The London Foodie's Japanese Supper Club and The Art of Dining

I've had two extraordinary foody experiences over the last couple of weeks, both of which I'd recommend. I'd do this on the grounds that every once in a while you need Shakabuku, or a swift spiritual kick in the head. I know this because I've watched Grosse Point Blank.

First up was the London Foodie's Japanese supper club. Held in Islington in one of those enormous homes with the basement kitchen visible from the street, the London Foodie - aka Luiz Hara - used to be an investment banker but is now using the money he earnt to devote himself to something that he loves. This is the best reason I can think of for having been an investment banker and he's a charming host with it. Plus he's renovated his basement with the supper club in mind, which demonstrates unusual commitment and should give you some idea of the seriousness he brings to his project. He'll probably end up on the telly.

Other people have written about this supper club very well and done the food side of it more justice than I could. For the food is just fabulous. My favourite parts were the dim-summy street snack mouthfuls that were offered with a glass of fizz on the way in - probably because I had done as I was advised and arrived hungry and I really love dim sum - and the tofu and "old eggs" for the novelty of the dish. Someone was saying as I was eating it, that in Japan these eggs are sometimes produced by marinading them in urine. I'm not sure I believed that but they were so delicious that, truth be told, nothing could possibly have put me off. 

I was sitting near two PRs who'd provided some wine for the evening, and although I remember thinking that this was quite canny marketing I can't remember now what kind of wine it was - French? - so I guess this tells you two things. Firstly, that supper clubs in London are achieving a kind of critical mass. And secondly, that marketing things to people who've had a few glasses of wine is pretty pointless unless the product is memorable enough to make you want to write down its name.


But it was exciting. Going into a stranger's home, being treated to an exceptional eight-course meal at a very reasonable price - you pay roughly half the recommended amount (£35) in advance to reserve your seat and may subsequently pay as you feel moved to - and meeting a terrific range of people, who were brought together by the love of food and being more than averagely adventurous. I met a couple who were about my parents' age - a New Yorker who'd met her German partner through teaching him English in London - as well as a shy derivatives trader and two delightful women, one of whom had recently baked an entire tray of cakes that she iced to look like boobs. I can't remember why exactly, but she had pics on her phone. 

The evening was summed up early on by the shy derivatives trader (shy being a relative concept at this gathering) when one of the PRs told him that Luiz's was the best supper club in London. "I'd been hoping to explore a whole world of supper clubs," he said. "So that's like being told that you've peaked too soon."

But it moved me - ever the optimist - to try something similar the next week. 

So I went to an evening called Vanitas, by an outfit calling themselves The Art of Dining. This was not, in fact, a supper club but a pop-up restaurant in the slightly amazing surroundings of Sutton House, a brick Tudor home that sits incongruously at a turn on Homerton High Street, having survived the Second World War apparently in tact. No mean feat in the East End.

The Art of Dining had several other projects under their belts already, including one based on rationing, which I'm sorry I missed.

Sutton House is beautiful and made me think of the Peter Ackroyd book Hawksmoor, which has as one of its themes the ways in which things are invisible to Londoners. I'd walked past the house many times and barely noticed that there was a National Trust property there in all its pomp. This certainly fixed it in my mind. 

Part of this event, billed as a Tudor feast, was an art exhibition. And this was where, much as I hate to say it, it kind of let itself down: for half of the four pieces were remarkably amateurish. There was some sumptuous photography (including the piece on the poster above) and a human torso fashioned from glass and light in a chapel that made you want to walk around it for a better look. But the remainder was a bit childish - probably an afterthought - and left one with the feeling that not all the details of this event had been fully thought through.

Vanitas was a form of art exploring the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death. So far so Peter Greenaway. Accordingly there was a display of skulls, fruit and flowers arranged to look as if they were there to be painted and the tables were scattered with fruit, fruit peel, nuts and petals which looked good and felt decadent.

And Ellen Parr's food was genuinely tasty and well-suited to the occasion - I particularly liked the quail with dry seasoning dip to be eaten without cutlery, which with the simple addition of a finger bowl has got to be the easiest way to do that - fiddly little birds. It also put guests in touch with their inner Henry VIII. And the white garlic soup was delicious. But the portions were tiny - which was especially salient because by the time we sat down we were so hungry that all of the nuts decorating the table got eaten immediately. It reminded me that they'd previously done an event themed on rationing.

Having invited people to arrive for a dining experience an hour before dinner was served it would have been good to have offered some canapes or perhaps more of the delicious freshly-baked bread with dinner. At £45 and bring-your-own wine for around 25 people this gave the appearance that it was rather more about making money for the organisers than for the guests. Also if I'd been less hungry I might have felt less judgemental.

However, the surroundings were fabulous, the other diners - once again - were a fascinating bunch  and I'll never forget the horrific story told by our neighbour Jonathan about meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. Nicky's from Nigeria originally (both of the pictures in this blog that were taken inside the house are by her) and the tale involved a feast with a gently laxative starter that was also a local speciality, Jonathan's over-eagerness to please his potential in-laws and a trip home in family convoy across a plain with no bushes. Nuff said.

Fortunately on the occasion of our dinner together there was a helpful lady pointing the way to the bathroom.

Both of the fabulous London meals were good in their own ways: I'd just say that The Art of Dining was clearly conceived as being as much about art as it was about dining. Over-archingly they were enjoyable because they're the antidote to travelling on the Tube - the most widely understood experience of London. They're an opportunity to meet people who wanted to be met in a beautiful environment where you can hear each other speak. An opportunity to be human.

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  1. Thanks for the link, lovely! The Art of Dining thing sounds interesting, very expensive though....


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