It’s a very strange affair, a supperclub. To sit down for dinner with thirteen other people, none of whom you know. To sit down for dinner in a flat in Crystal Palace whilst a friendly lady cooks you dinner and her friendly husband serves you sushi, neither of whom you know. But, it’s an evening full of potential too: sitting down for dinner with thirteen interesting people, that you may never have met if you hadn’t been thrown together around a dinner table. To have a chance to meet Yuki and her husband Alex, and to have a delicious and authentic Japanese feast in their beautiful home.
We were some of the last guests to arrive, having taken two trains and a mini-cab to get there from Kent. The door was opened by a smiling Yuki, instantly welcoming and completely charming. She led us into her gorgeous home, took our coats and wine (which wasn’t chilled in the slightest, so she rearranged the freezer to throw it in there for twenty minutes), and showed us into the ‘dining room’.
I’m fairly sure that in another incarnation this room was their living room. But sofas and suchlike had all been removed and, instead, the room was filled with two beautifully set dining tables and thirteen assorted diners that had travelled from around the capital to come to Yuki’s first supper club. There weren’t two chairs together, and Bear was on photo duty, so one of the guests kindly shuffled around and we were able to sit together. Alex brought us over two flutes of plum wine and soda – absolutely delicious. A beautiful blush pink, it was deliciously refreshing and instantly relaxing. I’ve only ever had a sip of neat plum wine before, but this made it far more palatable, and far less potent.
Already on the table were the hor d’oeuvres – mixed crudites with a tofu dip. Tofu dip. Not exactly words to excite you, are they? How mistaken you’d be! This was mindblowingly good. I loaded up a radish half, Bear dipped a celery stick, we tasted, we looked at each other and… we laughed! Because tofu dip isn’t supposed to be so delicious, so intricately flavoured, so lovingly prepared. It was velevety smooth, rich with sesame paste, vaguely similar to hummous but without the grainy texture. Really, I’m almost embarassed by how much I loved that dip.
Chatting away with the other guests around the table (an eclectic bunch, including a girl that wrote about stamps by day and blogged by night, and a History of Philosophy PhD student) I continued to nibble on the delicious veggies and dip, but then Alex was back, to clear away my beloved tofu. Cue sad face, but only for a couple of seconds because then a plate of sushi was placed in front of me! Sushi, how my heart sings for sushi.
Yuki came out to explain the sushi set-up to us. Fourteen beautifully presented pieces of sushi on each platter, we shared this between two of us. Loathe as I am to share sushi, seven pieces was plenty, especially as we had three more courses to go.
Hand rolled sushi is such a joy, and this was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. We’ve made sushi a couple of times before, pre-blog, and thought that we were pretty nifty; ours paled in comparison. This was firm without being too densely packed, and the rice was perfect. I think we have over-seasoned our sushi rice in the past but this was delicately seasoned, and gorgeously sticky. Yuki explained that it was acceptable to eat sushi with your hands in Japan, so I did! I love any excuse to eat with my hands.
Every single piece of the sushi was thoughtfully prepared, and all worthy of mention. The salmon rolls were an excellent example of a classic sushi – firm, spankingly fresh fish; the amaebi nigiri was wonderful – raw sweet shrimp with a clear and sweet flavour. The sea bream temari was lovely to look at, and extremely tasty; the bream had been caught that morning. Temari means ‘ball’ so the sea bream rested on a ball of rice, topped with flying fish roe. Sea bream works perfectly for sushi: a great flavour, and lovely firm texture. There was an imaginative and interesting vegetable sushi – avocado and coriander. Our table had just been talking about plans for Sushi Samba to open up in London soon, and this was a perfect example of fusion at its best – I would never have thought to put coriander in sushi, but it was excellent. The avocado was perfectly ripe and the colours were beautifully vibrant. The piece de resistance, however, was the mackerel sushi. We each had two pieces and it was amusing to look around the table and see that every single person, without exception, had saved a piece until last. Yuki had lightly cured the mackerel with rice wine vinegar and Japanese flavourings, and it was a triumph – flavourful and firm, topped with a tiny shiso leaf.
