September 13, 2010 by bethanjthomas
Isn’t it odd that an ‘underground’ craze can become well enough known to be featured in Time Out. It seems a bit of shame, this commercialisation of the alternative, particularly as I wasn’t cool enough to know about this one before it was published.
The specific underground that I’m talking about, is that of underground restaurants. You may immediately think of subterranean murky caverns, but underground restaurants in London can be found above ground, in houses that are most likely to be located in the trendy North East of the city where no tubes can reach. It’s really all terribly ironic. They are restaurants run in the residential homes of foodies who want to share their cooking talents and passion for food with complete strangers.
They can also be called supper clubs, but call them what you like, they’re relatively unique to London in the UK and completely intriguing. After a few quiet drinks post-work one week, my colleagues and I decided that we all liked food far too much to have never been to one. There were rumours of a restaurant in Kennington and a well known one in Brixton, but when David stumbled upon a fusion Spanish/Vietnamese option in Hackney, we were all sold. Fernandez & Leluu (http://www.fernandezandleluu.co.uk/) were going to gain our custom.
Bookings are taken a month in advance so in the run up and on the relatively tortuous journey from South East London up north, I had plenty of time to consider how on earth you might combine Spanish and Vietnamese flavours, textures and cooking styles. I couldn’t imagine what was going to arrive on my plate and I felt a little like Christmas was coming early. The only trepidation I felt was that I may end up sat next to a complete stranger, depending on our host’s table arrangements. I really wanted to get stuck into my ‘hispasian’ food without fear of dribbling sauce on my chin and being mortified by the stares from the corporate bankers sat to my left.
When we arrived at the gorgeous converted warehouse style flat, my fears were set aside as I found a lovely large table for our party of eight. I breathed a sigh of relief and immediately asked what we were going to be eating. The response took the wind out of my sails slightly – Croatian food.
Croatian? My dreams of chorizo filled spring rolls and hot and sour gazpacho were over. However, I could not have been more pleased as the room started to fill and food began to arrive at our table.
This was certainly no ordinary meal, we were treated to a seven course extravaganza, with a tiny team of two presenting the thrity assembled guests with plate after plate of fantastic food. The only criticism that I can level at Fernandez & Leluu is that they didn’t really have enough people to serve such a large room of diners quickly enough and also to give us enough attention to match the food that we recieved. But Leluu and Mia were charming and the food was delightful.
Our first course was a mackerel pate.
The pate was the perfect consistency, perfectly complemented by the crunch of baby lettuce leaves. Home made rosemary, garlic and tomato bread was served warm with the pate adding additional flavours to the dish.
Next up, came my mothers favourite – parma ham with melon and prawn cocktail. Totally1980’s, a taste straight from my childhood. Although one of the tastes of my childhood that I despise is marie rose sauce, so I was thrilled to find it had been replaced with what appeared to be green mayonnaise. Green mayonnaise? A delicious combination of egg yolks, parsley, spinach, watercress, basil, tarragon, dill, olive oil and lemon juice. It was fantastic with the plump, fleshy prawns. But I must be honest, this list of ingredients may be wrong as they are presumed on my part – Mia and Leyluu were too busy clearing plates to find me the recipe.
It was coming up to 9pm now and as much as I was enjoying the food, I wanted more. I was not disappointed. My favourite dish of the night arrived – a substantial portion of black squid ink risotto, topped with a whole baby squid for alien-like effect. It had a chilli kick to it which warmed my mouth and the rich, creaminess of the risotto filled my stomach. It was exactly the kind of dish I would order from a menu which was a thrill.
I still felt a little hungry though, as did most of my fellow diners, so it was lucky that four more dishes were on their way! A sharing plate of tuna sashimi and home made chips was placed in between me and Felicity. It was a beautiful surprise. Not entirely Croation, but a great take on an English tradition. The tuna was extremely fresh and paired surprisingly well with the salty, hand cut chips.
I was still complaining at this point that I felt hungry, but my fellow diners were slowing down. It was almost 10pm by now, and we still had three dishes to go! Plates of octopus carpaccio arrived.
This was probably my least favourite dish of the night, simply because to my taste, the capers and oil over-powered the octopus. It did, however, work well as was a relatively light interlude in between richer dishes, as next we were presented with Asian pulled lamb and potato salad.
The salty fatty lamb was a hit on our table. It’s thickness melted into nothing in your mouth and only the thought of the calories inside could detract from the enjoyment. But it wasn’t over, and even I was admitting that I wasn’t hungry now as it pushed past 10.30pm. But I still managed to eat the dessert which arrived – fruits of the forest panacotta.
Light and refreshing, it was a good end to the meal, I certainly couldn’t have coped with a chocolate pot or sticky toffee pudding.
I was finally satiated when a discreet envelope arrived for us to place a donation of £35.00 or more for the experience. I had worried that this seemed a lot before I arrived but, given the quantity and quality of the food, I was more than happy to stump up the cash as I began the long walk to the actual underground to face the drunks on the last tube home.
All photos from Fernandez & Leluu (http://www.fernandezandleluu.co.uk/)