Was this the Water House Project?
A sturdy steel-grey door stood before us, dimly lit and dodgy. All it needed was a surly bouncer and a puddle of nondescript liquid to convince us we’d taken a wrong turn under London’s neon lights.
I turned to Karen and through the steam, rising off her shoulders and shooting out her nose like a suburban dragon with every ragged exhalation, I could see the same look of concern.
Barely 12 hours earlier we had been tucking into blood sausage and grits three doors down at E. Pellicci, bleary eyed and in search of the quintessential London breakfast.
And look at us now, dressed up to the nines…actually, make that sixes, suitcase living is fashion suicide…and lusting for haute cuisine.
We were late, hence the snorting. I blame my gammy leg and Karen blames my appalling sense of direction. She’s right, as usual.
My attempts at haste would have made anyone laugh. A Michelin man (it was cold alright?) in search of a Michelin trained cook, careening through Shoreditch like a two-pot screamer, wife looking on in horrified amusement.
Our Greenwich Park exertions the day before (I was silly enough to think I could handle 25km by foot on our first day in London!) had rendered one leg an absolute basket case. The only way to achieve any sense of forward motion was to assume a strangely stiff-legged position, and like an horrific imitation of an SS goon, goose-step the lame leg down and under while the other swung around like a subway turnstile.
“We were late, hence the snorting…”
Having put the good commuters of London through such an exhibition of antipodean incoordination, the last thing we needed was to find we were at the wrong address.
“Hello?”, crackled the voice through the intercom.
“Sorry, we’re a bit late!”, we replied, hoping we didn’t sound a like a two pack a day smoker at his end.
“I’ll be right down!”.
Gabriel. Such a chic name, with impeccably groomed facial hair and an accent to match. Our host for the evening.
“Don’t mind the bicycle, we’re just upstairs. You’re the last two to arrive.”
As our coats were taken – our many coats – we caught a glimpse of our companions for the evening, milling about in their smart-casual finery, yet shoeless. A hand on a shoulder here, a demure giggle there…knowing looks, subtle lounge music and Bellini’s aplenty.
We were already on a first name basis, we’d just removed at least 75% of our clothing by weight, and we too had been asked to remove our shoes.
Hang about! What kind of event was this?!
Nervously scanning the room, it was with much relief that we detected no evidence of either latex, leather, or a key-filled fishbowl.
As Gabriel emerged from the throng, a brimming wine flute in each hand, all fears were allayed as he proclaimed,
“Welcome to the Water House Project supper club!”
A supper club?
Time is precious when you’re visiting a new city, particularly when there are only so many meals you can fit in your belly in one day. Yes, after rigorous testing we can confirm there IS a limit.
But we’ve found that there are some sure-fire ways to find out as much as possible, without spending days scouring blogs or ruining your Lonely Planet paperback in the process (does anyone still use them?).
The best is to know one of the residents. Bugger, no luck there…
The second is to do a food tour. This can be hit or miss, depending on the style of tour, the tour leader and whether you’d rather avoid the spoilers and ferret it all out for yourself. We picked a winner in the ‘A Modern Taste of Britain‘ tour by London Food Lovers Tours, but more on that later.
Our most recent discovery, thanks to the awesome ‘Curious London’ blog (oh, the irony), is supper clubs!
“Considering our supper club virginity, we were still giving the whole concept a good dose of side-eye.”
Sounding very 70s yet experiencing a huge renaissance in recent times, a supper club is the perfect way for a chef/cook/over-ambitious-fool to curate a bespoke menu and test it on a small, yet highly engaged feast* of friends or foodies that are typically locals in the area.
Gabriel is most certainly not an OAF. Considering our supper club virginity, we were still giving the whole concept a good dose of side-eye, but it was Gabriel’s Michelin cheffing pedigree that won us over (Galvin la Chapelle et al.).
More importantly though, it also gave us a great opportunity to meet some Londoners and find out their tips for places to eat, explore etc.
