Windrush Square, Brixton (now being re-developed) – the new Dalston innit
The Happiness Project London is certainly not a trend setter, but maybe a trend follower… if slightly behind most people. But I get there eventually.
Anyway, three London food trends have recently blipped onto my radar. The first is the trend for no reservations. Hello Polpo, Wahaca, Tapas Brindisa, and Randall & Aubin. I wrote about how queuing at Randall & Aubin made the night, but to be fair I didnt queue for long, and sipped Malbec all the time. I’m not sure I quite understand the point otherwise. I’ve tried and failed to eat at Brindisa a few times; left Polpo after being told we’d have to wait an hour and a half, with nowhere to sit. Wahaca will call you back from the pub – only you have to be there with your full party which is useless if someone habitually rocks up 20 mins late (sorry guys). I’m sure it would be fine if you chose to eat at 6pm or 10pm, but I’m a crazy chick who likes to eat my dinner at dinner time so these places just won’t work for me. Which is a shame.
The second is a wierd obsession amongst food bloggers for macaroni cheese. And calling it “Mac and Cheese”. I hadn’t realised it was a cult favourite but now I want to eat Mac and Cheese all the time, thanks.
The third trend, and now I get to my point, is for underground restaurants. The idea started in New York – two fingers up to expensive, formal restaurants and a celebration by foodies of great cooking in an intimate, relaxed venue – part dinner party, part Come Dine With Me. In London, they’re popping up all over the place, from Ms Marmite Lover’s well established The Underground Restaurant in Kilburn, the Hart & Fuggle pop-up restaurant near Brick Lane, or The Loft run by an ex-El Bulli chef at his hackney home.
But, I was keen to try something relaxed and local, and heard amazing things about the Saltoun Supper Club (see reviews by Jay Rayner, Around Britain With A Paunch, and The London Foodie, among others). Saltoun Road is in the heart of Brixton – by the Effra pub, the Ritzy cinema, the new Windrush Square (see photo above – sadly I’m still not comfortable taking photos in food venues so you’ll have to check the websites above for some great photies). Brixton is an exciting place to be right now and what better in this throbbing metropolis than a cool venue for great food.
Photo of inside the Saltoun Supper Club – thanks to Arno for the photo
So, El G and I, supper club virgins both, went along last Wednesday evening and found ourselves having quite an amazing experience. Two days before our booking, the chef and owner of the flat, Arno emailed us the menu:
Winter Vegetable Salad with Mandarin Oil
Truffle infused Cauliflower and Pecorino Gnocchi
Roasted Duck Breast
On the day, Arno sent another email with the exact address, and reminding us to bring a bottle (or two). I loved all the intrigue, mystery – much more exciting than a normal restaurant.
I wasn’t sure what to expect and was a little nervous – both of us being fairly crap in formal social situations. Would we stand in silence watching Arno cook? Would we have to introduce ourselves to the group? Were we “foodie” enough? But it was far more comfortable and restaurant-like than I’d thought. We arrived just after 7.30pm and the fantastically friendly John answered the door, took our coats and showed us to our table. There were 3 other tables with 15 people in total, an eclectic mix of ages and personalities. The flat is gorgeous – apparently the decor changes every week along with the menu – butterflies and assorted novelties on one wall; rustic plates and bowls on another; fishing tackle on the outside wall; a neon-lit virgin mary above the loo. We immediately felt at ease – John opened our wine, everyone was chatting, it felt very cosy.
Arno himself was not quite like I imagined. He’s a friendly, arty, interesting guy who – moustache, tweed and braces – looked like a funky version of the British airmen in ‘Allo ‘Allo. He cooked diligently in the kitchen all evening until we received the petit fours when he made his way round each of the tables, chatting to the guests. He just loved food, loved people – as you must to invite 15 strangers into your kitchen twice a week.
So to the food. The winter vegetable starter was lovely – fresh, light and tasty and the only time that I’ve enjoyed sprouts other than christmas day. The gnocchi was delicious, with tasty califlower and a light truffle sauce. During the 15 minute break I went upstairs to chat to the other guests and snoop at the rest of the flat. One of the tables had been back three times (Arno told us later we could happily come back but had to bring someone new if we did), and the conversation settled on this trend for underground restaurants. Back down to the best bit of the meal – a delicious juicy duck breast perfectly cooked with celeriac mouse, roast celery (who knew celery and duck went so well together?) and perfect roast potatoes – El G was delighted. Finally, three types of chocolate and petits fours including love hearts, over mint tea.
It was cool, relaxed, foodie but not pretentious, very Brixton somehow.
We left around 11pm talking about who we could take back (hopefully Arno will allow me to after the ‘Allo ‘Allo comment) (update: all good). We had 3 1/2 hours of lovely food, washed down with our BYO wine (2006 Villa Antinori from Waitrose, discovered in Florence), with fantastic conversation, uninterrupted by over-intrusive waiting staff. All this for £25 each suggested donation (update: this is £30 from this week onwards). For the great quality of the food, this is undoubtedly the best value meal in London.
UPDATE: The suggested donation per head is £30 from this week onwards – still a bargain for the time spent and the food you get, well worth it. Check out the Facebook page for more information and photos.