Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Restaurant Review - Wolvercote Supper Club

Location: Wolvercote, Oxford OX2, UK

I had heard of supper clubs - the concept of dining, restaurant style, in someone's home - but was yet to try one for myself and had been intrigued for a little while; the clandestine feel, the exclusivity, the risk of sitting with total strangers (could they be fun and hedonistic or simply a total bore?), there was something, well, seductive about them. When I heard of a supper club starting up a mere 5 miles from my door, there was no way I could resist; so one ticket purchased for me and one for MrF, I was looking forward to popping my supper club cherry at their very first event.

Based in, errr, Wolvercote, the Wolvercote Supper Club is a new venture by the lovely Caroline Sweetman, running monthly from the comfort of her own home. Menus are posted on Caroline's website in advance of each event and tickets are purchased via the same site, with the address emailed to you upon booking. Incredibly, Caroline charges a mere £22.50 (plus a £2.25 booking fee) per person for a fabulous five course feast... I know, amazing right?!

The menu for the first event read as follows:
~ Kir Royales served with home-made Harissa and Lemon Peel Marinated Olives and Spicy popcorn
~ Tomato Tarts with Anchoiade and Salad Leaves
~ Campari and Grapefruit Granita
~ Lamb and Quince Tagine with Smoked Aubergine Puree and Pumpkin Pilau Rice
~ Cheeses and Homemade Oatcakes with Onion Seeds
~ Chocolate, Hazelnut and Sherry Cake with Sherry and Raisin Syllabub Cream
You may be as gob-smacked as I was about the price, but there is one key thing to bear in mind - and careful not to spit your drink out here - Caroline runs the supper clubs for enjoyment alone and not for profit. Satisfied with her job at local Oxfam headquarters, but with a penchant for hosting guests in her own home and armed with a large dose of bravery, Caroline is remarkably doing the venture for pure unadulterated fun.

You may also note, from the menu above, a nod to the Middle East and Africa in Caroline's food; this is something you can expect from Wolvercote Supper Clubs, as Caroline has a real love for this food and the colours, flavours and fragrances it provides.

Now, usually known to arrive fashionably late, I got my times muddled up (baby brain strikes again) and managed to arrive rather unfashionably early... however this did mean I got chance to catch Caroline out! The warm, calm and composed manor with which Caroline greeted our early arrival tipped me off that this was no mediocre hostess.

Kir Royale in the lounge anyone?

Welcomed into the stylish and homely lounge with a pretty glass of Kir Royale, we got nibbling on bowls of spicy popcorn, vegetable crisps and the most wonderful marinated olives, enveloped in a mixture of of homemade harissa and lemon peel - amazeballs as some may say.

As the other guests gradually arrived, Caroline's hostess skills continued to shine, gliding between lounge and kitchen, introducing each of the guests to the group and remembering names with an impeccable success rate - an impressive feat alone! This was the point where things started to feel a little Come Dine With Me, though we did manage to refrain from rifling through Caroline's drawers.

As the lounge began to fill with a mixture of local foodies, Caroline's friends and colleagues, it became apparent that there wasn't a single person attending that I would be disappointed to sit next to; I see now that only those of an open-minded, outgoing nature may be inclined to attend such an event, so for the most part, it's a bunch of fairly like-minded people getting together over fabulous food in a warm and inviting environment.

The table was beautifully set, with vintage tablecloth and cutlery, etched glassware, bejewelled with pretty little candles. Our meal began with delicious little puff pastry tomato tarts, topped with Anchoiade (think anchovy tapenade) and Salad Leaves - fantastic as a starter: just the right size, light, tasty and fresh.

Tomato Tarts with Anchoiade and Salad Leaves

Our second course was a palate cleansing Campari and Grapefruit Granita (a Pomegranate version was also provided for a non Grapefruit eater), served in little glass dishes with the daintiest little silver teaspoons. Pretty as a picture, the granita was sweet and refreshing, with just the right amount of sharpness from the fruit.

Campari and Grapefruit Granita

With conversation and wine both flowing (I should say at this point that wine is purely BYO), we moved on to a main course of Lamb and Quince Tagine, served up with a Smoked Aubergine Puree and Pumpkin Pilau Rice - the picture below does no justice to the fragrant, fruity, exotic feast. Caroline was beating herself up at this point for overcooking the rice, but everyone agreed it tasted perfectly delicious. The Lamb in the tagine was meltingly soft, with the quince providing a beautiful sweetness - perfect early autumnal food and just the kind of thing I'd happily cuddle up with on my sofa on a cold rainy evening. The aubergine puree, scattered with pomegranate seeds, was a smooth and enjoyable addition to the dish, though possibly not something I would actively seek out; bursts of beautiful pomegranate however are always a welcome addition in my book.

Lamb and Quince Tagine with Smoked Aubergine Puree and Pumpkin Pilau Rice

Knowing there were another two courses to go and with my belly quickly filling, I decided to leave room to continue - absolutely no reflection on my enjoyment levels though. Next up was a cheese course, comprising of cheeses sourced from The Cheese Shop in Oxford's Covered Market, offered up with grapes, plus some stunning onion seed oatcakes which Caroline had made herself - a simple yet effective selection, made special by a wonderful personal touch.

Dessert was a big, boozy finale of a pudding... Chocolate, Hazelnut and Sherry Cake with Sherry and Raisin Syllabub Cream. Sherry not being my choice of drink (give me port any day), the generous helping was somewhat lost on me, but you couldn't help but be impressed with Caroline's baking skills and do-or-die measure of sherry; after all, if you're going to describe a dish as containing booze you bloody well want to taste it!

Cheeses and Home-made Oatcakes with Onion Seeds

Chocolate, Hazelnut and Sherry Cake with Sherry and Raisin Syllabub Cream

Credit where credit is due, Caroline was a truly phenomenal hostess; throughout the entire evening she didn't seem to break a sweat, while serving up an impressive line up of well prepared and delicious dishes. There was no mess in the kitchen, everything was homemade, tasty and nothing like the food I make at home; this is exactly what I want from a dining experience, and more - for Wolvercote Supper Club also serves up the opportunity to meet friendly and fascinating people, possibly even the chance to make new friends.

If you're a little nervous at the prospect of dining with a group of total strangers, then I urge you to give it a try - it's unlikely you'll end up mixing with a bunch of weirdos (although I cannot guarantee...) and more than likely you will have a wonderful time. With tickets going fast, you'll have to book soon if you'd like to attend one of Caroline's upcoming events, I'll certainly be attending again.

Overall score: 9/10 - FOT Top Pick

There are still places left at Caroline's upcoming supper clubs on 2nd November and 7th December, click here for details and to book your place at the table!

Wolvercote Supper Club
Twitter: @WolSupClub
Facebook: @WolvercoteSupperClub

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