(UK) Secret Sunday Lunch Club: Roast done the right way
It was a crisp clear January day as I found myself walking the unfamiliar streets of Notting Hill in search of the Secret Sunday Lunch Club. Ok, maybe not so secret as I had the address in hand, however the neighboring high walled gardens with old creaky gates and overgrowing foliage did remind me of the classic Secret Garden novel. Distracted as I peered through the gates, I ended up missing my destination completely, but no matter I was in plenty of time and the sun was shining on this glorious Sunday.
Arriving at my destination I headed up the stairs to the top floor apartment, to be welcomed with a delicious cup of Winter Pimms to warm me up and refresh me after my journey and climb up the stairs! Refills were gratefully accepted as I made my acquaintance with the other guests. It seems that host Emily Woodburn has something of a good reputation; most of her guests were repeat visitors, with some friends attending, and one who ‘lived down stairs!’ I guessed it was another resident of the building, but no it was Emily’s housemate. I assume she loved Emily’s cooking so much she moved in! Whilst there were a couple of first time visitors like myself, the others had been brought by friends who had been before, so it felt rather like I had been welcomed into a gathering of old friends. The top floor apartment offered great views towards Westfield glittering in the winter sun, with a lovely balcony for those who fancied some fresh air. In the summer it would be beautiful sitting out with drink in hand, watching the sun set between shopping mecca and TV Centre.
Whilst we supped our Pimms and got to know each other, nibbles were passed around; gorgeous Mini Avocado Tarts, and Cream Cheese & Walnut Stuffed Dates. Both were so delicious I had to hold back from eating too many, the menu for the afternoon sounded fantastic so I didn’t want to peak too early.
It wasn’t long to wait until ‘The Main Event’ – Slow Roast Lamb Shank. Afterwards Emily confessed she had never made this dish before, in which case I applaud her as the lamb was tasty and so tender it fell from the bone into the accompanying Red Wine Jus with Rosemary & Sage Butter. Lamb is probably my favorite choice for a roast, so this was turning into the perfect Sunday. The meat was accompanied by Crushed New Potatoes, Roasted Butternut Squash, Carrots with Cumin, and don’t forget the peas! They were almost overlooked but worth waiting for; possibly the sweetest peas I have ever tasted.
A small pause to let the lamb sink down, and we were served with Sticky Ginger Pudding in Brandy Sauce, with home made Vanilla Ice Cream. One taste and I knew my decision to go easy on the nibbles was the correct one; I wouldn’t have missed this desert for the world! Delicious doesn’t do it justice; this was possibly one of the most exquisite deserts I had ever tasted and I was not the only one to think so. Soft and moist in the middle, sweet gooey and chewy on the outside, ah perfection! One of the guests was celebrating her birthday, so her portion came adorned with a candle; what a lovely touch.
The conversation flowed easily around the large table; in no time it felt like I was with a group of old friends gathering for dinner on a Sunday. Our delightful host Emily was warm and engaging; I could have sworn I was getting reacquainted with a long lost friend.
I sat back in my chair feeling extremely satisfied if not a little fat. At this point Emily produced possibly the most beautiful cheese board, loaded with a selection of 8 delicious cheeses and quince jelly. I made sparse notes during the meal to remind myself of the highlights for when it came to writing this blog. I have written ‘AMAZING CHEESE’ twice, the second time rather more sprawled and illegible I assume after the second bottle of wine was opened and consumed! However you get the point, I was particularly impressed with the gorgeous cheese, all locally sourced from an intriguing person known merely as ‘The Cheese Man.’ Almost all of the food for the day had come from nearby Portobello Market apart from the meat from a local butcher. As the afternoon drew on, the cheese selection was positively decimated as the wine flowed. No one seemed in a rush to leave and Emily made no attempt to usher us out; quite the opposite as Coffee and Tea was then served along with tasty home made macaroons and chocolates. I had expected to have been on my way home at around 4 o’clock, however come 6pm I had to make my excuses as I had tickets for a show that evening. I was secretly wishing I could have stayed and spent longer with my new friends rather than keep my plans for the evening, as conversation was still in full swing when I left.
The host Emily has had a passion for cooking since being taught the basics as a child by her mother. After following a career in TV production Emily decided on a complete change of scene and headed abroad to be an assistant chef in a high-end ski chalet catering for 28 guests. She was quickly promoted and spent two winter seasons perfecting her catering skills, before returning to the UK and back into the world of television.
Emily’s inspiration for starting the Secret Sunday Lunch Club came from her experience eating out with friends on a Sunday, all hung-over from the night before and looking for a hearty meal to soak up the previous evenings excesses. However these were mostly disappointing experiences; pub roasts served overcooked with reheated potatoes, soggy vegetables, and flavorless gravy, we have all been on the receiving end of that! As an experienced chef there is nothing more frustrating than eating out and knowing you could do so much better yourself. And so the club was born; friends gathering at Emily’s house where they know the food and company would be great. The first Secret Sunday Lunch Club almost ended in disaster; 7 people were expected but 14 turned up! That kind of pressure would have stopped most people from a second attempt, but thankfully not Emily. Her main objective is to create an environment where people can relax, enjoy new company, and have a good time over home cooked food and free flowing wine. She has certainly achieved her goal, and I for one will be returning soon to catch up with my new friends and enjoy Emily’s delicious home cooking again.
Reviewed by Tim Francis © 2012