Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Sheen Suppers - An Underground Supper Club

No doubt, in part fuelled by the recession, the past year has seen the emergence of something very new in Britain's dining scene... the rise of the underground supper club. These dining operations run by enthusiastic foodies (And in some cases, professional Chefs) in their own homes offer a relaxed atmosphere, illicit experience and sheer value for money that full time restaurants find impossible to match. They are starting to pop up all over the country. Held in locations which remain a closely guarded secret until you actually book, this is 'the' dining experience for the now grown up, two kids and a mortgage rave generation.

A recent gloomy Friday evening found myself, the GF, fellow food blogger FoodUrchin and his wife making our way South on a train from Waterloo to an unfamiliar, to me at least, East Sheen....Food Urchin had booked a table at an underground restaurant called 'Sheen Suppers' run by Lara, and had invited myself and the GF to join him.

After a brisk 10 walk from the train station, stopping on the way in a handily located pub for a quick pre-dinner sharpener, we arrived in a darkened but obviously attractive street lined with Victorian houses located just off the High Street. Our anticipation was heightened somewhat by FoodUrchin forgetting the address and knocking at a bemused neighbours door.

Finally, after profuse apologies we were stepping through the threshold into 'Sheen Suppers' being greeted warmly by Lara and gazing curiously around her beautiful home as coats were taken and we were ushered politely into the dining room proper. This is a large part of the attraction of the whole underground restaurant vibe, especially for my GF who could politely be described as just 'slightly nosey'....the chance to look around a strangers home.....we've all done it almost unconsciously, walking or driving down a street at night, and glancing up briefly into a brightly lit picture of someone else's domestic life through an un-curtained window, a brief instant - a momentary snapshot, but this is the motherload....a snoopers charter amped up on crack.....your in a complete strangers home, and they're cooking dinner for you!

At this point we were introduced to Lara's partner Iain, playing the part of the friendly and obviously very knowledgeable wine waiter for the evening...he had matched all four courses served with different wines (included in the price) - and very successfully too I should add.
Of course, we had brought our own wine along too to supplement the supply.
The table was beautifully laid, with a bowl of olives and jug of water and a printed menu for the evening.

Whilst we were settling in, other friendly diners were arriving in a steady stream, sixteen in total and were being shown to their tables and offered a pre-dinner drink. The lighting was subdued, the room extremely attractive and interesting from an interior design point of view, Lara obviously having something of an eye for it. A subtle jazz soundtrack provided the backdrop for the constant murmured chatter, punctuated every now and again by laughter from our fellow diners. It all felt extremely relaxed, and incredibly professional - like a de-facto restaurant in fact.

Iain arrived to pour us a glass of Pulenta Estate Chardonnay, Mendoza 2007 which he had matched with the first course which arrived shortly after, a steaming bowl of Celeriac and Potato Soup, draped with a slice of smoked Salmon and topped with a fried Quails egg, a couple of slices of soda bread for dipping offered at the side of the bowl. rich, creamy, slightly sweet - it was a beautiful starter, I really enjoyed it. The wine worked very well with it, complimenting the flavour. Having had my own recent traumatic experience matching, in my case, proesecco with food, I can appreciate how hard it is to get right. Kudos to Iain.

Bowls cleared, and settling back easily into our chairs, with that contented glow that good food and wine provides we didn't have to wait too long for Iain to appear again proffering a bottle of Te Mania, Nelson Pinot Noir 2008 with which to accompany our main course, Braised Belly of Pork with Crackling, served with a BlackPudding Faggot (notable by it's absence - more about this later), Roast Potato, and autumn vegetable puree. Gorgeous, once again beautifully cooked and tender Pork Belly, the perfectly crisp crackling, the vegetable puree and roast potato combined to make a cracking plate of food. The matched wine, again, full marks for a great choice. A quick note here about how much I admired the restraint shown with the portion control, this being something I struggle with myself. I always cook way too much, and heap food on my guests plates - Lara's food was perfectly portioned in just the right size servings for four courses, I couldn't have eaten more if I'd tried. It's something that's quiet hard to get right.

Relaxed and chatting, nicely composed individual cheese plates arrived with Iain in tow this time bearing a more than welcome bottle of Taylors LBV Port.

After polishing off the cheese, our plates cleared - the final course, dessert arrived, Banana Caramel Pudding, with chocolate & rum sauce, cream and a banana wafer. I'm not the biggest fan of banana in desserts but I really enjoyed this, leaving barely a crumb to signpost it's brief appearance on my plate just minutes earlier. Coffee followed quickly after.

A note here about the toilet located under the stairs in the hall - it's a fantastic, crazily decorated space with hundreds of photos, adverts, pictures......really unusual and fun.

Exiting from a brief visit to admire said toilet, I spied through the open kitchen door, co-diner FoodUrchin speaking to Lara, her assistant Kim and Iain in the Kitchen and invited myself in to have a drunken chat. The wreckage of every dinner party you've ever had magnified tenfold littered the worktops and sink. Successfully cooking three courses for sixteen in a domestic kitchen must be a study in the art of kitchen management. Despite this Lara and Co. looked relaxed and fairly happy about the way the evening had gone, although understandably self critical - (aren't we all when cooking for others?) The mystery of the missing black pudding faggot was solved, Lara, frank with her statement that they weren't upto scratch - so didn't get served. We chatted for ten minutes or so about all things foodie related, and then made our way back to our table to finish up, collect our partners -and leave our payment for the meal on the table.