Wine is the perfect social lubricant and we had spent our afternoon rummaging in Marks and Spencer’s wine section, hoping to find something Tasmanian to bring to the table. Our hopes weren’t high, but we were very chuffed to actually find a few different options. We were so close to buying an awesome Josef Chromy sparkling, but then realised we didn’t have a fridge in which to chill it. Close call…but boy did Andrew look like a chav with a brown paper bag sticking out of his jacket all afternoon!
With Operation Social Lubrication in full effect, we had a great evening chatting with new friends over some amazing dishes. Gabriel was kind enough to give us an overview of each as it was brought to the table by his brother, but given the overwhelming success of the Operation we must confess that certain details were lost.
Not to worry though, with Gabriel kindly obliging to email through a summary the following day:
The Water House Project Menu
Jerusalem artichoke and truffle veloute
Atlantic cod, tumeric and cauliflower puree, pine nut, raisin and caper dressing
Cumbrian Herdwick lamb, pickled red onion, pea puree and mint oil, thyme jus
Chilled Valrhona chocolate fondant, white wine raisins, banana and yoghurt ice cream
Androuet cheeses, sourdough bread
Chocolate and thyme truffles
Our meal at the Water House Project
Across the board it was a well constructed menu, artfully combining traditional mainstays with interesting dressings, sauces and accompaniments. We wouldn’t say that it was pushing boundaries; perhaps a well-executed poke would be closer to the mark.
The most astounding thing was the exceptionally high level of consistency that he and his brother extracted from a kitchen the size of a shoe box. It’s a mystery, but they clearly have it down to a fine art!
The Jerusalem artichoke and truffle velouté was a particularly good start to the evening. Gabriel’s own philosophy is ‘less is more’ and this was evident in his judicious use of truffle oil. It’s such a powerful flavour and aroma, and yet in this instance it provided a delicious ‘just right’ savoury earthiness to the silky-smooth artichoke.
It really should be served in jugs though…
In both the cod and the lamb we saw some classic combinations prepared with great attention to detail. That Cumbrian lamb was so tender that a butter knife would have sufficed, while the delicacy of the cod contrasting with the crispy, crackly skin was a textural triumph. Comfort and modernity all in one.
It is a well-known fact that Valrhona chocolate makes everything better.
Yet, even in such a decadently wicked fondant you can find your sweet limits. The magic in this dish was the addition of the banana and yoghurt ice cream. It was like there was another compartment inside our bellies just waiting to be unlocked, and ice cream was the key. Sweet, tangy, smooth…backwards and forwards, to and fro, it was almost as good as a never-ending packet of Tim-Tams**!
And then there was cheese. Crumbly, sticky, smelly, gooey cheese.
Androuet London is one of the city’s most well-renowned fromageries and Gabriel’s selection was excellent.
Tasmania is known throughout Australia for the quality of its cheese, but there was something quite eye-opening to this whole course, not only in terms of the cheese itself, but also the approach taken by those around us.
While swinging may not have been on the menu for the evening, there was a distinct air of intimacy between the Londoners and their cheese! There was a passion and affection there that we’d never experienced back home. Simply mention the word ‘Comté’ and watch all eyes around the table glaze over in reverie…it was clearly a religious experience!
And no wonder. There was a freshness, a vitality and a purity to the cheese that was new to us. Layers of complexity and flavour.
Was it the proximity to its source? The centuries of artisanal heritage? Perhaps it was simply our immersion in a new and exciting environment that had our senses on edge? Whatever the case may be, we too had the privilege of experiencing a moment of cheese-induced wonder.
Gabriel’s Water House Project is a project of culinary exploration, communal bonding, and ultimately of shared values. In a city where a single course could easily set you back a day’s wage, the supper club represents fantastic value, and truly is one of the best ways to get the real story from a local’s perspective.
Now, where DID I put those keys…
What is it? The Water House Project
When is it? Thursdays and Fridays
Where is it? Bethnal green
How many courses? Seven
How much is it? £50pp
How to book? Drop by GrubClub online
Website? The Water House Project
*As an aside, what DO you call a group of foodies? A ‘hipster’? A ‘condescension’? Or does ‘feast’ hit the mark?
**A pox on anyone who dares hold the Penguin up as an equivalent to the Australian Tim-Tam!