This review starts off with an admission of faulty judgement and ends with drunken meal joy.
A picky Parisian friend was bringing his new girlfriend over to London for the weekend so my girlfriend (a picky New Yorker) and I offered to arrange the meals for them. It began with a standardly brilliant breakfast at The Modern Pantry at which I found out his girlfriend was (i) Parisian (ii) liked champagne (iii) wanted to go clubbing in West London and (iv) liked champagne. At this stage I got nervous as for Saturday night I had booked Fernandez & Leluu's supper club in London Fields.
On re examining the menu they posted online I started to get really nervous; frogs' legs (for French people?!?), a Vietnamese inspired menu with pineapple and catfish thrown together. Was this going to be an unholy mess? Was the new girlfriend going to demand champagne and the soothing (boring) streets of West London?
Fortunately for me, I was completely and utterly wrong. It transpires that Fernandez & Leluu are both far better cooks than me (and most venues in London) and far far better at considering innovative flavour pairings than I (oh, and can cook frogs' legs well enough to wow a French person).
In a true over reviewing style, I'll start at the beginning and fade out towards the end (as that is when my enjoyment of the meal interfered with my memory).
Course 1 - Hot Sweet Sour Soup With Catfish, Tomatoes, Pineapple & Beansprouts. As soon as I tasted this I relaxed. Not only could L&F cook, they could cook with a leftfield bent and still pull it off. As good as many of the equivalents I have had in Vietnam.
Course 2 - Frogs Legs Terriyaki w/ Vietnamese Parsley & Sweet Basil Seed Cocktail. This is when you realised that F&L had a visual background in photography. The sweet basil seed cocktail made you squirm with how akin it was to frog spawn.
Course 3 - Vietnamese Spring Rolls With Pork, King Prawns, Black Fungus & Glass Noodles. Have you ever tried to make spring rolls? I have, I failed brutally. So do most restaurants and they ship them in frozen. These were nearly as good as Song Que's on Kingsland Road. Apparently they stayed up until 1 or 2 am the night before making them.
Course 4 - Cubed Tuna Sashimi With Soya Sauce, Ginger & Spring Onions & Ferdie Chips. I cannot overstate how good the chips were. Indeed, I could get histrionic about them. Combine that with sashimi from Steve Hatt and you know not only can these guys cook, they can source (as Steve Hatt is one of only two places you can properly get sashimi grade fish in London). You also realise this is an endeavour of love, as Steve Hatt is the gold leaf and ultramarine of quality fish and comes at the same price.
Course 5 - Seared Peppered Fillet Of Beef With Sugar Snap Peas, Cucumber Salad & Kabocha Squash Salad With Satsuma, Sake, Soya & Mirin Dressing. Perfectly seared, perfectly seasoned, perfectly dressed.
Course 6 - Red Curry With Chicken & Butternut Squash Served w/ Steamed Rice. This was the point my Parisian friend glazed over and after 6 courses still asked for more.
Course 7 - Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream With Ginger Biscuits. Sublime.
Well what can I say, when we stumbled out of there at 12:30/ 1:00 we were converts. I am organising my next visit right now. The only thing I regret is not bringing enough money for a bigger tip as though they don't ask for a tip (in fact I think they actually seemed to forget to ask most people for their "donation" for the super club at all) food like this deserves praise and reward. Indeed, food like this with an atmosphere of such charm, warmth and friendliness almost makes you want to give the hostess a bottle of champagne on walking in (which my Parisian friends would have no doubt agreed with).
To not appear like a fanboy I have to pick out the "bad" bits of the meal. Well... there were a few delays so it was a leisurely meal (not something that matters to me and I would rather that than a curtailed kerplow of an experience) and there was, by the end, a rather loud drunk person at my table. Unfortunately that turned out to be me.
Price - £not quite sure but between 20 and 30 but it deserves more
Underground Restaurant Review: Fernandez and Leluu Supper Club
By The Londonist (http://londonist.com/2009/11/underground_restaurant_review_ferna.php)
For most home cooks, catering for your average dinner party is still quite a test: menu planning, shopping, preparation, cooking, hosting and serving. The thought of opening one's home to eighteen strangers would certainly be beyond most people, but thankfully Simon and Yuen of Fernandez and Leluu in Hackney are more than up for the challenge.
Their home is filled with curios and talking-point pieces: stacked vintage leather cases, antique typewriters, a flatbed editing table. In the upstairs bathroom, guests are encouraged to write to them on the mirror using a chinagraph pencil - and the overwhelming gist of the messages is ‘Can I move in? Will you cook for me forever?’ and ‘We’ll be back!’
For their fourth Supper Club night, they offered a seven course east-west fusion menu. It’s difficult to identify a highlight, as it was all utterly moreish, but the Frogs Legs Teriyaki with Vietnamese parsley was something Londonist wouldn’t necessarily have ordered in a restaurant, and yet we loved it. The Sweet Basil Seed Cocktail - or ‘tadpoles’, as Yuen jokingly called it - was equally unexpected but refreshing. The Hot Sweet and Sour Soup with Catfish is something we might even consider making at home. Fitting in dessert seemed incomprehensible, but the Macha Green tea ice cream, served with ginger shortbread, disappeared in seconds.
