Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Summer supper club

Back in May, the lovely Lia Leendertz, gardening writer for the Guardian and the Telegraph, came to speak to Malago WI about growing edibles in pots. During her talk, she mentioned the Supper Club that she and fellow gardening writer, Juliet Roberts, founded earlier in the year. It sounded fascinating, and as soon as I saw the tweet advertising places for Lia and Juliet's Summer Supper Club I swiftly booked my place.

On Saturday at 8pm I arrived at Lia's house, not really knowing what to expect - this was my first foray into the world of supper clubs. Most of the other guests had arrived, and we were introduced out on Lia's candlelit verandah. Mint Julep in one hand, broad bean crostini in the other, it was a very promising start.

Lia's garden was beautiful, as of course you'd expect it to be, with fairy lights twisting round tree trunks and creeping like tendrils out into the threatening night sky. The potted plants by our feet were bright and obscenely green. Much of the produce on the menu was grown by Lia and Juliet, either in their gardens or at their allotments. July is the perfect month to sample some of England's best edibles so I was very excited when we were ushered into the dining room for our first course, ten of us around a beautifully-laid table.

The chilled cucumber soup with dill oil and borage arrived in a tea cup, picture perfect. I admit to having been a little apprehensive about this course as I'm not a huge fan of cucumber, but L&J managed to capture the essence of cucumber in a delicious soup which was exactly the right temperature and consistency. I was converted.

Next, a tempura courgette flower filled with mozzarella and served with homemade pesto. Much more my thing, and I think I was the only guest to go for seconds of this course. Later in the meal I understood why the more seasoned supper clubbers resisted, but I am greedy at the best of times and couldn't resist another taste of this lovely dish.

Supper clubs are usually BYO as they are unlicensed, and my fellow guests were beginning to relax as  conversations moved beyond small talk. At my end of the table I spoke to a fellow blogger and her partner, a photographer, a teacher, and an interior designer, all of whom were interesting and friendly. Many guests had come on their own which added to the sense of ease with which we conversed. Further down the table sat a fellow WI member, and the subject of the Women's Institute engulfed the entire table at one point.

My favourite course was the baby vegetable tarte tatin with allotment veg a la Francais, which came with garlickly, oily potatoes. The tart was utterly delicious - the pastry was perfect, the vegetables still had a bit of bite and included fennel which worked so well with the flavour of the caramelised tart. The allotment veg featured all my favourites - baby leeks, lettuce and peas.

But then came the allotment salad. Everything grown by L&J, the lightly-dressed lettuce bed was peppered with patty pan squash and jewelled with nasturtium leaves and flowers, and marigold petals. I have a well-documented love of edible flowers, so this was my idea of heaven.

Just when I thought I couldn't eat another mouthful, out came the piece de resistance - gooseberry knickerbocker glory. Layers of gooseberry puree, elderflower ice cream, crushed shortbread, and chantilly cream came in a traditional KG glass, with crystallisted elderflowers, a generous chunk of shortbread, and topped with a pink gooseberry. It was possibly the best pudding I've ever eaten. Pink gooseberries! I didn't even know they existed. I just wished I had turned down that second courgette flower as I really couldn't eat all my pudding, despite giving it a good go.

Finally, Lia served a fresh lemon verbena tea with a small Middle Eastern cake called a honey and rose basboosa scattered with crystallised rose petals. Somehow I managed to find room for this final treat - lucky, as it was fabulous.

By this time, Lia and Juliet joined in the conversation at the table - until that point, they'd been working hard in the kitchen in full view of the table, which must've been somewhat stressful. You'd never know it, though, as they both seemed so calm.

Supper clubs are a great way to meet people and sample some amazingly inventive, home-cooked food in a lovely relaxed environment. I'd recommend joining Lia and Juliet's mailing list, Bristol/southwest folk, as this small, quarterly supper club is a rare treat. I can't wait to find out what they're planning for the Autumn menu.

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