It's not fancy, it's not big and it's not clever, but the scrag end is delicious. For simple, honest opinions on restaurants, recipes, supper clubs and what not, you've come to the right place.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Ben Greeno's Supperclub, somewhere in Hackney

Ben Greeno is a cheat. It’s not that he bowls deliberate no balls, or has affairs, or looks over your shoulder during poker games (as far as I know). He doesn’t, I assume, take dives in boxing matches, defraud international financial institutions or not pay his car insurance. He’s not a cheat in that sense.

No, Ben Greeno is a cheat because he claims to run a simple supperclub. You know, the sort that’s springing up all over London, staffed by excellent amateur chefs and run in a slightly chaotic but extremely fun manner. He does not.

With experience at everyone’s favourite restaurant that they haven’t been to, Noma, and big plans of his own Stateside, Ben is no amateur (even if he clearly loves his food). Do you own a water bath for slow cooking an egg over more than an hour? Have you ever served said egg, as your third course, with snails and wild garlic, its texture like good giant frogspawn, its yolk otherworldly? I didn’t think so.

Do you have the time, inclination and skill to prepare Jerusalem artichokes so they look like scallops, coat them in butter and tweezer them, salty, onto a plate alongside glorious hazlenuts, giving the whole the appearance of a Japanese garden? I don’t (especially not the skill).

When we have mackerel at home, Cute Letts and I, we tend to grill it or bake it whole. It’s delicious. If we’re feeling particularly ambitious, we might try to make a ceviche. But it would be a rare day that saw us attempt to present it raw with nasturtium flowers and dill cucumber pickle.

On the other hand, everyone can do pork belly, can't they? It’s easy. Cook it for ages with the right amount of salt and you’re bound to produce a winning dish. Cooking it like Ben Greeno does however, is not quite so straightforward. The pork tasted extraordinary – that’s almost a given here. But the ‘pickled walnut crumble’ topping it was absurdly good: pickled walnuts, blitzed crackling and some breadcrumbs created a salt and sour extravaganza that perfectly complemented the sweet pork. Broccoli worked beautifully with the dish.

I can’t cook desserts at all, so I won’t even pretend that I’d attempt something like Ben’s apple concoction. It was excellent by normal standards, but probably my least favourite dish of the night, given what had gone before. An attempt to do too much with too little perhaps. Apple in lots of different shapes is still apple, and the long, cylindrical pieces proved a real challenge, not giving into spoon work and having to be eaten more or less whole. They were tasty, sweet with muscovado and lightly spiced, but for me, slightly underwhelming.

No matter, salty caramel on teaspoons more than made up for any lingering disappointment.

Supper clubs are generally about atmosphere first and food a close second (certainly in my limited experience at three of them). Ben Greeno’s was about food first, but the atmosphere was brilliant too, helped by the warm-up glass of cider. Everyone had brought plenty of wine, which helped. Excellent company from guests including 360 degrees cheese and Ben’s delightful next door neighbour added to the charm, while Ben proved a genial host. We left at about eleven, but would have liked to stay much later. Others, I assume, did.

Supperclubs like this rather screw up my marking system. The only other one I’ve reviewed seemed so good that it deserved a 9/10, bearing in mind that supperclubs are not, nor should be, marked as if they were comparable to restaurants. But by that rationale, Ben would probably deserve a 10. My only disappointing supperclub visit occurred well before this blog started. It would probably have received a 5 by these standards.

I’m going to cop out and not give this one a mark. Ben Greeno’s is a terrific supperclub, but I don’t think he’s really competing against other places that are so-called. For £35, you get excellent restaurant-quality food, professionally presented, produced and served. I’d get down there fast if I were you. It won’t last forever.

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