A hush-hush East London supper-club from Nuno Mendes
‘Come on up the stairs,’ a voice tells you when you ring the buzzer at the mysterious-looking, gun-metal-grey building on Redchurch Street. Turns out that voice, and the first person you meet at the top of the stairs, is Nuno Mendes, executive chef at clubby Chiltern Firehouse and the man who brought a Michelin star to Bethnal Green at now-closed Viajante. But before all that, Mendes established himself on the London scene with a supper club in his own home that popped and crackled with molecular wizardy. He’s is back in the home kitchen again, well, sort of. It’s not technically his house (he lives up the road), but the idea is that he hosts just 16 people at a time as if they were at a private dinner party. And that’s certainly the way it feels – if your host’s kitchen happened to have sleek brushed-steel counters, the whizziest, bespoke Molteni stove and a crack team of the calmest, most focused young chefs around, headed by the charming Edoardo Pellicano.
Mendes wants to retain an element of surprise about the 13-course menu (which changes all the time), so much so that he skirts around a question about a piece of meat hanging on a string above the little Japanese grill where a chef is smoking scallops in their shells alongside Douglas-fir twigs. ‘You’ll see.’ In the meantime, those scallops are the opening snack, a delicate diversion that you eat while making friends with your fellow diners in the kitchen. These are followed by ‘tacos’ of melting short rib wrapped in English wasabi leaves with wood ants that give a citrus hit far punchier than any exotic Australian finger lime. Tupperware boxes stacked on a shelf listing strange-sounding ingredients such as ‘turbot bones’ and ‘stab 2000’ add to the intrigue.
And then you are all invited into the dining room, with its long slab of an oak table, rough-hewn ceramic water jugs and black Shaker-style chairs, and the sit-down part begins. (Although the lovely team tell you that you are free to wander from kitchen to dining room to wine room and eat wherever you wish. Later, they track us down in the kitchen with cutlery and red wine on hand so we can enjoy the main course among the cheffy hum). That main course turns out to be a jammy-briny combo of Ibérico-pork presa with pickled nukazuke carrots. And the incredible menu in between features elements such as reindeer moss, savoury Japanese chawanmushi egg custard, smoked kobe beef with the sweetest of English peas, and a superbly rich mouthful of bone marrow paired with pickled onion. Mendes riffs on a traditional Portuguese eggy farofias for dessert (smoked egg yolk shavings instead of cinnamon) and goes out with a mouth-tingling bang in a final pudding of cherry-stone ice cream with strawberries and Szechuan peppercorns – the most grown-up of popping candy.
As at any great dinner party, the first drinks are served in the kitchen as everyone loosens their ties. From the chalked-down list of wines by the glass, a Lilbert-Fils Blanc de Blancs is creamy and refreshing. A few courses later, the lovely Sarah Papadimitriou (ex Hackney’s Laughing Heart) recommends a sensational white wine, La Banda del Argilico, from Castilla y Léon. That red with the main course is another smooth Spaniard, this time from the Rias Baixas. Happy guests hang around after the last plates have been cleared and order another bottle, even after Nuno has popped over to say goodnight. And then you remember you’re not back at his after all.
A dinner party with a twist that’s a real conversation starter.
By Grainne McBride.