Tuesday, May 31

A call from home: the Singapore supper club in London

Last week, I got a call from home. Stumbling around the internet, I came across a Singaporean supper club right here in London. I contacted them immediately, but found out that places were already full for their inaugural dinner. I gave them my number (in case spaces came up), feeling that I just might hear from them again. The Universe works in mysterious ways. As Frangelico and I were having a late brunch on Sunday afternoon, I got a text telling me that they'd moved the furniture around and found spaces for us!

For our international readers, supper clubs have been a popular dining option in London since around 2009. They're basically dinner parties, hosted by dedicated foodies out of their own kitchens. Paying guests attend, with their own drinks, and are seated at shared tables in the host's living room. It can be a great way to have an informal evening out, while discovering new styles of cooking and meeting new people who are also into food.

The +(65)/plusixfive supper club (named after Singapore's international dialling code) features Goz as head chef and Wen, writer of Going with my Gut, at front-of-house (she also made a dish of her own). One of their aims is to show Londoners that there is more to Singaporean food than the 'fictitious dish of Singapore Fried Noodles'. (That's right, people, there is no such thing. The turmeric-covered, thin rice noodles, with prawn or pork or whatever, was invented on this Continent. Probably by Marks & Sparks.)

Before telling you much more about +(65)/plusixfive, I'm going to get straight to the food. We started with one of my favourite Singaporean dishes: kueh pie tee.

Kueh pie tee shells, newly fried and waiting for fillings

Kueh pie tee consists of crisp, delicate shells packed with a mixture of shredded jicama (a root vegetable resembling turnip), pork, dried shrimp, mushroom and garlic. I absolutely love this dish - for the contrast of crisp and tender, salty and sweet - and I absolutely loved +(65)/plusixfive's version. The textures were beautiful: plump mushrooms, juicy jicama, tender pork, and fragile shells. A dash of Sriracha chili sauce, and there was satisfaction all around.

As nibbles, we also had a plate of crackling with peanuts and fried anchovies. These went perfectly with the drinks Frangelico had picked for the evening: two 'coffeeshop Uncle'-sized bottles of Tiger Beer.

Crackling with peanuts and anchovies

Tiger beers. I think they're meant to be good as gold around the world.

The next dish was chicken satay. This was a big surprise for me, as it was the last thing I was expecting to see coming out of a North London kitchen. The usual context for satay is a hot and humid star-lit evening, at an outdoor hawker centre, watching a sweltering Malay man fanning the flames of a coal fire, above which sit the skewered satay, with the sugary edges gradually caramelising into perfection. The +(65)/plusixfive satay was tender and flavourful, and it came coated in a wholesome, nutty and tangy peanut sauce. Alongside were the traditional cut fresh cucumber and red onion.

Chicken satay

If you thought that was a lot, you haven't seen anything yet. Wen then brought around a large bowl of steaming coconut rice, an indication that things were just getting started.

Steamed rice paradise

The first main course: Wen's family recipe of pork belly with pickled mustard greens. This is a traditional Hakka dish which comes in sweet or salty varieties, but Wen bent the rules to produce a sweet and salty version. Totally yummy. She has promised to share the recipe on her blog.

Hakka pork belly with mustard greens

Then followed an ox cheek rendang. Rendang is arguably the slow-cooked supremo of South East Asia (anyone want to contest that, show us whatcha got). The ox cheek was tender, melting, and infused with the pungent spices from the slow-cooking. It's hard to describe the 'sauce' of a rendang, because it's not really a gravy (or - to use that word I'm allergic to - a 'curry'). The sauce has the consistency of a risotto, and it's a concentrated intensity of chili, ginger, coconut, and spices.

The ox cheek rendang, taunting me

Next we had sliced cabbage with rice noodles, and tofu with century egg. With the other dishes being so intensely flavoured, the subtle cabbage and tofu took away some of the heat and balanced things out. This is something many Singaporean/Malaysian/Chinese/Indian restaurants in London don't do, choosing instead to overwhelm their unsuspecting diners with fire, fire, fire. Even if you order a vegetable side dish at those places, it's usually drenched in an oyster/garlic/chili sauce or an arsenal of spices. There's an idiom in Tamil to express that sense of being overwhelmed by too much of the same: 'feeling like you've been hit in the face'. Yin and Yang, people, Yin and Yang.

Cabbage with rice noodles, with some chicken added (by way of protest?)

