Saturday, November 04, 2017

Halloween Filipino Supper Club with Pepe's Kitchen, London

I'm embarrassed to admit, that after almost THREE whole years in London, I had never attended a supper club. Given my love of good food and a particular passion for the authentic flavours of home cooking, this was a huge oversight on my part that needed to be corrected quickly.

I've seen a lot of great looking supper clubs, but since our schedule is so last minute, by the time I'm ready to confirm that I can attend, the places are all taken up.

So last week when Joanne of Love Pop Ups London told me that Mae of Pepe's Kitchen was hosting a Halloween themed Filipino Supper Club and had space for a few more guests, I was very excited. This would be my first supper club and also my first experience of a Filipino meal.

A quick scan of the menu for the day, showed that there was no shrimp on the menu (which meant I could eat everything being served) and so I promptly signed up for three of us.

The whole process was very smooth and Mae was very welcoming and extremely prompt in her replies. She also said the Haloween costumes were optional and we could bring our own alcohol.

On Friday, we got to her place by 7pm and were served beef lumpia (like a spring roll, but canape sized) and an alcoholic cocktail as soon as we walked in. That beef lumpia was so good, I could not wait for dinner to start.

We hung around getting to meet the other guests and taking in the stunning views from their balcony, while waiting for the last of the guests to arrive, so we could all sit down together for the plated meal to begin.

Supper clubs are really intimate dining experiences at peoples homes and capacity ranges from 8-20 depending on the size of their homes. This one had nine of us at the table. Each of us came from different parts of the world, were well traveled and shared a passion for food. So the conversation at the dinner table was fascinating. The group was small enough that we could talk to each other across the table, rather like a large family dinner.

The only thing I felt bad about, was that while we were having so much fun at the table. Mae and her partner were busy working on the next course in the kitchen. But I guess, that's what happens even if you are visiting friends or family for a home cooked meal. She did invite us to join her in the kitchen in between courses if we wanted to, but the conversations at the table were too interesting to leave half way through.

The table was spookily done up and there were gums, teeth, fingers and eyeballs that we could eat off the table if we were  too hungry to wait.

Once we sat down, our first course was menudo tartlets. Mae's twist on a traditional Filipino chicken recipe. As we got ready to tuck in, she explained how she got her love for cooking from her father - Pepe and to introduce Filipino food to the London audience, she started catering canapes, so the food was bite sized and hence more approachable.

Mae gave us an introduction to Filipino food and a brief glimpse of the staggering variety of regional variations. Given that the Philippines is a set of islands, each island has their own take on dishes with the same name, as well as their own special dishes.

At the table, we had a round of conversation on how some of us crave spicy food when traveling and find that some countries, just don't serve food that is truly spicy. So we discussed tips, like carrying tabasco bottles in purses and the different spice pastes available as a topping in Asia.

As she had heard this conversation, Mae told us that Filipino food wasn't spicy. It does have spices, it just doesn't use as much Chilli as Thailand or India. She told us she could serve us some chillies on the side if we wanted.

Our main course was Dinaguan and I was very excited when I first saw this dish on the menu. Pork stew in pork blood served with homemade steamed rice cakes or jasmine rice. A quick google search said that Dinaguan was mostly made with pork offal and I was expecting something like our Manglorean sannas and sarpatel.Obviously, when you have such high expectations built around a dish you have never tasted before, there will be disappointment.

To be honest, I loved the texture of the dinaguan, the blood had been well blended into the gravy and I much prefer that to the black clumps that I normally pick out of my sarpatel. But Mae had skipped the offal, to make the dish less scary for the diners, so I missed the crunch of the offal and obviously the spice levels were very different. The gorgeous green chilli that she included in each dish did help and I finished my whole plate. But I was constantly missing the heat and sour tang of sarpatel and my cravings are just amplified enough that I may just set out on a treasure hunt to find a butcher who can provide me with cleaned offal and attempt to cook it myself.

The next course was Bulalo - a beef and bone broth simmered for a few hours. This was soul food. It just felt like one of the soups grandma used to make us when we were sick and only wanted hot liquid for sustenance. My cousin who was with us, also agreed that it brought back warm memories.

For dessert, we were served Ensaymada at Sorbetes -  Freshly baked sweet butter bread served with homemade coconut ice cream. This was heavenly. I'm not a big bread eater, but I could live on those Ensaymadas. They went into the oven while we started on our soup and were warm and buttery and absolutely delicious.

We loved the whole set up and are ready to try out more supper clubs. I'd like to explore Filipino food a bit more, this was a good introduction for me. I've heard there are a few more Filipino supper clubs in London and a restaurant or two where service is a bit hit or miss.

Also when Mae explained the different varieties of Adobo's in Philippines, I know that if she has a supper club with only adobos on the menu, I will be there with my stretchy pants on.

Mae only has a supper club about once a month or so. If you have the opportunity, I would heavily recommend it. Try a new cuisine, cooked and served with love by a passionate chef who will patiently answer all your questions about her cuisine and culture. Step into another world with a wonderful guide, right here in the center of London!

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