am. Our evening didn’t get off to the best start. We hurried for the Silverlink from Camden to Brondesbury only to see it chugging out of the station a minute early, leaving us stranded on the platform with a couple having an increasingly violent domestic, resulting in police, tears and threats of being sectioned.

We finally got to MsML’s Kilburn abode at about 8pm, with the help of an equally confused Bellaphon, found wandering about the street, and some clueless passers-by. It was a joy to be welcomed in to her warm house with a glass of kir. We stood around chatting, admiring the white wooden floorboards, beautifully laid tables, black & white photos and a stylish daughter/waitress in a black & white dress to match, until MsML’s sister heralded the meal with a call to take our seats.dsc00770

So, what was dinner chez MsMarmitelover like? We had fat, juicy kalamata olives to nibble on before the arrival of the starter: an intense tomato soup with plenty of garlic and a deliciously thick texture, as the seeds were left in. This was served with homemade rosemary and garlic focaccia. For mains we had a generous portion of creamy potato and smoked salmon pie with shredded carrot and celeriac (or at least I thought it was celeriac after a couple of glasses of BYO wine…)

dsc00772Then came the fresh-tasting palate cleanser of elderflower jelly, brought along by Bompas & Parr.  And finally, there was a divine bitter chocolate pot, topped with candied orange.

At £10 a pop, this was a bargain and something a bit different.  It will be on every Saturday and I highly recommend giving it a go. Contact theundergroundrestaurant@gmail.com to book a table.  Please note: the price may be going up.

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