I see a lot of articles at the moment – the most anticipated restaurant openings for 2016, the food trends to be expected, what’s in, what’s out. Forget it all. Try something else. Go back to sharing a table with strangers, to homemade food, authenticity and conviviality.
Remember? This is what kitchen pop-ups and supperclubs are all about. A warmer kind of evening. To each its theme, of course. Classical, exotic, decadent, fun. They could be anywhere – you will only know the address after booking as these mostly take place in people’s home. For the chef of the evening (some are pros, others passionate and super skilled and this has led to some recipe book deals), it means a wonderful freedom: they can choose how many people can join, the date (some do it weekly, others monthly but you could also do it twice a year), the menu (one for the whole table). The guests get… a family vibe, an adventure. You may be dining with complete strangers but you already have a lot in common with them – a love of good food and a natural curiosity, enough to get the conversation started! The atmosphere is relaxed and always includes good laughs. Let alone, this is an amazing opportunity to learn about a different culture.
So how can you find these gems? Well, you can Google, compare. Or you could use Tabl, a fab site listing events in London, Brighton and Sussex. They include really fun concepts like Eat your art (sauces, coulis make wonderful paint and you might be the next Culinary Picasso), a Japanese supperclub, a Mad Hatter’s Brunch, a DIY cocktail workshop, a dinner inspired by ancient Rome, a Venetian banquet… In two clicks, you access the list of your choice, you book and pay online – easy and quick.
I decided on a Bita F’s Persian Feast, a cuisine I know so very little about. I would not know where to start in choosing a restaurant in London. I did expect Middle East style dishes but oh, was I wowed. No less than 10 different taste associations awaited. Sipping on a spiced pear cocktail, we tried some traditional starters: Sabzi-Khordan (a salad mixing lots of fresh herbs – dill, coriander, basil, chives, tarragon – with creamy feta, walnuts and radish cut open to look like little flowers), olives marinated in Persian spices and lemon, as well as Kashk-o-Bademjoon (a roasted aubergine dip topped with herbs, walnuts, a whey sauce and a touch of saffron). Oh, and of course, delicious, warm Lavash bread, similar to naan.
The spell had just begun. We then fell for two magical ingredients, pomegranate juice and barberries, tiny, sweet and sour berries. And so we filled, emptied, filled our plates again (feast was not an understatement): Zereshk polo (a Persian rice with saffron and barberries, sprinkled with grilled pumpkin seeds – the best part being the more cooked, really crunchy part at the bottom of the dish), Shirazi salad (cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, fresh herbs), Khoresht-e-Fesenjoon (a stew bringing together chicken, onions, walnuts and pomegranate juice), Mahi Shekam-Por (salmon filled with chopped nuts and herbs and cooked with pomegranate juice). Many words come to mind – divine, succulent, exquisite. And more, please! Persian generosity when it comes to food has to be applauded and yet we could not finish all the dishes – although we were kindly offered to take some back home if we wanted.
We did keep some appetite for dessert – who could refuse a beautifully rolled sponge cake, flavoured with rosewater and filled with pistachio cream? Step away, Pierre Hermé, your Ispahan may be wonderful but this is better still. We finished on a Chai-Sib – a spiced kind of apple tea.
I wish I could have stayed longer. Ask about music, cinema, learn a few more expressions. But the evening had gone so fast and it was time to catch the last train back home. I hope there will be a spring and summer feast too!
Food Adventurism. See? There is no need to go very far to travel…
>> For more kitchen pop-ups and supperclubs, check out Tabl! <<
>> Photos by Bita F., the wonderful chef who welcomed us to her Persian feast <<