Emerging into the suburban night from Sheen Suppers, to make our way drunkenly, back to the station and home, we were all extremely happy with the whole experience. I really enjoyed myself, the food and drink were great, the atmosphere first class, the people - both our fellow diners, and Lara, Iain and Kim, our hosts incredibly friendly... I couldn't recommend a visit to Sheen Suppers and in fact the whole underground supper club experience enough.

Our meal, four courses with matched wine, was £25 per head.

To book Sheen Suppers email:- sheensuppers@googlemail.com

Or alternatively you can make contact through the website:-
Where, you'll also find the details of many other underground supper clubs located throughout the UK.


Food Urchin said...

Ha ha oh yes, ahem, that of course was a deliberate ploy. It's all part of the experience when visiting an underground restaurant to er...knock at the wrong house.

Great review (must pull my finger out)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for reviewing about this - I'd never heard of it before...but now booking a Christmas present for the parents seems a very appropriate response!

Rosie of BooksAndBakes

Merlotti said...

Dan, this looks great! I really must get involved with the foodie London scene a little more; not wokring or living in London has its drawbacks though. Will be making a visit to an underground restaurant very soon! Any ideas how it all works?

The Ample Cook said...

That was a brilliant write up Dan. Very descriptive.

That looks like a great meal and what a bargain!

Graphic Foodie said...

Very interesting. I'm still yet to experience the underground restaurant scene. LOVE the backed out faces in the top pic by the way - makes it all seem the more illicit! (Or that someone is going to crack another guest over the head with a candlestick at any moment-eek)

Gourmet Chick said...

Sounds great Dan - I went to an underground London in Paris but have yet to experience one in London - Sheen Suppers sounds like a good one - what is Lara's background or is she just an enthusiastic amateur like the rest of us?

Dan said...

Food Urchin, Thanks for asking me along! Looking forward to your post.

Booksandbakes - Thanks for the comment, agreed, I reckon this would make a great chistmas present for a foodie.

Merlotti - Cheers, I've DM'd you on twitter about an underground supper club located in Blackheath that's convenient for Essex (and also supposed to be excellent).

Jan - Thanks, it was a bargain £25 for 4 courses matched with wine.....cracking stuff :)

Grafoo - Cheers. I blacked out the faces as Andy McNab and his family were dining there that night.....

GC - Lara's background, believe she is an enthusiastic amateur like the rest of us. I asked her and she said that she loves cooking for large groups and said she likes to push herself and her cooking skills. Interestingly, she also said that a lot of the diners are local people and that's key for her, providing a service to local people. Her BF Iain, is something of an amateur wine expert and certainly seems to know his stuff.

Ollie said...

Lovely write-up Dan: sounds a great evening. Shame the faggots weren't up to scratch.

Dan said...

Oliver - Thanks a lot, coming from you that's some compliment. Yep, it was a shame about the faggots - but they weren't missed that much in the end, the main was very nice as it was.

TC said...

Great write-up. I am building up to attending one of these underground suppers, but need to convince my husband that it is safe!

Niamh said...

Ooooh! I love the idea of that soup. At £25 with wine, it sounds like a bargain. I must check it out.

gastrogeek said...

fab write up Dan, that toilet sounds very interesting. There are so many pop ups now it's difficult to work out which ones are actually worth going to!

Dan said...

TC - Thanks! go on, give it a go :) it's safe!

Niamh - the soup was lovely, and yep £25 is a bargain in anyones book.

Gastrogeek - Thanks Rej, also high praise coming from you! The toilet ha! as toilets go, yes it was interesting. Supper clubs, well - I have my eye on Savoy Truffle Club, MsMarmitelovers and the pale blue door. (not a million miles from your neck of the woods that one).

LexEat! said...

Sounds like a brilliant night! I am heading to my first supper club in November and am very excited! Think I shall have to check out this one too - looks gorgeous.

Dan said...

Lex - which one you going to if you dont mind me asking?

Mervyn Dinnen said...

Dan, that was a great review..I was also there that evening and can concur with everything you said about the food, wine and atmosphere!

It was our second experience at Sheen Suppers, and as impressed as I was with the first, I felt this was even better.

Cannot recommend highly enough.

LexEat said...

Dan - am headed to Rambling Restaurant in a couple of Sunday's time. Fingers crossed ...

Dan said...

Mervyn Dinnen - Thanks for your comment, agreed, great evening. Well done to Lara and Co.

Lex - Rambling Restaurant, fantastic, looking forward to reading about that on your blog!

Lara said...

Thanks for the all the lovely comments! Another great night on Friday and pleased it's going so well.

Granite Worktops said...

Nice article! These dishes look delicious. Thanks for sharing the pics.

Anonymous said...

Hiya, great review. We're exploring the idea of setting up a Guerilla Restaurant, it involves a small field kitchen a van, a small marquee and portable ablutions. Diners will book ahead but only be told the venue at the last minute (very rave culture.) early days yet but very exciting.

Fidel Gastro & Chef Guevara

Kate Merle said...

Can you DM me about how to get involved? I'm an ex-pat and would love to meet more local people since I don't live in London.