Tess Ward is a food writer, Le Cordon Bleu trained chef and host of West London’s exclusive tailor-made cookery programmes. She is also a twenty-something singleton, on the hunt for the best date-night eateries in our new weekly column. We will follow her from her awkward first date icebreakers to the third date clinchers, with a lot of tartare, steak, linguini and cocktails between. Check here every Thursday for a nibble of the action…
The location for this week’s date night dinner was a pop up supper club at Paradise Restaurant in West London’s Kensal Rise hosted by nutritionist and healthy foodie doyen Madeleine Shaw. Supper clubs have become all the rage in London. Cooler then a visit to an up-and-coming London eatery, it is an experience that lies between the parameters of a restaurant and a dinner party. It is certainly more of a relaxed vibe than the first, and a little less ‘come dine with me’ than the second. Basically you pay money to get served dinner, and sit cheek by jowl with a group of total strangers. At its most optimistic, it is a chance to meet new (hopefully interesting) people. At worst, it’s a chance to put into practice the basic school-taught manners, especially when you find you’re seated next to a outspoken Aussie, progressively drinking between shouts and passing out in his half-eaten plate of brownie.
My date this week = a Robert Downey Jr replacement!
My companion for the evening was my lovely cooking assistant, and fellow food critic Emily. A rather last minute affair meant that Robert Downey Jr couldn’t make it over from New York, so a gals date it was. Lots of wine, healthy food and no worrying about spilling food all over myself, it was the best first date in weeks.
The dresscode = no scruffs
Being late, as per usual, I arrived rather in a fluster. The back room was nothing short of wedding reception marvel. Elaborate bouquets of flowers and neat rows of tables, nearly laid, dominated the entire space. I nearly spun around and headed out the door, but the site of polished bouffant blondes and mulberry handbags assured me I had come to the right place. An unmistakable sight of disposable wealth and pore-exuding health was certainly in abundance. I didn't exactly blend in, in my old multicoloured cable knit jumper and boots. A pair of hemp chic ballet pumps and Stella McCartney tailoring would have been more appropriate.
The ambience = good for people-watching (though short on men)
Our table, the smallest ‘kiddie-sized’ table, on the far side of the room, was a mix of press and friends of the venue proprietors. A friendly, lively bunch, not shying away from a glass or two, kept the night entertaining. We all started off with a whole pineapple-filled cocktails. Delicious and fresh with a good kick. Had I been a pina-colada lover I would have done a hoola, but it is not my tipple and I moved swifty onto the wine. Luckily my date was fan and she polished off the both.
As is to be expected, the room was almost entirely women, there may have been four men in attendance, tops. Uneven odds, but most certainly in the man’s favour, should any men be taking tips… I have no doubt you could jump ship halfway through dinner if you happen to have a first date flop. The buzz of the room was energetic and lively, there must have been around 50 guests, so there was no shortage of people watching going on. Service was good, all the waiters seemed to have enough nutrition knowledge to tide over my questions. They also made sure our glasses were never less then 1/4 empty, so top marks all round.
The menu = delicious, and super-healthy!
The three course menu was a vibrant colourful selection of meaty, treaty dishes, and a choice of mains too. The menu, unsurprisingly, ticked all the good-for-you boxes. sweet potato, courgette spaghetti and quinoa, were all very happily in attendance. The starter, was a sharing platter, featuring a selection of Cajun Baked Sweet Potato Chunks with a very liquid coconut jus, lovely crisp Beetroot Chips and some golf balls disguised as Veggie Nuggets with a delightful tahini sauce. I found the most pleasing combination a bite of sweet potato, with a little tahini sauce and the beetroot crisp on top. A lovely mix of textures and flavour. For mains there was an option of Courgettini With Meatballs, Cauliflower Paella or a Squash and Quinoa Salad.
Against all better judgement my date and I both opted for the unspectacular veggie option. Everything was cooked perfectly well and the flavours worked, though there just weren’t really enough of them. A taste of the meatballs assured me that this wasn’t the case with the other dishes. The rest of the attendees went wisely with the meat options, I just covered my plate in the shared-table kale and covered it in lemon juice, which was much better. The pudding was a Raw Chocolate Brownie and Coconut Panacotta brought to the table in a sharing style. The chocolate brownie was a little bitter, but the panacotta was fab. Rich and coconutty, it was not overly sweet, and had the lovely sharpness of the rhubarb to cut through. A par with the yummy starter for first place favourite.
But could I take a Robert Downey Jr (if he ever took my call)?
Overall the supper was a great balance of restaurant occasion with the friendly fun dinner party vibes. I certainly enjoyed the evening and would recommend it for a gals date anytime, especially if you are into the healthy vibes. If you are thinking of taking a man/ladyfriend I would certainly wait under you are a few dates in. Otherwise you are at risk of sharing your first date with a boy snoring into a plate of brownies.
London Foodies, if you have any suggestions for date hotspots you love in london, please do tweet me @tesswardchef
Madeleine Shaw's next Healthy Pop Up Supper Club is Brazilian-themed and is taking place at luxury women’s wellbeing club, Grace Belgravia on 8th June. Click here for details.