Professional chefs work bloody hard. Long hours, hot kitchens, churning out food day after day with little reward other than the knowledge that others might be enjoying what they have produced. Professional kitchens are nothing like the domestic kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I haven't worked in one, but knowing a few who have, it sounds like hell on earth which would totally take away the joy of cooking.
Ben Greeno is one of these chefs. Having worked in some of the worlds most established restaurants (including Restaurant Sat Bains, Noma and Momofuku), he is taking a well earned rest after returning from a short stint in New York. Well, I say rest; Ben has decided to set up his own supper club in his home for a few months before he embarks on his next adventure, so I decided to pop along with a few friends, a second best to actually heading to Noma and eating there.
Some supper club purists may have an issue with Ben's set up. After all, he is a professionally trained chef with years of experience behind him, surely this isn't fair on the multitudes of other non trained supper clubbers? Personally, I go for the experience and the food is normally a secondary concern. As long as I have a good time and don't get food poisoning, I am pretty pleased. In this case, we bundled into Bens flat, straight into his living room where the one singular long table is set up and had a glass of cider thrust into our hands, with another table filled with radishes, bread and dips were waiting us. The basil emulsion (mayonnaise) and roasted pepper dip had us constantly dipping and munching, whilst we mingled with the guests on the balcony as they arrived. Good start.
As we sat down, I seemed to have hit the jackpot when it came to dining companions. Along with the people I came with, I had Rob Martin, an American chef and also Noma alumni, sitting next to me and a group of lively food loving Singaporeans a little further down the table. The night was getting good. We started chatting and chowing down on some delicious bread spread thickly with nasturtium butter delivering little salty bursts, as our first course of "carrots" was served. Looks simple, but the combination of poached carrots, raw carrots and cherries soaked in dashi gave the dish an almost sweet and sour quality. Delicious, but the size had me concerned. If all the dishes were this dainty, how the hell was I going to be full by the end of the meal?
Next up was raw mackerel, challenging for a fish hater like me, but I dove in anyway. I needn't have worried, the mackerel was super fresh and the tart sauce made from jostaberries (a cross between the gooseberry and blackcurrant) went with the creamy mackerel well. The "scrumped" apple from a nearby garden added texture, with the bitter leaves building another level of flavour. Simple but clever.
The next dish of pork cigar, slowly caramelised onions and slow poached egg was rather grey, with purple edible flowers lifting the whole dish. The flavours though, were far from grey. Meaty rich pork cigar, the sweet sweet onions and the slow poached egg (gelatinous, having been poached at a consistent 62 degrees), textures, flavours, a symphony of sensations.
You know I was worried about the size of the dishes earlier? Yeah, I was starting to fill up and we were nowhere near the end. The "main" was probably the nearest dish we had to what most would call a conventional one, slow roast lamb belly, a berry jus (I forget which) and parsnips two ways (roasted and pureed). Simple but great flavours.
Ben (if his biopic is correct) jointly headed up the pastry section at Noma, so you can probably say he is a dab hand with desserts. What arrived was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, with shards of rosewater meringue, blobs of lemon curd and dehydrated ginger biscuits carefully arranged on the plate. Kernels of sweetcorn and a smattering of blackberries added additional sweetness. So good, I was caught licking my plate, and you know what, I didn't care.
I was full and satisfied. Throughout every course, there was much banter and the atmosphere was just perfect. Loads of chatter, laughs and stunning food. Ben had been an excellent host and the food was all I had hoped it would be. He came and joined us with the coffees and chatted with the guests. Coffee with toffee truffles turned to wine, which turned to more wine and, well, turned into a very late night. We chatted about many things, but one included his exciting next steps in his culinary adventure. Go before he stops cooking and if/when you do go one word of advice. Don't load up on the delicious bread early like I did, you will regret it later.
Ben Greeno's Tudor Road - Somewhere in Hackney. It may be on Tudor Road...