A memorable Jubilee lunch with the Disappearing Dining Club
For 18 months, the Disappearing Dining Club has turned unusual spaces around east London into one-day gastronomic experiences. On Sunday 4th June 2012, as a flotilla of boats drifted down a rain-swept Thames, 60 people gathered in a winding, four-storey Victorian townhouse to munch through a four-course meal, then drink and sway to a live DJ on the top floor.
The club has hit on a great concept, bringing together an exploration of hidden and unusual urban locales with a sensual and social feast. Previous events have been held in launderettes and old photographic galleries; one particularly imaginative set-up offered a different meal on each of four floors, guests ascending through a variety of cuisines.
At each event, guests gather round large tables and a menu that encourages the sharing of food provides a spark for conversation with the strangers at your elbow. The hosts are warm and welcoming. On this occasion, the club’s owner, Stuart Langley, met people on Shoreditch High Street in a red and blue striped dinner jacket and accompanied smokers with an umbrella to fend off the unseasonable weather.
Langley is clearly passionate about the idea. As we huddled from the rain he described fond memories of eating with his family in the garden of his childhood home, investing him with a vivid sense of the pleasures of mingled food and conversation. His enthusiasm filters through the event to ensure everything is very comfortable, setting guests entirely at ease.
The menu itself is moulded by the space in which the eating takes place. With four floors linked by narrow stairways, the emphasis during the Jubilee lunch was on dishes that could be served to six guests simultaneously, to minimise the milling of staff – so troughs of bread, pickles and pots of spread, large pies and cakey puddings were the orders of the day.
The first course consisted of three canapes: curried crab heaped on a potato crisp, grilled asparagus with a creamy lemon dressing, and roast beef and horseradish on a shallot base. It was an unusual combination of strong, diverse flavours and the mix of curry, citrus and horseradish provided our taste buds with an explosive introduction to the afternoon’s menu. But while the flavours felt a little scattergun, the textures complemented well, especially the crunch of the crisp beneath a soft, succulent mound of Dorset crab.
The next course was the most interesting and successful of the afternoon. Organic sourdough from St John Bakery provided a wholesome complement to three attractive jars of spread: potted pork with Dijon mustard and tarragon, potted smoked salmon infused with lemon, and potted salt beef with gherkins. The salmon was moist and delicious, although the beef was a little dry and overly-reliant on salt to provide interest. But the highlight was the pork, which was intensely flavoursome – even a small morsel ricocheted tastiness around the mouth, without being at all overwhelming. My companion effused about the choice of tarragon and it took no time at all for us to scrape the jar clean.
The main course offered another unusual combination: rabbit and crayfish pie. The teenage son of the family beside us summed it up well, exclaiming: “A rodent and a crustacean in one pie.” It was served on a wooden chopping board with carrot and swede mash and a small pile of cold green beans. The pie was a tasty and fulfilling creamy mess – not subtly flavoured or sophisticated, but satisfying to turn over in the mouth and send plunging down to rest regally in the stomach. While it was an odd choice for a June afternoon, its hot meaty centre was a comfort, as the rain ran down the window panes. Together with the mash, though, it was quite heavy and the warm mushy medley made for a somewhat monotonous texture – it would have been nice to have some bite.
Following the pie and mash was the pudding, a strawberry jam roly poly, which was far too stodgy and dense an end to the meal. Add to that a thick and buttery custard (and the fact the cake itself was dry and a little hard), it became a struggle to take any pleasure at all from the last of our four courses.
If you’re after a top-end gastronomic experience, the Disappearing Dining Club doesn’t offer what can be found at excellent London restaurants for a less expensive price. But the food is only a part of what the club aims to provide. The unusual setting, the warm welcome and the convivial atmosphere all combine to make joining them a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
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