Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sunday Supper Club – Big Event for a Big Weekend

It’s not often that you will pass a driving test, have your last day at work, found a new flatmate, do your first supper club and witness the birth of your first niece over the course of one weekend... So you can imagine that last weekend was rather a special one.

The driving test proved the old adage third time lucky to be true and I’m now the proud aunt of one very cute niece Summer, whom I hope to influence in ways good and bad in the years to come. She’ll definitely have to put up with old aunty Julianna butting into her life fairly frequently, because after watching the closing stages of my sister’s labour, I’m fairly confident that I will not be running to do that anytime soon myself. The horror....

Moving swiftly on, the 19th of September proved to be a big day – not only was it the day Summer was born, but it was also the day I held my first not so secret Crumbs and Dirty Dishes Sunday Supper Club.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a supper club for a while... some of the most enjoyable nights out I’ve recently had have been eating in other people’s homes or random factories in Dalston (see Shacklewell Nights). And so, after dithering and dithering I bit the bullet, sent out the emails and started plotting the menu.

The experience proved to be a fun one... I can’t say that waking up at 9am in Dalston after a rather heavy party on Friday night and having to hare my way back to Brixton to do some market shopping pre-flat viewings was quite the way I would have planned it. Neither was waking up at 5am on the Sunday to start the cooking.

A call from my sister at 11am, just as everything was ticking along nicely to say that her labour had started kept things nice and spicy (especially as I was one of the birth partners) – the afternoon was punctuated by progress reports and I had fingers and toes crossed that I’d make it in time for the birth.

By the time people rolled into Brixton at two, we were merrily doling out the Bellinis and trying to stop ourselves scoffing the Brie, Pancetta and Mussel Tartlets that smelt so tempting in the oven.

These were followed by braised lamb shanks with parsnip gratin and wild mushroom gravy, which went down particularly well and the blackberry and clotted cream shortcake appeared to have found a few fans.

As someone who is frequently tormented by the choice between cheese or pudding (a choice between cheese and anything is always particularly unfair) I’d decided to serve both... the cheeseboard consisted of a ripe Brie, Cambozola, Dolcelatte, Cheddar, goat’s cheese and herbed Feta sourced from a new love, the Portuguese delicatessan under the Brixton railway arches.

But essentially a supper club is about the people. Our crowd was fantastic – so I’d like to say a big thank you to them and my very helpful sous-chef Natalie for making it such a special afternoon. And Nadine for the wonderful photos.

Dates for October/ November’s supper clubs are as follows:
10th October
7th November
28th November

Price: Twenty pounds including four courses and a welcome drink. BYO booze.
Email to sign up or to be added to the email update list.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gin gin ginned – The Elgin

Once in a while, you’ll form a tumultuous relationship with a food or drink that will rock you to the core and never leave you the same again, in the manner of Scarlett and Rhett. The first one I remember was with Marmite. As a nipper I loved the stuff.

I won’t go into full details in case you marmite haters chunder a little in your mouth but my memories include the usual suspects – Marmite and Toast, Marmite and crackers but also a few more erratic dishes (Marmite, baked beans and mashed potato anyone) and sometimes a grubby finger dipped straight into that brown pot and transferred straight to the mouth. Then, one day, I woke up and I hated the stuff. I still can’t get my nose near the pot without going an unflattering shade of ashen brown and getting all wriggly about the mouth.

The reverse has been true of gin. I don’t remember having any childhood opinions about gin (well, it would be rather worrying if I did) but I know that when I went to uni, the general impression I had about the stuff was that it was a) The drink of old whiskery ladies b) absolutely vomit-inducingly vile.

To say I disliked it could take the prize as the understatement of the century, so much so that when a friend decided to start up the Oxford Gin Appreciation Society (OGAS), I put myself forward for the role of equal drinks opportunities officer. But, as Sam wrote more and more letters to the various gin distilleries dotted about the UK and the bottles of free gin started to land on our doorsteps, I found myself increasingly tempted. Surely it couldn’t be that bad?

The ice was completely broken one night when we held the OGAS Gin Olympics (known as watching Eurovision with various gin-based dishes such as gin pineapple upside down cake and gin jelly to the rest of the world) and I discovered that gin was really quite nice. And we’ve been in love since, happily ever after and all that crap.

So, when the old gin palace in Ladbroke Grove The Elgin reopened a year ago, I was intrigued... Other than their continuing association with dodgy Victorian types, gin palaces haven’t received much attention over recent years. And this was one that claimed to have over 35 gins behind the bar and served some excellent food to boot.

My recent trip to Bob Bob Ricard had got me thinking about the pairing of alcohol and food. Wine of course, but even beer and vodka have received their fair share of exploration in terms of pairing with food. But gin? Not so much... So I had a chat with the manager at The Elgin to see if she could put together a few things and she did.

A dense, meat-packed smoked duck salad was paired with a Cauronn gin all the way from Speyside, Scotland, which brought out the rich flavours of the duck quite well, the smoked salmon salad with a saffron gin was another winner.

My favourite by far was the grilled sea bass, which was served with a Hendrick’s gin and tonic with cucumber instead of the lime. Not only was the cucumber an ideal foil for the delicate sea bass, but the overall effect was one of a light and refreshing meal that suited a late-summer’s evening to a t.

Unsurprisingly Clare voted that her steak would have been better off with a red wine, but it was an experiment that was worth doing and, she was still left with a gorgeous steak that she put swiftly away before guzzling the gin afterwards.

We were too full for dessert – so instead we sipped on a sloe gin on the rocks as a sweet ending to the meal before tottering off home. It definitely got me thinking, if you have any ideas about the pairings, give me a shout I’d be very interested to hear them.

Waiting rating: Ingenious pairing of food and gin. Nuff said.
Scoffing potential: Almost as good as the drinking potential, which is almost unlimited.
Wallet buddy: Not too cheap, not at all steep as we like to say down at the Grove.
The crowd: Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts popping in from Notting Hill for a quiet bite and drink rah rah rah
96 Ladbroke Grove,
Ladbroke Grove
020 7229 5663