Monday, 14 December 2009
Sometimes I'm lucky enough to stumble upon the occasional hidden away eatery that is truly unique, a little bit under-the-radar, and with an edge of naughtiness. Somewhere with a rebellious spirit and a generous nature. I almost don't want to tell you about this one, but I'm feeling festively generous. And the food is a-mazing. Here it is: The Saltoun Supper Club, one of London's most feted underground restaurants presided over by a gregarious and enigmatic moustachiod cook. You won't be eating in a regular joint where you can book a table to order: there's a phenomenal waiting list, the restaurant only opens on Wednesday and Thursday nights and you'll be eating in Arno Masdoorp's second floor flat in Brixton, South London. Not only will you eat a meal fit for the gods, but you can rummage through his flatmate's book collection and smoke an illicit ciggy out of the skylight!
Arno has been running his supper club from March of 2009. From the moment you ring the doorbell of the unassuming Victorian terrace on Saltoun Road, you feel the thrill of the unknown. You don't know who you'll be sat next to or what the atmosphere will be like. But there's nothing to fear except having fun! He comes to greet every diner personally (there's only room for 14 people), and you sit in his living room which is festooned with curious and ornaments, and every table is beautifully decorated with striking design touches and vintage curios. It's like sitting in a jewel box - there is so much to look at. Arno and his head waiter (usually one of his good friends) are quick to make everyone feel at home and you're told you can roam everywhere you please in the house.
The food is excellent. Ok, so Arno has 20 years of restaurant experience, so you'd sort of expect him to be able to fan a melon, but it's not always a given that just because you've worked in catering that your food is good by default, is it? He cooks with real flair and elegance. The meal on our first visit is etched into my memory: a pre-starter salad of cucumber and feta cheese, a starter of rustic duck pate with caperberries and melba toast, a delicious main course of sea bass with new potatoes and peas, a divine dessert of mango with salted caramel and meringue, and petit fours served on gold platters. It was essential that we return...
Unfortunately this time around I decided to take photos (using my husband's rubbish camera phone). I was trying to be unobtrusive, avoiding snapping away with my bigger camera. But these will at least will give you a rough (and blurry) idea of what we ate...
Baked Beets, Peppers and Tomatoes with Mandarin Oil:
Such a humble looking salad which was an 'umami'-laden mix of savouriness, earthiness and zingy citrussy oil - amazing. And the bread was craggy sourdough from the Wild Caper deli in Brixton Market. Four of us greedily got through THREE baskets of this bread...oops...that's nearly one basket each!
Truffle infused Cauliflower Gnocchi:
This was my first experience of truffles. Our host had combined the truffles two ways: he'd infused them in the gnocchi, and also added perfumed dabs of truffle cream at the edges of the plate. Raw cauliflower was shaved over the top. I don't even usually like cauliflower, but this dish was HEAVEN. I can definitely handle eating cauliflower in this format - every day please...
Grilled Sea Bass with Saffron and Mussel Sauce:
Deliciously light and fresh, the sea bass was served with a fragrant seafood broth infused with saffron and mussels.
Pear Syrup Tart, Bramley Tart Fine and Salted Caramel:
Really buttery pastry, caremelised pears and heavenly salted caramel...I am crazy for the salt-sweet combination of caramel, salt and pears!
Wow-ee - how cute is this? A delightful selection of mini chocolate brownies, nougat, Turkish delight, vintage-style candy canes and chocolate toy cars? Heart be still!!!
Between courses, you're encouraged to go upstairs to Arno's flatmate's bedroom and have a cigarette out of the skylight, and you can sit on sofas and rummage through the books that are stacked floor-to-ceiling in artful piles. After dessert, he and his waiter serve up coffee or tea in vintage mis-matched cups and kitsch coffeepots, and then for the diners that linger, he generously cracks open his own wine supply and pops glamorous decanters down on the table. Arno sits and has a chat once the meal has ended, and he keeps on pouring the vino. It's very hard to leave!
You get all this for a very modest suggested 'donation' of £25 per head, which is staggeringly cheap for the superb level of food and number of courses (and it's BYO). Arno told us that he doesn't really make much money from doing the Supper Club two nights a week, but that it acts as the perfect vehicle to spread the word about his catering service. This is clearly a man who is passionate about food and entertaining - it takes guts and a lot of energy to invite strangers into your home and feed them to such a high standard week after week. But you sense that he and his flatmate absolutely thrive on the buzz and theatre of it.
So, if you want to eat fabulous food in fascinating surroundings, meet new people and have an evening that is really different, The Saltoun Supperclub might be the place for you. As we left - or rather wobbled - out of the front door with our friends A and K, they proclaimed that they'd had such an amazing evening that they wanted to 'eat Arno's flat'...
The Saltoun Supperclub
Secret Location, Brixton, South London