My African Valentine supper club in West London

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

My African Valentine supper club by Pepper and Stew
There's been a bit of a buzz about supper clubs in London of late. Now having at times felt a step behind when it comes to trends (speed dating totally bypassed me), I was determined not to miss out on this one. So when my friend invited me to My African Valentine pop-up restaurant I was keen to go along.

Supper clubs are essentially dining events held in people's homes or other temporary venues. They offer the chance to try unusual and home-cooked food, meet new people and usually bring your own alcohol. What's not to like?
I hungrily arrived at Maida Hill Place with friend Rosaline and her sister Jane where we were greeted by table host Lee, a friend of the organiser who had kindly pitched up to help.

He was no stranger to supper clubs himself, having held a couple with the intention of promoting West African food in London. Although cuisine from the north and east of the continent are gaining popularity, he felt the west side was sorely in need of some bigging up. I had to admit not being overly familiar with it, although he looked suitably impressed when I revealed my groundnut stew recipe which apparently is very authentic. Check me out.

My only concern was my dietary requirements being both vegetarian and gluten-free (yep I’m an awkward bugger), but the menu was ideal with Nhopi soup made from pumpkin and peanut butter followed by spinach and egusti stew. Egusti are ground melon seeds by the way - see what an expert I am now.

The event was run by Racquel of sauce company Pepper and Stew  who gave a warm welcome, inviting us to enjoy the mealHer little speech was so heartfelt and endearing I really hoped I would like the food. It would have been guilt-inducing not to (especially since she’s Rosaline’s sister-in-law). But there was no need to fear - I was in for a treat.

My African Valentine supper club by Pepper and Stew
That wine's not mine - honest
We started with a Bushman mojito made with Rooibos syrup, which is an antioxidant used for medicinal purposes in South Africa apparently. I’m a big mojito fan and this version was so delicious I could have happily put several away. Unfortunately there was just the one, but there was some tasty homemade ginger beer on the table. We were encouraged to bring our own booze, but I piously stuck to the soft stuff.

The five course feast kicked off with a double starter of meat balls for the carnivores and kelewele with red red (a slow cooked bean in a spicy sauce with sweet fried plantain) for the veggies. This was followed by the aforementioned soup and a palate cleanser of watermelon salad with toasted sesame dressing.

Much as I love dining out on Asian and European fare, it can get a bit sameish and it was good to try something very unique. There was an interesting combination of flavours with spicy beans contrasting with sweet plantain and the watermelon prettily decorated with a surprisingly tangy sauce. 

My African Valentine supper club by Pepper and Stew

Now the fun thing about these supper clubs is that you’re seated with other guests and get the chance to socialise. We were soon chatting merrily away with Pam, a lawyer who works in the extremely niche area of energy in Sub-Saharan Africa and Karrima a recent arrival from Oklahoma USA, who had moved into her London flat just that day. She worked in an extremely hard and complicated-sounding job but had some link to civil engineering and airports (that’s all I could understand – sorry Karrima!).

Needless to say we had plenty to talk about. I was happily enjoying the conversation and Kwaito music, before realising it was almost 11pm and time for the train back to south of the river. Yet where was the main course? My table mates knowingly informed me we were on African time.

A slightly panicked hurry to get the main courses ensued and as the vegetarian food wasn't going to be ready for 10 minutes I opted for the readily available fish option instead. Luckily I do eat fish occasionally. The sea bream was perfectly cooked and served with plantain and a flavourful onion salad. Although I was slightly disappointed not to try those ground melon seeds.

Sea bream with Yassa onion sauce and fried plantain
Sea bream with Yassa onion sauce and fried plantain
Always one to get my money's worth, I managed to hastily wolf down the final course of hibiscus and mango sorbet before dashing for the tube with only a slight touch of brain freeze.

Overall the experience was far more personal than eating in a restaurant. It was particularly lovely to get to know our table mates and we vowed to meet for further dining adventures. 

Pepper and Stew had a few teething problems in terms of timing, but I’m sure with their obvious enthusiasm they’ll work these things out. It's always a good day when I try something new and I can now boast some knowledge not only of supper clubs but also African food and music.


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