I recently celebrated my birthday (a big one, ok?) and I wanted to have a generous, sprawling dinner out in London with a good bunch of mates. But I faced a quandary – there were so many things that I didn’t want. No chain restaurants. No way. Nor anywhere too expensive, because I don’t hang out with bankers. I also didn’t want to get squeezed onto a massive trestle table in some deafening Soho venue, where you can’t hear anything above the din, and can only shout into the ear of the person next to you. I also didn’t want a cheesy set menu in some local dive, where you’re shoved into the dank basement room that smells of drains. Fussy, moi?
What I did want was something fun, fresh, exciting and sociable, where you weren’t expected to vacate the table after two hours, and could mingle and move around, all the while eating amazing food! Not too much to ask is it? Well, in London, at least, you’d think you were asking for The Thames to run with liquid gold. I nearly went mad with the stress of trying to find the perfect restaurant that didn’t cost upwards of £65 per head, that could fit about 30 of us in. And then I gave up. I had a brainwave. Why not ask one someone to do a private dinner for us, perhaps someone who had run a supperclub or a pop-up restaurant before? I might get something more personal that way.
I remembered I’d really enjoyed a supperclub that used to be run by Simon Fernandez and his then-partner, Uyen Leluu, where I’d eaten Vietnamese food in the sitting room of their house in Hackney. I discovered that Simon Fernandez now did his own pop-up restaurant called Ferdie’s Food Lab. I called him up and chatted things through, and he suggested doing me a private banquet in a groovy private venue in Maida Vale. The food would be a surprise five-course menu (guided by what my guests and I did / didn’t like eating). Simon was very patient – there were about five people with complex and differing food intolerances, but he didn’t even murmur when I sent the list over. I left it all in his capable hands. It was a wonderful night. Simon is a sociable and fun bloke and made sure the whole night went with a bang – we felt instantly comfortable and proceeded to get on with the business of partying without worrying about sniffy waitors reigning us in! We played our own music on the venue’s stereo, which made the atmosphere instantly more personal. Plus, we were able to bring our own booze, which meant that people could drink as much or as little as they liked, and there wasn’t a horrific moment with the bill at the end!*
The food was absolutely brilliant – a really unusual and eclectic mix of Spanish / Mediterranean sharing plates, which kept everyone at the table guessing. There was such a mixture of unusual flavours, and everyone raved about the food afterwards, saying how different it was to anything they’d ever had before. Here is what we ate:
‘Cube-abs’ of beef shin with dips: chimmi churri and beetroot with horseradish. Plus garlic turkish bread:
Crispy chicken thighs with grapes, Szechuan pepper, grapes and sage:
Morcilla croquettes with poached egg and peas:
Arroz al horno: Iberian dish which is a mixture of rice, ribs, sausages and spices:
Side dish of chorizo, roast baby peppers:
Pistachio olive oil cake with almond gelato and black olive chocolate sauce:
Petits fours: black olive ganache, salted lemon fudge with white chocolate:
I was forced to take all the remaining petits fours home in a tub and eat them all the next day, they were that good.
I waddled home a happy birthday girl. I’d eaten ’till I popped, I’d caught up properly with my friends without having to SHOUT, and felt like the evening had been truly different to a typical restaurant experience. I would recommend Simon’s Food Lab to anyone who wants something a little bit different, and who is hungry and fussy!
* The price per head was £45, which, considering the spread of dishes was very good value. In London you can easily part with double that, if not more, without blinking!