Creamy tofu with century egg and spring onion

Next arrived the pièce de résistance of the evening: Teochew braised duck. Fate had never sent Teochew braised duck my way before, but I'd read about it in Cheryl Tan's A Tiger in the Kitchen earlier this year. It sounded delicious, and I'd been trying to conjure up (in my head) the taste of its aromatic caramel sauce, made with star anise, galangal, sugar, garlic and dark soy sauce. It was a surprise to find it at the supper club, and - oh my goodness - it is that good! The braised duck came with hard-boiled eggs, juicy pieces of tofu (which had absorbed the gorgeous sauce), and dense mushrooms.

Teochew braised duck, with tofu, egg, and mushroom

Finally, it was time for dessert. If we thought it couldn't get any better, Goz was to prove us wrong and raise the bar even higher. The first dessert - yes, there were two - was teh tarik ice cream with praliné corn flakes. Teh tarik, another stalwart of the Singaporean or Malaysian hawker centre, is a strong milky tea that has been smoothened out and frothed up using a special pouring mechanism. Check out the video to see how it's done.

Goz's teh tarik ice cream was just divine - luscious, milky, and yet light, with just the right amount of sweetness. The praliné corn flakes were an excellent complement, providing some bite.

Teh tarik ice cream with praliné corn flakes

And this really was the last thing: tapioca pudding cake, a traditional Straits Chinese sweet. The plate on our table was emptied of its contents even before the next table was given theirs.

I must admit, I was a tiny bit nervous before going to +(65)/plusixfive. I'd been to one other supper club earlier this year, and it wasn't a whole load of fun. We hardly saw the chef or got to speak to them, it was a pretty slick operation, the other guests weren't very nice, and the food was so-so. I wasn't keen to spend yet another evening with insincere and insecure snobs. But Frangelico said to me before we left home: expect the best.

What I found at +(65)/plusixfive was a wonderful team of people, who had gathered around them wonderful company. From the genuine, warm smile of Wen that greeted us at the entrance, to the sweet and cheerful Alex who offered us some champange as a welcome, to the animated banter at our table, to the quiet humility of the chef asking us if everything was fine, it was an evening of warmth, openness and generosity. Both the cooking and hospitality were from the heart, and that's something that can't be matched. I felt like I was at a friend's dinner party, rather than a supper club. (So comfortable had I become, that I almost forgot to pay!)

Thank you, Goz, Alex and Wen for a memorable evening. Frangelico and I wish you guys and +(65)/plusixfive all the best. Thanks for the call from home.

+(65)/plusixfive Supper Club
Islington, London



Edible Experiences


Vanessa said...

Thanks Truffle. I can only come here on a full tummy as everything you write makes me so hungry!

Such an easy narrative style for a food blog that I can completely picture each dish, but then I don't need to with your fantastic photography (& chuckle out loud captions - the 'good as gold around the world' played in my head with advert tunage).

I've never had Teochew braised duck either, but will definitely be trying it at the next opportunity.

Frangelico's advice really jumped out at me. How refreshing. So many of us set out expecting the worst, probably because we're so desperate not to experience disappointment, that we stop ourselves from expecting the best. I'm bringing back high expectations. Thanks Frangelico!


Mañana Mama said...

Wow. Am drooling now. That sounds a gazillion times more incredible than turmeric-covered Marks and Sparks noodles.

I'm So Fancy said...

Oh that looks awesome!! I'm impressed with your ability to wheedle your way in. That's pretty Fancy.

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

Thanks, Vanessa, for your detailed comment. So glad you're enjoying C&T! :) And you make a wise point. Here's to high expectations!

@Mama: Having said that, those turmeric-covered noodles (like many other inventions) can be quite yummy...

Thanks, Frau Fancy, but I think it was just a case of high demand for the supper club, and the chef playing tetris with his living room furniture!


Slade said...

Ok, I get it...we Americans have a long way to go...very jealous.

Su-Lin said...

Great photos and writeup! It was a fab night, wasn't it? Glad we had a chance to chat!

Hungry Female said...

This is so on my list! Great write up and photos. Can you imagine me being in KL and drooling at all this, that's testament to your report! Xx

Cinnamon and Truffle said...

@Slade: Well, I still have to find a porchetta roll around here that comes anywhere near what I had in America!

@Su-Lin: Great to chat with you too! So the Genie how? ;)

@HF: :)))

Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives said...

Oh yes, it was the genuine warmth that I really love about Plusixfive! Glad you got to make it...=D


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