In spite of the fact that one of my favourite people in food, James Ramsden, is proprietor of a wildly successful supper club, I've personally never seen the appeal of these 'underground', restaurant-in-our-living-room type affairs. Even though I eat out a great deal, I still see any meal not cooked at home as a treat whether it's one I'm paying for in a restaurant or one that's served gratis at a dinner party, so the concept of going to someone's home and paying for food in a quasi-restaurant setting is one that I'm afraid I can't get my head round.
Fortunately for James's Secret Larder I appear to be in a very small minority; his domestic diner continues to thrive and I wouldn't want it any other way. A Supper Club which does appeal to me however has been set up by another of my favourite people in food (and in fact, like James, one of my favourite people full stop), the Catalan cooking expert Rachel McCormack. In association with Codorniu, purveyors of fine sparkling wines, Rachel has launched a monthly(ish) night at cult foodie hang-out Bea's Of Bloomsbury showcasing both her immense enthusiasm for and knowledge of Catalan cuisine and Codorniu's rather lovely vino.
The format for the evening is certainly innovative (or perhaps it's not, perhaps supper-clubs all across the world are very similar, but I wouldn't know). Rachel and her able sous-chef Franz Schinagl prepare a four course meal accompanied by a selection of complementary Codorniu wines, each course reflecting the personality of one of Barcelona's diverse neighbourhoods as explained in a wittily- and engagingly-written 'guide book'. It's informative and fun; I thought I knew Barcelona inside-out having visited it more often than any other world city over the last twelve years or so, but Rachel's knowledge, absorbed through living there for many years, is clearly far more in-depth.
Thus we started in Els Mercats, the markets typical of every neighbourhood where locals 'buy fresh food and catch up on the latest gossip', the markets' colourful abundance represented here by plentiful dishes of olives, fuet (a Catalan pork sausage), cheese, Iberico chorizo and ham, and potato and spinach tortillas. The accompanying wine, Anna de Codorniu - 'Spain's favourite sparkling wine' - was light and fresh, perfect as an aperitif and with appetisers.
Next came a cup of the thick, herby cooking broth or sopa which is a delicious by-product of the making of carn d'olla, a mixed meat stew reputed to be the oldest Catalan dish and attributed here to the traditional San Gervasi neighbourhood. Said stew was itself one of the many dishes which, served buffet-style, made up the main course; a vegetarian's nightmare and therefore my idea of heaven it consisted of beef and pork meatballs, pigs' trotters, lamb and chicken, all cooked to delicious, unctuous softness.
Other dishes - some, appropriately given the scale of the feast, made according to recipes from a restaurant called Gargantua y Pantagruel - included fideua, a variant of paella made with short noodles instead of rice, smoky, char-grilled squid stuffed with aubergine, patatas bravas and rabbit cooked with onion. Escalivada - roasted vegetables - and pickled cauliflower doused in delicious alioli were excellent accompaniments. Also excellent was the chosen wine, Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs which, although Codorniu would never say as much themselves, tasted in my not-entirely-inexpert opinion as good as any Champagne.
Of course, what we really needed after so much food and wine was three desserts and more cava, this time a Pinot Noir rosé which went very nicely with Catalan cream (call it crème brulée at your peril), almond doughnuts and my favourite dish of the whole night, hazelnut 'soup' with crocanti and ice-cream. Served in little glasses it was a perfect end to the meal, sweet enough to provide a lift but with a slight, savoury nuttiness that cleansed the palate. I'll be looking out for sopa d'avellanes next time I'm in Catalunya.
All-in-all it was a fantastic meal, thoughtfully put together and lovingly prepared, with the added advantage - for those minded to read the accompanying 'guide book' - of being educational. Future, paying events - this one was a press/blogger freebie - will also represent good value for money with a four course, all-you-can-eat meal costing £35 or £45 with lashings and lashings of Codorniu wine.