I’m not sure precisely when the “S” word became the extra hot Tabasco of conversation, but there seems to be little else right now in the arena of food that’s quite so guaranteed to elicit such a spicy torrent of opinion. Uyen and Simon are a Vietnamese and Spanish couple who cook delicious and imaginative meals in Uyen’s Eastside flat. When I mentioned that I might be going back for second helpings, I was rather condescendingly informed by some food Nazi or other that supper clubs are in fact passé. Apparently they’re just sooo 2009, according to those on the cutting edge of food fashion. Well call me Pat Butcher’s left earring, but I thought it was food not Erdem. So, yes, I spent New Year’s Eve with Fernandez and Leluu and bloody brilliant it was too.
I’d been here before. Back in the autumn, my friend Matthew and I decided to give their Vietnamese Halloween night a try, and were pleasantly surprised to realise that he lives just next door to them. Matthew is rather hard to please when it comes to food (or indeed anything) and the fact that he loved it speaks volumes. Being a lot less adventurous than I like to admit, I felt a definite twinge of the squeams at the prospect of frog’s legs – however one bite and all tentativeness swiftly fell away as I got stuck in to seriously tender, perfectly seasoned nuggets of froggy goodness. Hot and sour soup is my personal benchmark of a good Vietnamese meal, and the one served here was simply incredible. Dense with catfish, tomato and okra, the broth balanced the line between sweet, tangy, sour and salty with tightrope precision. The whole menu was spot on and definitely worth more than the £30 a head we paid. Stamped with personality, authenticity and wit – anyone that serves sashimi with double fried chips is always going to be a decent sort in my books.
And so I was thrilled to hear they were having a New Year’s bash. Let’s face it, New Years can so often be a grisly, hit and miss affair, what with all that paying to get into your local or going to dreadful house parties and watching your friends gurn at one another. Or worse staying in and feeling like you really ought to be out having a rubbish time, just anything to get away from Alan “kill me quick” Carr.
This time there was definitely more of a party atmosphere, and for ages we all stood around talking, chatting and generally breaking down those inter-table borders. It felt like a room full of properly like-minded types, I met Luiz Hara of http://www.thelondonfoodie.co.uk and his brilliantly bonkers friends , as well as the lovely Gail of one million gold stars amongst others. The appeal of this particular supper club for me lies in the fact that the hosts are genuinely warm and welcoming, which makes going round there feel a lot more like visiting old friends, rather than just going round to some randomers for dinner. However, whilst all was a picture of fun and good times downstairs, upstairs at the end of the night was of course a total bomb wreck, which provides an inkling of just how much hard work must go into these evenings.
The flat is full of fascinating little knick knacks, there are shelves crammed with jars of tea and some stunning clothes that Uyen makes for her Carnaby Street boutique “Love Leluu”. There’s a mirror in the bathroom you can write messages on, a plastic gecko and a chest of drawers in the garden and nobody minds if you accidentally spill a tiny drop of wine or nip outside for a rolly between courses. It’s that sort of place.
Eventually we settled and were served a surprise “best of” menu which kicked off with hunks of Uyen’s dreamy home made bread and some parmesan rich pesto which Gail and I secretly polished off before anyone else could get a look in. Then came Simon’s home made terrine which he had just whipped up that morning, followed by chop-slappingly fresh sashimi with my favourite wasabi mayonnaise. We then had pasta with ragu sauce, and suffice to say I was pretty sated at this point, but we were warned there was even more to come. This turned out to be a total understatement, which came in the form of a proper roast dinner with the works – we’re talking roast chicken, lamb, vegetables and lashings of gravy. Like the most lethargically-roasted nervous breakdown, the meat just fell apart upon the merest contact, and the gravy was English granny perfect. We finished with delicate orange and vodka pannacotta, the epitome of sublime, wobbly perfection.
In terms of the food, I have to admit it was all perfectly executed, but I did personally prefer the menu on the Halloween night, just because I adore Vietnamese food. However, in terms of socialising with the other guests, this completely rocked it. I particularly loved the fact that Simon and Uyen came and ate with us for the second half of the meal. It really made it a proper experience for us, and we were glad they’d chosen the sort of menu which meant they were able to do that. I went with someone who’d never been to a supper club before and afterwards we both agreed that it was easily one of the best New Year’s celebrations we’d ever been to and can’t wait for the next one.