hellloooooooo homemade lavender ice cream! where did this lovely dessert come from? i’ve just recently gotten to participate in something very exciting in the food world: secret suppers! after attending the salad club secret supper a few weeks ago and making the acquaintance of the lovely foodrambler, i got to assist in the launching of her secret supper last sunday: the rambling restaurant. my excitement knows no bounds.
soo…i don’t really get it. WTF is a secret supper?
secret suppers are essentially a fusion of a restaurant and a dinner party; it’s a meal served to curious and adventurous diners in someone’s home or another unexpected location. they’ve been in existence in san francisco for years and have recently been growing in popularity in london, as evidenced by this article from the london paper that namechecks rambling restaurant! i’m so happy to be involved in helping to get one off the ground, especially with such a talented chef as the miss foodrambler.
okay. i get the idea. so what’s with the secret thing?
well, the suppers are secret because it’s sort of a shady concept to be running a restaurant out of the home without permits and health inspections and all that boring stuff. as a result, people generally pay by a suggested donation rather than an established fee for meals and service to escape all those pesky legal ramifications. in addition, it’s secret because the location usually isn’t released until soon before the meal, both to protect the people behind the supper but more so to keep things exciting. isn’t it always better to add a little intrigue and mystery to your meal?
sweet! any other thoughts about secret suppers? i’m fascinated…really.
i personally think the most interesting part is exploring the space between restaurant meals and dinner parties. it’s certainly a novel experience on its own to be served a meal in someone’s living room and to eat the food of an unestablished but clearly passionate chef (you don’t slave over the stove for strangers unless you reaaaally enjoy cooking). however, i find it most fascinating when you can push the boundaries and bring something more than the restaurant experience for the people venturing out to eat. for example, we divided the fifteen diners into three tables, which meant that everyone sat with people they didn’t know before. if you’re going to a secret supper and just sit with the people you came with, in some senses the social experience is as limited as going to a restaurant. when you encourage interaction with other diners, all of whom have taken the same leap of faith to eat unknown food with mysterious people in a surprising location, it adds an entire new element of community and interaction to the eating experience. below you see some perfect strangers who will soon be dining companions…
however, you also have to be careful that it doesn’t just become a dinner party. this means artfully arranging a diverse guest list to include random strangers and unfamiliar faces instead of just having all your friends and your friends’ friends over for a meal. another place where the lines between restaurant and dinner party become blurred is the level of service. does the chef stay behind the scenes and send out multiple courses out via a team of servers to maintain a restaurant atmosphere? or does the food get prepared beforehand and served family style so the organizers get to share in the eating and the camaraderie? it’s fun to ponder these questions and consider all the possibilities in creating a unique dining experience for people.
it gets even better when you add in themes and fancy dress (that’s british for ‘costumes’) and weird locations and all the really exciting stuff. i feel like i’ve found the perfect world that combines my personal favorite activities (cooking, eating and drinking with friends, meeting new people, ridiculous and fun events) with the best part of my job (dressing up, creating novel experiences, encouraging interaction and community, injecting a bit of the unexpected and bizarre into daily life) and it’s only just beginning!
okay, that’s pretty awesome. but enough of your abstract ponderings, what about the secret supper by rambling restaurant? details and food porn already!
alright, alright. so miss foodrambler had spent all week doing various organizational tasks like acquiring plates and cutlery for sixteen, developing a fantastic local and seasonal menu, monitoring the guest list, and finding seating for everyone in her airy and sunny top floor flat. i showed up in the early afternoon on sunday to help with various aspects of preparation – everything from peeling and shredding a few pounds of potatoes to sweeping the floor to setting the table to sneaking bites of the delicious meal. i met and had a fantastic time chatting with michelle, another co-organizer of rambling restaurant, as we tackled various tasks in a flurry of activity. it was busy and fun and went by in a flash and all of a sudden we found ourselves with our first guests who had found their way to the flat via treasure-hunt type clues. as you can see by michelle’s lovely menu below, these serious eaters were in for some serious tastiness.
as people arrived, we greeted them with a rambling cocktail made of locally foraged elderflower cordial, gin, and a splash of sparkling wine. the guests, made up of friends, flatmates, food bloggers, and other secret supper organizers, mingled and chatted while we plated the first course, a homemade toasted bread and chicken liver pate with a gorgeous layered shot glass of mushy peas and fresh mint, red pepper puree, and yogurt with cumin (mushy peas is one of my favorite british foodisms along with bubble and squeak. it’s just so…honest). we had so much to do that we kept forgetting to take pictures, but michelle did manage to snap the lovely one above.
next up was a truly fantastic entree of english-caught trout on a layer of roasted fennel with parmesan on top of a layer of fresh rocket on top of a delicious potato rosti (a simple but delicious fried potato pancake with salt and pepper). an brilliantly conceived and ridiculously tasty dish, which the three of us shoved into our mouths behind the scenes. i was particularly impressed by foodrambler’s on-the-spot broiling of the trout right before serving. she certainly could have made her job less challenging by choosing a dish that relied more on advance preparation; instead, she proved her unruffled cool by roasting and plating trout for fifteen diners on the spot and getting all the dishes out steaming hot. serious props, lady.
here’s a table of serious foodies, including chris from cheese and biscuits, helen of food stories, laura of boo in london, and my friend and this-toasted-cheese-just-might-just-be-better-than… companion, michelle.
as if the entree wasn’t spectacular enough, i was impressed once again by the absolutely kick-ass dessert of homemade fresh lavender icecream and molten chocolate cake, which they call fondant here. miss foodrambler didn’t even start making the chocolate until entrees were on the table, hereby proving once and for all her take-charge-and-get-it-done-amazingness in my eyes. watching her heat massive chunks of chocolate and a shocking amount of butter over the stove, i knew a dessert of epic proportions was about to hit the kitchen, and i was proven correct. say hello to your own personal little cup of piping hot oozing rich chocolatey essence.
chef foodrambler had already prepped the orgasmically amazing lavender ice cream that i had to restrain myself from stealing before dessert was served. when i lived in san francisco, i was lucky enough to experience the best of hand-churned, innovative, artisanal ice cream, having lived within blocks of both the foodie heaven bi-rite creamery and the quirkily cool humphrey slocombe. i would definitely say that this fresh lavender-infused hand-churned delightfulness from foodrambler deserves to be up in the ring battling for the title with those two heavyweights. and i adore both those establishments with all my heart, so you know i’m not just starting sh*t here. but really, all those ice creams just serve to showcase what ice cream should be: made by hand with good, fresh ingredients, and lots of cold creamy love. here’s foodrambler doing some plating:
all in all, it was a fantastic, fun, exciting, non-stop evening of food, wine, conversation and interaction. the best part of secret suppers? there’s no waiter hovering to drop your check and kick you out so they can seat another table or start shutting down the restaurant. if everyone’s having a good time, the party goes on! and so it did, as we stripped off our aprons, poured ourselves glasses of wine, and sat down to chat with our new friends. it was so successful that we’re doing another one…a moroccan themed feast coming up TOMORROW!