A lot of dining out is about theatre and spectacle. Cloches, dry ice, immersive sensory experiences and beautiful dining rooms are all there to heighten the diner’s experience.
And you’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic venue for a meal than where I ate on Saturday night: in the aisle of a Grade II* listed church, with Christ on a cross hoisted above the aisle-long table, overseeing matters as he’s eternally crucified.
I was at one of Grub Club‘s successful pop-up supper clubs, which are springing up all over London like fountains, where the amateur chefs’ passion for food overflows (as does the BYO wine). The idea is that passionate foodies sell tickets to a meal they cook and serve at a usually non-traditional dining venue. Wannabe Masterchefs are hosting these pop ups everywhere, from churches to their living rooms.
This particular supper club is called Knife & Pork, and was hosted in St John of Jerusalem Church in Hackney close to Victoria Park. Knife & Pork is run by a duo called Dom and Tom, who started the pop up in 2013 as a way to simply make their friends happy by cooking for them. Now it has spawned to a 60-seater banquet in a church affair, with five courses and wine pairing from a lovely wine shop in Victoria Park village, aptly named in view of the dining venue, Bottle Apostle.
On Saturday night, having selected our wines in the friendliest wine shop in London, Andrew and I ambled along to the church, which was prettily adorned with fairy lights for the occasion. We were greeted by a bevy of lovely servers, who took our wine off to be chilled and supplied us with a punchy Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned.
We were then sat at a long tressle table that was down the centre of the very wide aisle, and left to chat to other supper club attendees who were sat to either side of us. Quite contrary to my memories from school of sitting in church, slowly freezing to death in the draughty pews, this church was positively toasty, warmed by heat lamps, good booze and festive cheer.
Pretty quickly an amuse bouche arrived: crispy pork crackling with apple sauce to dunk it in. The crackling was cut into very fine ribbons, and deliciously crisp. The apple sauce was slightly too sweet for me, but I like my fruit to be as sour as Haribo tangfastics.
We were then presented with a shot of cauliflower soup. Cauliflower isn’t my favourite vegetable, but this was cooked and seasoned well, and was deliciously nutty, with a garnish of crispy onion “bits”.
Next up were huge platters of crispy chickpea salad with generous chunks of chorizo served on the side, along with slithers of fresh white bread. I really liked all the components of this dish – anything with chorizo in is a winner for me, but I also really liked the crunchy chickpea in a fresh summery salad. I’m not sure the dish as a whole was very cohesive, so it was probably not as good together as a sum of its parts as they were all separately.
The main event were slices of porchetta on a bed of wilted spinach and a side of a dauphinoise potatoes. The porchetta was lovely and fresh, enveloped by a ring of very thin crackling. The spinach was great – I could eat wilted spinach on Pop Eye levels. And the dauphinoise were insanely good. I love dauphinoise, and these were creamy and beautifully cooked. I was sad I only got a pretty small portion of this.
We were then treated to a clever pudding: “Egg and Soldiers”. This was a boiled egg in an egg cup with two “soldiers” poking out of the top. But in place of the egg was actually a light and fluffy lemon mousse with a passion fruit centre. The soldiers were two sticks of shortbread. I thought this was a really cute and imaginative dish, but it wasn’t a case of style over substance – the mousse was beautiful and perfectly balanced out all the rich pork we’d just eaten.
From here we were served “fine cheese” (no cheese isn’t fine to me) from Raw Cheese Power. These were all great, but I was starting to feel a bit like I was going to wake up with gout so I didn’t indulge too much. OK fine, I ate loads of it but was too busy chatting to remember any of the names. I am not even sorry about it.
To wind down peppermint tea or coffee (not peppermint) were served along with tiny morsels of rich chocolate brownies which I am fairly certain were laced with plump dates.
I really really enjoyed my evening at Knife & Pork. It was so much fun, and I found all the elements made a winning combination: the setting, the awesome food and the fun people we met there. It was so nice to do something different and meet new people, and just have a right old knees up. I’d highly recommend checking out Knife & Pork, and other pop ups Grub Club offer.
The next Grub Club on my hit list is GC’s most popular one: A Little Lusciousness. Having met the chef, Rosie, a few times and been bowled over by her passion for and knowledge of seasonal food, I can’t wait to feast on her food.
I was invited to review Knife & Pork, but I genuinely enjoyed it and will be a paying guest next time they’re in action.