This has been the second time in as many weeks that I have found myself dining out in the wilds of north-west London, namely Kilburn and to be honest it's well off the beaten track for me so what is it about this part of the city that keeps drawing me in? Maybe it's just coincidence, I have been actively pursuing new foodie experiences lately, looking for the unusual in the unlikeliest of places. But maybe it's some kind of destiny and fate is mapping out a culinary journey, pressing me along some predetermined path. Maybe MsMarmitelover can explain as I found myself this Saturday at her vegetarian Underground Restaurant along with my wife and 30 astrologists, believe me serendipity (or whatever you would like to call it) has never been such fun.
I first read about this new trend in the Metro, the main premise being that some foodies are starting to run their own restaurants from the comfort of their own front rooms, charging ahead for a set menu. The "customers" come via word of mouth, blogs, and messageboards with the emphasis on secrecy as it's not strictly legal though there is a paradox here as the more popular they become, the harder it must be to keep a lid on things. MsMarmitelover has been running her one for over two months now and already it must have become what is deemed to be the definitive example of what an underground restaurant should be like. That being a place that provides a deliciously unique and eccentric and joyous experience.
We turned up unfashionably early, I thought it started at 7, not 7:30PM, but luckily the front of house with a withering glance, took pity and ushered us in out of the cold rain. Johnny and Jo, two super cool rockabillies who underneath the surface were actually really friendly, took our coats and handed over a divine cocktail consisting of vodka, cava, and blue curacao caviar (which was created by this process, eat your heart out Heston!). Being the first ones there we had the pick of where to sit, though in a room that was rammed wall to wall with chairs and tables, it was a question of where couldn't you sit but we plumped for centre stage. MsMarmitelover introduced herself and said thanks for the wild garlic we brought like proper teachers pets, before disappearing to do her make-up, for someone who was cooking for 30 plus people she seemed remarkably calm.
By 7:30, the rest of the guests started to come in from the street and with it being an Astrology night, everyone seemed to know or heard of each other. My wife and I were slightly unnerved at this point as our knowledge of the stars and their meanings extends to well, bugger all really so what could we talk about? She's a Taurean, prone to bullish type qualities and I'm Cancerian, and have been known to walk sideways but that's it. Luckily, Johnny steered two guests our way who as it turned out were equally out of depth, Caroline the bubbly book agent and Alfie, the ex-Army officer who couldn't believe there wouldn't be any "bloody meat" served. Even luckier was the fact that they were a great company, again is that provenance I'm detecting here?
After a short while of chatting and nibbling on toasted seeds, the first course came out, a thai coconut and spinach soup which was gorgeous, packed with spice and citrus flavours. Naturally when the pot came out for second helpings, I went steaming in but on reflection I should have held back as I was stuffed halfway through the night. Second course was a pleasant refresher of black belugar lentils with a sliced round of goats cheese. Third was a very decadent slice of gratin dauphinoise in cream, served with pepperonata and a rocket salad dressed with spring shoots. The pepperonata and salad was lovely and fresh but the richness of the dauphinoise did finish me off a bit, perhaps if I hadn't been such a greedy sod with the soup I would have been able to finish it but sadly it defeated me. It was just as well that raspberry air was served up for the fourth course then and again here MsMarmitelover was tipping her hat to the field of molecular gastronomy. Imagine popping a raspberry into your mouth only for it to disappear the minute it touches your tongue, for me this was the cleverest dish of the night. For the fifth and final course we were frogmarched outside to collect a slice of negre en chemise from ChocStar's magical chocolate mobile. What exactly "negre en chemise" is I don't know but it was pure indulgence, if I get to see ChocStar at London's first chocolate festival at South Bank next week, I'll ask her.
By the end of the night, we were absolutely stuffed and it was with heavy hearts and heavy stomachs that we had to leave amid a growing cacophonous atmosphere to catch the train home, I suspect that the night went on into the early hours with people probably forgetting that one of those was getting pinched back from them. It's not often you will go into a stranger's house to sit with other strangers and eat strange food but I couldn't recommend it enough. Keep it secret, keep it safe is a mantra that is running through my head right now, I hope MsMarmitelover can.
Neptune in Aquarius: a lemon vodka, elderflower syrup, lemon juice and blue curacao caviar cocktail
Pluto in Capricorn: Black beluga lentils topped by a round of goats cheese
Mercury in Aries: Peppery rocket, watercress and spring shoots. Scarlet pepperonata, with cherry tomatoes, capers and green peppercorns
Jupiter in Aquarius: An audacious dish in honour of the Lord of Abundance. Fruity and airy.Add your own optimism. Raspberry/pomegranata/creme de cassis 'air'
Venus retrograde in Aries: venusian chocolate....negre en chemise from Petra Chocstar