Thursday, 6 December 2012
Review: The Unthank Supper Club
You know the bit in Withnail and I where Withnail wakes up in the car and pronounces, "I feel like a pig shat in my head"? Yeah. That.
It's 7.30am on a Saturday (an entirely pointless hour, unless you have children), I've been awake for an hour - with the room feeling like the Titanic post-iceberg - and I've just eaten half a loaf of bread and butter to try and make myself feel less swirly. Ben - who is not troubled by the affliction of hangover insomnia - is still passed out upstairs, after elbowing me in the face at regular intervals throughout the night, and my companions for the morning are the Gilmore Girls.
Who's fault is my current state? You might say it's mine, for drinking all of the fucking wine, but I am holding on to the belief that it is entirely down to the Unthank Supper Club.
>It is now three weeks later. I had to give up after the above two paragraphs, as everything started to jump about the page. And then I moved house, which kind of got in the way<
You're all familiar with the concept of a supper club, yes? Well, just in case (before I go to teach my grandmother to suck some eggs) I'll give you a quick low-down. The idea is that someone (preferably with reasonable cooking skills) opens the doors of their home to paying guests and cooks them a lovely dinner, as an alternative to an expensive trip to a restaurant. You pay a fixed price, you bring your own booze, and it's generally a very relaxed, cosy affair.
I had only been to one supper club before this. And in fact, whilst that called itself a supper club, it turned the concept completely upside down by actually being in the private room of a restaurant. It was also one of the more embarrassing experiences of my life, after I found myself sat next to the editor of Delicious magazine, totally starstruck. When asked what my favourite thing to cook was I replied, dumbstruck, "Er, sausage and mash?". SAUSAGE AND FUCKING MASH. She said she'd contact me about a feature for the magazine. She never did, obviously.
Anyway, the USC is more of your traditional super club affair, but it is by no means basic or unprofessional. The club is the project of husband and wife, Clarissa and Yusuf (Yusuf is a professional chef and Clarissa a very good home cook), whom I stumbled upon through the glorious internet. I'd been googling Norwich supper clubs, as a bit of research, and it turns out they are the only one. Clarissa and I ended up getting in touch through twitter, then ended up in the pub together, and from there on we've been nattering away about utter nonsense and helping each other argue with our other halves.
So that probably makes me a bias reviewer, right? Not really. I'm a blunt bastard, so I'd probably tell them if I hated it, but that makes it all the more of a relief that it was great. And I got fantastically sloshed, which is always a positive, but I can't say it has been entirely helpful to the reviewing process. I have always thought that I would quite like to be a restaurant critic (wouldn't we all), but I have now realised the major downfall - you have to be relatively sober if you want to be able to comment efficiently. There are large sections of the evening which will be lost to me forever. Particularly the row that Ben and I had on the way home and what the hell it was about. And also someone's hilarious comment about custard, which I was determined to commit to memory, but nope, poof, gone.
The USC takes place at the beautiful, grand house of one of Clarissa's friends. It's a monthly affair, and they squeeze in about 25 people on a long banqueting table. £30, 4 courses (plus truffles, but C was quite drunk herself by this point and left them on top of the piano, which meant we got to eat them when everyone else had left) and you bring your own booze. Clarissa goes to great pains before the evening to reassure everyone that the club it is NOTHING to do with swinging, and I'm happy to report that nobody tried to touch me inappropriately (I left my car keys at home just in case).
So what did we eat? For an amuse-bouche (I LOVE SAYING AMUSE-BOUCHE) we had cauliflower three ways with charred apple. Unfortunately I can only remember two of the ways - but it was basically a cauliflower soup with some shavings of raw cauliflower and toasty apple. Yum yum, lovely. A delicate little portion, well seasoned and balanced flavours, with a garnish of sorrel, which C had gone and foraged that morning (yeah, it's OK, I gave her a stern look for being so bloody wholesome and annoying), and she severely berated anyone who left it.
Next we had a starter of citrus cured smoked salmon with shallot and fennel ceviche. I am not the biggest fan of smoked salmon, but I wolfed this down in about ten seconds. The sharpness and crunch of the ceviche balanced out the richness of the salmon, and again the portion size was just right, as I was still ready to eat a horse by the time the main came.
But it wasn't horse, it was lamb. With salt-baked celeriac, celeriac puree, greens and a creamy sauce. I must admit things got a bit hazy by this point, but I KNOW it was good. Lamb was perfectly cooked, and there were pureed carbs, which are basically my favourite thing. I think it was one of those occasions where I ate the fat and gristle, because I have no class.
(I think one of those blobs may be accidental, Yusuf?)
Pudding was a treacle tart with creme anglaise (posh custard to you and me). The tart was really fucking good. You can tell I liked it, as I forgot to take a photo until I'd nearly finished it. Clarissa came over and told us how it wasn't a traditional treacle tart, as it had panko breadcrumbs on top. Ben asked what the difference between regular and panko breadcrumbs was, and together we laughed in his face at his culinary ineptitude (whilst I desperately hoped that Clarissa would explain as I didn't have a clue either). They're Japanese apparently.
The only thing which we didn't like was a little shard of nut brittle with the pudding. It was a bit challenging for the ol' fillings and I think it had been slightly over-caramelised. I had to come up with one criticism, otherwise Clarissa and Yusuf might get too big for their boots and move somewhere trendy to open a restaurant or something. But that's it, that's all I can come up with.
Asides from the excellent food you can also expect such party tricks as a dog who eats wine corks and has been known to pick-pocket the guests, and Clarissa's ability to tell you your exact clothing measurements with a brief glance at you. She used to be a costume designer and can also tell you impressive celebrity stories. She wouldn't give me Alan Davies' number though, which was most disappointing.
So, in conclusion (I remember when writing school essays they always said you couldn't write 'in conclusion' in your conclusion, but I'm not in school now, so in your face, teachers), I had a wonderful time and will definitely be returning. I recommend googling supper clubs in your area, or checking this one out if you're a Norwich bod. Yeah, there is an initial moment of awkwardness with all the 'so what do you do?'s and trying to work out who you're sitting next to, but one glass of wine in and you're swell. It's cheap, it's sociable, and it's supporting good people doing good things locally. Go, google, now.
For more details on the Unthank Supper Club, you can visit their blog or follow them on twitter.