Finally, Saturday evening had arrived. After stumbling back from the afternoon’s cider festival, we had a few hours to sober up before the event we’d been looking forward to since the email last Sunday confirming that we had a table for two booked at 7.20pm.
If we hadn’t read various blog reviews and the Guardian article on Cloak and Dinner, all we would have had to go on would have been the cryptic email that we received on the 25th, simply reading:
your dinner will be served saturday night at 7.20pm at Quay Head House, Colston Ave, BS1 1EB
(red door opposite the war memorial)
looking forward to seeing you
All very mysterious.
Despite the number of rave reviews of the evening that we’d read, no words can really do the experience justice. As we arrived, we loitered behind another couple who had already knocked on the big red door, and while we waited, we amused ourselves by watching the faces of passers by who were clearly wondering why people were queuing to get into an apparently deserted building. After a few minutes, we were welcomed into the building, and ushered into the large room downstairs until our table was ready.
We were offered a G&T while we waited, but instead we chose to drink in the surroundings. A surreal atmosphere – large windows facing out onto Colston Avenue, draped in deep red fabric, the room itself with wood panelled walls, various paintings and sculptures, candles, sofas and…shock horror…people smoking inside 🙂 A matter of minutes later, we were led up the staircase to the designated dining room for the night, and shown to a table for two.
The surreality continued – tables crammed in, filling the room, the mismatched cutlery, Ikea dishcloths as napkins and our lovely waitress with a purple monkey-shaped pen and an All Bar One order pad highlighting the point of the four day event: that it’s perfectly possible to have a restaurant standard meal in a restaurant setting without it having to be pretentious or cost a fortune.
Before ordering, we were presented with a teacup of a thick, potato-based soup as an amuse-bouche, which we drank from the cup while listening to the live music provided by a guy with a guitar in the corner of the room. Each course had a choice of two options: carnivore or veggie. For the starter, Al opted for the Cornish mackerel with a herb and caper salad, while Em went for a tasty salad of thinly sliced vegetables, including beetroot, radishes, celery and carrots – and we both went for the meat option for the main: pork belly with pureed potatoes and red cabbage. At the start of the evening, we weren’t quite sure what to expect food-wise, but can honestly say that both presentation and flavours were fantastic – hardly a surprise, after finding out at the end of the night that some of the chefs who had volunteered to help out were indeed professionals.
For dessert, we both opted for the fig Bakewell tart with a vanilla syrup – again, presented to restaurant-standard and, despite being pretty damn full by that point, we presented our waitress with gleaming, empty plates to take back to the makeshift kitchen. Sadly we had to decline the cheeseboard, but decided to retreat downstairs with our coffees and two small pieces of wonderfully creamy fudge to finish off the meal.
First, however, came the issue of payment. A black envelope with “C&D” in large gold letters was placed on our table, and into this envelope we were instructed to place whatever we thought the meal was worth. Speaking to others at the end of the night, we discovered that nobody had put less than £10 per head in – the average being around £10 to £15.
Before the end of the night, we managed to catch up with some of the Cloak and Dinner team to learn more about what had been happening behind the scenes. As we had already read, all four nights of the experience had been staffed entirely by volunteers – from the front of house guys to the chefs. Ingredients for each course had been sourced by the chef responsible for that course, and each had been given a budget to which to work. Some of the professional chefs had managed to use their contacts to source cheap ingredients, while local businesses had also helped out with freebies and large discounts, from Gloucester Road fruit and veg shops, to local cheese makers.
All in all, a fantastic evening – and one that we’d definitely like to repeat when the Cloak and Dinner team organise their next guerilla restaurant experience, which will apparently be bigger and better, and in a different location, the next time they run it. It should only be a matter of months until details of dates of the next event are sent out, so keep an eye on their blog for more details. We’ve also volunteered to help out with the cooking next time round, so should be able to experience it from a difference angle…