I’m going to break with narrative formula for once. I’m going to conclude before I begin, because there really is only one point to make when it comes to supperclubs. If you’ve never been to one, you must try one. More to the point, you have to try Sabrina Ghayour’s.
Let’s go back a little. I have a list, a wish list to get through before I hit my 30th birthday in a few months time. Supperclubs are on it. Along with a burlesque night (viewing not partaking!), conquering high heels like a proper lady should, visiting another alpha city (New York, Paris, Tokyo), and finally, fitting into a Karen Millen dress (this last one I miraculously managed the other week). Anyway, I digress…
So when I got round to it, I knew it’d have to be one of the best. I’ve been a Sabrina Ghayour twitter follower for some time now, and have seen countless tweet pics of her kitchen creations, most of which have left me feeling rather peckish. I’ve also witnessed her growing fan club and with a new book on the way, I knew it was time to take the plunge.
The online booking process was simple enough but then my imagination started to ponder the world of supperclubs, as the details of the evening were pinged over on email a few days prior. I realised I had no idea about supperclub etiquette and started searching the internet for some advice. I promptly found this in the form of a sound article written by the doyenne of British supperclubs, Kerstin Rodgers (AKA @msmarmitelover). Etiquette noted, home-baked gift in hand (for Sabrina) and a chilled bottle of cloudy bay (for us), my mother and I set off.
Now I don’t know about you but I don’t often walk into a strangers house, expecting a pre-paid meal. Luckily, gifted with an adequate sense of social skills, which meant I just chatted away, both mother and I were charmed by our friendly and equally chatty host. Set in humble surroundings filled with family mementos and cookbooks, I was intrigued about Sabrina and why she decided to open up her home to feed others. It seems such a abstract concept but one that is visibly fulfilling to her, and from first hand experience I can say its greatly appreciated by her diners, some of which are regulars.
The night is kicked off with a minty welcome cocktail, which Sabrina served up in between juggling the many dishes to follow. There are no fancy hired wait staff here, no Masterchef-style blast chillers, sous vide machinery or other culinary gadgetry. It’s just one woman in a trickily small kitchen filled with pots and pans, on a mission to feed, and boy does she deliver. This particular night was focused on Persian seafood from the south of Iran, the Bandari Gulf region. Two notions spring to mind here; Firstly, that I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve considered to be Middle-Eastern food but realise now, that that’s just as vague as saying you love Indian food, without having distinguished the many regional differences and specialties. Secondly, being a pescetarian, I often feel like the meat is the main focus in this cuisine and fish dishes can sometimes be an afterthought, so I was rather curious as to what lay ahead.
As the generously-portioned sharing dishes started to arrive one after the other, we dug in. ‘Baked Feta with Pickled Chillies and Preserved Lemons’ was coaxed out of its neat vine leaf wrapping, melting in the mouth instantly with a zingy kick. ‘Bamieh’, okra in spiced tomato sauce, (similar to a Gujarati curry I often make) gave off a lovely warmth but retained the juicy acidity of the tomatoes. A rather wonderfully crunchy ‘Fennel, Blood Orange and Radish salad’ provided yet another texture dimension and the cooling ‘Maast-O-Khiar’ yoghurt worked with almost everything. If nit-picking, the only dish I felt didn’t quite work was the the quince and lime aioli that accompanied the ‘Saffron and Spice Salted Calamari’. It just wasn’t a fit in my mind, the quince was too sweet and tart and the beautifully crisp calamari was just lost in it. Still, with starters like these, I was already thinking of what jewels were to follow.
The Main event
‘Mahi Shekampor’ began the main course event, whole trout stuffed with a citrus herb stuffing. The meat of the fish fell of the bone with the tiniest of tugs and was perfectly pink and succulent with a refreshing aftertaste. ‘Maygoo Polow’ was a great show-stopper of a dish, a vast bowl of crispy brown spiced rice with juicy prawns hidden inside. I loved the versatility of this dish because it could be eaten on its own and also alongside the ‘Ghelyeh Mahi’, my most favourite dish. Slow cooked (yet not at all over-done) cod and mussels in a herby green sauce. It had a depth to it that you usually only get in the richest of dishes but it was so light, that you kept going back for more. And I would have kept going, if my stomach capacity hadn’t held me back!
Time to go home
Having been spoilt with such wonderful creations, I felt almost insatiable, always thinking about whats coming next. Thankfully, no meal is complete without a little sweet something to round it off. With my limited knowledge of Iranian desserts (which I believe Sabrina mentioned are few and far between), I was picturing something typically Lebanese, Baklawa, sfouf cake, Ashta bil assal (a thick and rich fresh cream drizzled with honey and pistachios). Instead we were presented with a cardamon, orange, pistachio and almond muffin, alongside an orange cream and mint tea. Which, whilst not as mind-alteringly satisfying as the dishes we had just experienced, did the job in providing us with a sweet and refreshing end to our fabulous feast. In fact so full were most of us, that we ended up taking our muffins home in food bags graciously supplied by Sabrina. In hindsight, as much as I would have loved to finish up with a plate full of sticky, sweet and nutty baklava, I now see that experience has guided Sabrina to stick with something a little more wholesome, not to mention travel-friendly.
All in all, it was an enlightening and certainly enjoyable evening. I’m a sucker for a Michelin-starred dinner and checking out the latest arrivals on the restaurant scene. But sometimes there are restaurants that you remember more for the ambience than the food. At Sabrina’s house there were no fancy paintings on the wall, dim mood-lighting or distracting background music to detract from the main event. The food was in the spotlight at all times and with her home-taught talent, it really did shine for me, as well as fellow guests (some of whom went as far as describing it as ‘orgasmic’!).