What’s so fun about a supperclub is that all these strangers were united by the food – we had no more or less in common than the plates arriving in front of us. But, for a foodie, that makes it good fun – pretty much all the conversation came back to food, restaurants, dining experiences from around the globe. So we were all chatting away about our favourite sushi when the next plate of food arrived. Matsukaze chicken cubes, cucumber and wakame salad with mustard and sesame sauce. These chicken cubes were like nothing I’ve ever tried before – Yuki explained them as a Japanese style meatloaf! Really, I think that’s underselling them a bit. They were densely packed, densely flavoured minced chicken cubes that had been baked and pressed. They were intensely chicken-y, with a depth that only miso can bring, and topped with a crunchy sesame crust. Served at room temperature, they were definitely something to try to replicate at home, although I’m not sure how much success I’ll have. They would be perfect for bento, and I imagine children would love them. But they were also ideal for this elegant middle course – light but rich, Yuki explained how she had minced chicken thigh and breast with ‘Japanese ingredients’ (she wasn’t letting slip of any trade secrets!).
The table was really starting to chat now and drinks were shared – shot glasses and a bottle of sake were sent down the table. Bear is a sake fan, but I haven’t always enjoyed it. With this meal, it was delicious, it really worked. We served it chilled from the fridge, and I prefer that – maybe I’m just not a fan of warmed sake. It worked so well with the umami-rich chicken squares, and the delicious salad. Again, Yuki had introduced the dish, and had told us that the English had brought mustard powder to Japan years ago and that it was still used. It was noticeably English mustard powder, but it worked really well in this Asian dish, particularly with the sesame paste. It was moreish, lip-smacking, but ultimately light, thanks to the juicy and crisp cucumber and the refreshing strips of seaweed.
Then we were on to the main. Salmon and mackerel with namban sauce, soba noodle salad and greens beans with sesame dressing. The fish was perfectly cooked – deep fried and then marinated, left to room temperature: definitely a technique I’ll be copying. It stayed moist and juicy but was full of flavour. Namban sauce is a traditional Japanese sauce that Yuki had kept at room temperature – it really helped to make all the flavours sing. The fish was topped with a tangle of red onions, spring onions and aubergines; a revelation. They reminded me of Scandinavian soused onions, lightly pickled and still crunchy. Underneath were soft, juicy baby aubergines – a winning combination of textures.
The fish was served with a tangle of wonderful soba noodles, with sesame and carrot on top. Flavoured with a really light vinaigrette, they had been tossed with rocket leaves and finely sliced mange tout (or, as Yuki charmingly mispronounced it, monger tuta!). Delicious, and the a lovely accompaniment to the fish.
The final part of this main course was Yuki’s signature dish, green beans with a fresh sesame sauce. It’s barely possible to explain how good this was because, like the tofu dip, it just doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a showstopper. But it is. Intensely flavoured, it blew the top of your head off with it’s smacky, umami flavours. It was almost too much, too intense, too richly flavoured, but you’ll be pleased to know I carried on and finished every last one. The beans were only very lightly blanched and refreshed, and then coated in this incredible paste of black sesame seeds pounded with brown sugar, mirin and sake. I don’t think I could eat more than the little bowl that was presented, but I was so glad to have had the opportunity to try it, and can well understand why this is her siganture choice.The last dish was a witty and creative take on Eton Mess – Tokyo Mess! A meringue topped with azuki bean paste, green tea Chantilly and fresh strawberries. The merest hint of disappointment that I’m fairly sure they weren’t homemade meringues. But it was fun and tasty, and it was clear that Yuki had thought this through to be an imaginative ending to her meal. The azuki bean paste was delicious – it’s slightly nutty and reminiscent of chestnut puree. The cream was flavoured with the complex tastes of matcha green tea powder, earthy and faintly bitter. This was balanced with the fresh flavour of new season British strawberries. For a country not famed for desserts, this was a victorious ending.
What a successful evening, what a lovely opportunity to try delicious and authentic Japanese home cooking. This was Yuki’s first supperclub and it was pretty seamlessly great. She has a beautiful eye for detail and this was evident in her home and in her food – stylish and thoughtful. From the candles, fresh flowers and eclectic music playing (seriously eclectic – Paul Simon, Gotan Project and The Nolan Sisters, for example) to the picture perfect food, this was a really joyful evening.
We booked our tickets through Edible Experiences, which is an excellent website for discovering and booking food events in and around London. The tickets were £28 each, not bad for a drink and five courses. I’d definitely go back, I’d definitely recommend it and I’ll definitely be booking a place on her sushi making course soon.