Fernandez and Leluu try to make their menus seasonal and source ingredients locally where possible, and though they bill themselves as enthusiastic foodies rather than gourmet cooks, it was a remarkable meal, especially for the suggested donation of £30 (tips are welcome, and bring your own wine.) Next week is Great British cuisine, for Bonfire Night and further dates are on their website. Book quickly - they will definitely sell out.
Fernandez and Leluu - the menu changes weekly, and address details are emailed to you once bookings are confirmed.
Fernandez and Leluu: http://www.fernandezandleluu.co.uk/
Hot Sweet and Sour soup: http://www.fernandezandleluu.co.uk/2009/10/hot-sweet-sour-clear-catfish-soup-w.html
Written by Gail Haslam/ Photography By Gail Hassam Copyright 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Fernandez & Leluu
Underground restaurants are definitely the latest big thing, although the trend actually hit British shores over 9 months ago when the mysterious MsMarmiteLover started her supper club in Kilburn. The scene seems to have really captured the media's imagination recently. Whether it be incompetent restauranteurs making a meal of it in their own homes or in front of Raymond Blanc, duff amateur cooking seems to be too good a TV opportunity to pass up. But what would be the reality of underground dining - great food at bargain prices in a relaxed environment or incompetent fame-seekers jumping on the latest bandwagon?
Deciding we had gone long enough without trying this new craze, and with some trepidation after watching last week's The Restaurant, we set off on the journey from rural Surrey to trendy Hackney.
Fernandez & Leluu is run by Uyen and Simon from a secret location about a mile from Bethnal Green tube. As we arrived at 7.30, our coats were taken by the smiley Uyen, we were plied with wine and shown to our table. There were twenty of us in the room, which was decked out beautifully with twinkly little tealights, charmingly mismatched crockery and flowers.
At 8pm we started our 6 courses with a hot and sour soup of catfish, tomato and pineapple. Uyen warned us to watch the bones, which was certainly good advice. The soup was fragrant and light, with lashings of coriander. We settled in, feeling relieved that Simon obviously could cook.
Terriyaki frogs legs came with a shot of basil seed in sugar water (frog spawn). The meat was perfectly tender and lightly marinaded in a sticky umami-rich coating. The frog spawn was all looks and no flavour, but we appreciated the halloweeny touch.
It was now 9.30, and we were served with beautifully presented spring rolls, which were quite simply the best I have ever had. Apparently the virtuous Simon and Uyen had been up til 1.30am the previous night making them, and their efforts had clearly paid off. The wrappings were crisp and the interior was absolutely stuffed with sweet prawns, pork, black fungus and glass noodles.
Next was tuna sashimi, served with chips in a witty take on the British classic. The fish was fantastic quality, served in juicy cubes with a light soy marinade. The chips were Hind's Head worthy, well seasoned and perfectly crispy.
Sashimi swallowed, and we were served with some delicious seared beef and sugarsnap peas. The meat was top quality and melted in the mouth.
By 11pm we were tucking into red chicken & squash curry with rice - this was less spectacular but still very tasty. So tasty in fact, that I forgot to take a photo until I had almost finished!
We finally finished course number six, green tea ice cream with a crunchy ginger shortbread, at 12.20am, 5 hours after we had arrived. Fernandez & Leluu is by no means fast food, so be prepared to take your time (and plan your transport accordingly). The quality of cooking is fantastic though, and as they say, good things come to those who wait.
As it was we hailed a cab to Victoria, ran for the 1am train and were safely back to the 'burbs and tucked up in bed by 2am. Fernandez & Leluu has certainly won me over to underground dining, and if only I lived a little closer I would definitely be a regular.
Fernandez & Leluu
Somewhere in Hackney
Suggested donation £30
I love food.
I love my neighbourhood.
I really love finding good food in my neighbourhood. So I was quietly giddy when I heard about a new local supper club - essentially it's when someone opens their home to guests (in return for a 'donation' as of course not being a real restaurant they can't have paying customers) and lets loose their culinary imagination - and as much talent as they can muster - on their menu.
We really, really hit it lucky.
Simon and Yuen of Fernandez and Leluu are avid foodies and wonderful hosts - frankly, they seem almost surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reaction they seem to be receiving, but they shouldn't be. From their blog you can see how much time, patience and passion they invest in this project - in addition to fulltime jobs.
I coveted their vintage typewriters. I adored the napkins and crockery.
Hot Sweet Sour Soup With Catfish, Tomatoes, Pineapple & Beansprouts
Frogs Legs Teriyaki w/ Vietnamese Parsley & Sweet Basil Seed Cocktail
Vietnamese Spring Rolls With Pork, King Prawns, Black Fungus & Glass Noodles
Cubed Tuna Sashimi With Soya Sauce, Ginger & Spring Onions & Ferdie Chips
Seared Peppered Fillet Of Beef With Sugar Snap Peas, Cucumber Salad & Kabocha Squash Salad With Satsuma, Sake, Soya & Mirin Dressing
Red Curry With Chicken & Butternut Squash Served w/ Steamed Rice
Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream With Ginger Biscuits
Yeah, by the end my photography skills had gone by the wayside. Too busy concentrating on food. Marvelling at how we could possibly fit in the ice cream and ginger to-die-for shortbread. Wanting to move in. That sort of thing.