Take a 100-year old village hall, in the heart of the Kentish countryside, at the end of a June day. Add some tables, chairs, crisp white linen, and freshly cut garden flowers.
Chill a few bottles of gently sparkling rosé from north Kent’s Throwley vineyard, and wait for people to arrive.
And that was the simple but enticing scene set, on a mid-June evening, for Emma Wilcox’s (@emwilco) first supperclub outside of her usual venue, Macknade’s in Faversham.
With everyone gathered, and with our welcoming fizz duly downed, it was time to take a seat and to take a look at the menu…
Oohs and aahs reverberated happily around the table. We’d been promised the best of local, seasonal produce, and it was hard to imagine a bill of fare to tick that box any better. And all of this to be accompanied by Emma’s own homemade sourdough bread, huge plates of which started appearing in front of us. Breadmaking is an art, and sourdough even more so, needing as it does a worthy starter, lots of kneading and time to prove. And then there’s the knack to slashing the loaf, and getting the bake just right. Emma has evidently long since mastered these hallowed skills – each bread (she made 3 varieties) had a perfect crumb, a sturdy crust, and superb flavour. If I could buy bread locally even half as good as this, I’d be happy.
While we contentedly munched away, Emma got busy in the kitchen, single-handedly plating up 30 portions of our opener, wild rabbit terrine.
I rarely order terrine when I’m eating out – so often they’re a bland slab of disappointment. Needless to say, not this one. The gamey wild rabbit was a meaty delight, its rich savouriness tempered beautifully by the sweet/sour tang of the pickled walnuts and the tender young pea shoots. A great start.
Next, asparagus with egg and rye crumbs…
Everyone has their favourite way of cooking asparagus. But it’s reasonable to assume most won’t have ever eaten it like prepared like this. It doesn’t look or sound like much, but that soft-boiled egg and rye crumb combination provided an amazing umami hit to go with the chargrilled earthy asparagus. Judging by the reaction around the table, I wasn’t the only one to find it a revelation. Definitely one ‘to try at home’.
And then, the main course – rack of lamb, with baby new potatoes, courgettes, and shallot purée, artfully and most appealingly heaped onto big platters…
… and then shared out around the table…
I’ve eaten an awful lot of lamb in my time, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this ranked right up there with the very best (and I wasn’t the only one to say so). I take my hat off again to Emma for pitch-perfect cooking – the lamb was absolutely spot on, a beautiful blush pink throughout, lip-smackingly savoury, moist, and succulent, and just a complete joy to eat. All the accompaniments were terrific, too – the smooth, creamy shallot purée and the glossy jus being great foils to the lamb, with the potatoes and courgettes giving the whole thing a summery lift. Once again, the hubbub of approval was plainly audible, and many went back for seconds. Or was that thirds?
By the time we’d finished tucking into the main event, you’d think that even the keenest appetites might have been sated by this point. And yet, somehow, noone came remotely close to declining our final course. By candlelight, the dessert – rhubarb fool, elderflower granita, and langues du chat…
The photograph doesn’t do it the slightest justice – and, of course, doesn’t convey the flavours. The fool, like the lamb, was a shining example of what can be done with ostensibly simple dishes. Creamy and tending to sweetness, but balanced brilliantly with the acidic rhubarb. With that, another surprise – how good can elderflower granita be? Very good, as it turns out, with all that floral fragrance distilled right there into smooth sorbet-like form. Intense, heady, wonderful stuff.
And that, folks, is exactly how a supperclub should be – full of fantastic, immaculately-sourced local and seasonal ingredients, cooked carefully with evident love and pride by someone who genuinely knows what she’s doing, and thoughtfully presented in a lovely venue to a crowd of appreciative diners. It was a real treat in every way.
Please come back soon, Emma!
(You can follow Emma on Twitter at https://twitter.com/emwilco, and find out more about her supperclubs – including upcoming dates and menus at http://emwilco.wordpress.com/)